Book Review: ‘The Cresswell Plot’ by Eliza Wass

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I received my review copy of Eliza Wass’s The Cresswell Plot buried in a wooden box full of dirt. Needless to say, it piqued my attention. Everything about the book, from the unsettling cover to the eerie blurb makes you think you’re in for an extremely creepy read. And yeah, The Cresswell Plot is definitely creepy, although it may not be creepy enough to satiate readers hoping to be truly unsettled. Continue reading

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Book Review: ‘The Last Star’ by Rick Yancey

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You know that feeling of anticipation you get when the final book in a beloved series finally comes out? It’s that feeling where you’re partially super excited because you really want to know how it ends, but you’re also kind of anxious that it’s not going to meet your high expectations? So yeah, that’s where I was at when I picked up the final book in Rick Yancey’s The 5th Wave series, The Last Star.

I loved The 5th Wave. It had a lot going for it – a unique spin on the oft-rehashed post-apocalyptic scenario, a strong female lead, a survival story, and aliens. The story felt immediate and engaging, making it one of my favorite reads of the year. When the sequel, The Infinite Sea, came out, I wasn’t disappointed, exactly…just cautious. I liked the book fine, but something about it just felt different. That x factor I loved about the first book was missing, replaced with a bit too much philosophy and metaphor for the likes of me. But perhaps it was a bridge book issue. Maybe I’d find that thing I was looking for in the final book, The Last Star.

Did I? Yes and no. A large portion of the book did feel a bit truer to the original vibe of the series than The Infinite Sea – a fast-paced survival story that just happens to include aliens. I was really interested to see how Yancey could possibly tie up this epic story. To his credit, he manages to both provide a satisfying conclusion without wrapping things up too neatly for a story of this magnitude.

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I appreciated that Yancey had a clear plan for his story progression; there are some confusing bits here and there but for the most part The Last Star helped me make more sense of what was happening in The Infinite Sea, and everything seemed to tie together fairly well. I tend to prefer sci-fi stories that are at least somewhat reality-based, in that I can imagine them being within the realm of possibility and not complete fantasy. This series stays in that realm quite well for the first couple of books, but some of the events at the end, in particular, strayed a bit too far into the unbelievable for my taste. And on that note…

I kind of hated the ending. I understand why it ended the way it did, and I would even go so far as to say it makes more sense than any other ending. I think the problem I had was that I was expecting some sort of major revelation or twist. Throughout the series, there’s this sense of secrecy and conspiracy and I just kept waiting for something new to come to light that really changed my understanding of this story. It just didn’t happen, and that left me disappointed.

And, without getting too spoilery, there’s a super cliche and unnecessary story thread in The Last Star that feels like an afterthought throughout the entire book, until it gets forced down your throat at the end. It’s a common storytelling device; it’s symbolic, whatever…I was just hoping for something a little more original when the series had so much promise of being unique from the get go.

What’s really disappointing is that overall, The Last Star is a fantastic book. Aside from playing a little fast and loose with its core group of characters, the story is cohesive, suspenseful, and exciting. Leading up to the final section of the book, I was feeling pretty darn optimistic. Unfortunately there’s no way for me to talk about this book as a series ender without dwelling heavily on the actual ending, and sadly that piece was a major letdown for me. Still, I’m glad I read The Last Star and, had I not had several years’ worth of series ending expectations built up, it’s very likely my overall impression, ending included, would have been better.

I’d also like to mention how grateful I am for the existence of this series, because I do think it has opened the door for more YA sci-fi books to see the light of day, and encouraged interested authors to pursue the genre more. Oh, and I’m just one person – there are plenty of readers out there who absolutely loved The Last Star and thought the ending was perfect. So I say – take your chances. Regardless of your thoughts on the ending, it’s an exciting ride.

Book Review: ‘The Rose and the Dagger’ by Renee Adieh

Book Review: 'The Rose and the Dagger' by Renee AdiehLast year, Renee Adieh’s The Wrath and the Dawn was the book that finally managed to pull me out of my annual late winter reading slump. It’s such an interesting mix of fantasy, romance, folklore and action – it feels different and interesting even if you’re already familiar with the inspiration, One Thousand and One Nights. I’ve been looking forward to the sequel, The Rose and the Dagger, which is available now.

Interestingly, One Thousand and One Nights is sort of trendy right now in fiction – between reading The Wrath and the Dawn and The Rose and the Dagger, I actually read a different YA novel inspired by it – A Thousand Nights. As a result, I’d kind of mixed up some of the things from The Wrath and the Dawn with things from A Thousand Nights, and it took me a while to remember exactly who some of the characters were and what role they played in the story. No biggie, though – you could actually jump into The Rose and the Dagger without having read the first book and have it make sense. But please don’t do that, because you’d be missing out!

Last time I tried to recap the story leading into a series book my paragraphs got out of hand quickly, so if you want a reminder, check out my review of The Wrath and the Dawn. The Rose and the Dagger starts a bit slowly. Sharzad and Khalid are separated, with Khalid attempting to clean up his kingdom after the magical disaster brought by Sharzad’s father, and Sharzad seeking solace in the desert. Sharzad is attempting to understand her magic, and in doing so realizes that she may be able to help Khalid break his curse with help from the right people. Complicating things are Sharzad’s father’s misguided attempts to use his own magical power to make up for the havoc he wreaked across the kingdom, as well as ongoing political upheaval threatening war at any moment.

For me, there was a clear separation in the overall tone of The Rose and the Dagger compared to The Wrath and the Dawn. The first book was a story of world-building, character and relationship evolution, and ongoing suspense as Sharzad simply tried to stay alive. The Wrath and the Dawn focuses on the political (and magical!) repercussions of all that – the results of what was set up in the first book. It felt a little less suspense & romance and a little more fantasy & strategy. That’s not to say the books aren’t cohesive, though. All of the beautiful world-building from the first book continues, and the characters readers grew to know and love (or hate, as the case may be) return true to form in The Rose and the Dagger.

I’m not quite sure how Adieh pulls it off, but she manages to make Sharzad dangerously close to a Mary Sue, yet Sharzad is still extremely likable due to the dimension Adieh is able to give her. Other characters (Sharzad’s power-hungry father, for example), aren’t always afforded the time for such depth, but I really only found this troubling in one regard – the mysterious GENIE, who is initially introduced in such a way that I expected to become very familiar with him, but on the last page of the story I felt like he had never really been explored effectively.

I love how Adieh is able to present an epic story without going overboard on page count…or amount of books. It allows the story to move along swiftly and makes it easier to keep up with the wide array of characters, clans, kingdoms, and the politics between them. I’m not terribly familiar with One Thousand and One Nights beyond things that have been adapted from it, so I can’t speak to how closely Adieh followed its stories for inspiration, but I can say there were at least a couple fairly major plot twists that were executed really nicely. Set up with subtlety, withheld for just the right amount of time to make you forget the setup and then…bam!

The one thing I struggled with in the first book was Sharzad’s father’s use of magic. The short chapters following Jahander just did not interest me, and having the climax of the first book so influenced by him was a disappointment for me. I was nervous about how that plot thread would carry over into The Rose and the Dagger. Fortunately, although there are chapters that focus on Jahander and his story is followed up on, I had absolutely no trouble with how it was executed. The chapters were more engaging and less frequent, and plot thread itself made much more sense to me in the context of this book.

Book Review: ‘Map of Fates’ by Maggie Hall

Book Review: ‘Map of Fates’ by Maggie HallI’m a little late boarding the Conspiracy of Us train. The first book has been on my to-read list since before its release, but I finally got around to reading it once I received an ARC of book two in the series, Map of Fates. While I enjoyed The Conspiracy of Us, I was still pleasantly surprised at how much Map of Fates hooked me. If you haven’t read The Conspiracy of Us and don’t want it spoiled for you, you know the drill – back away slowly from this page!

There’s a pretty intricate plot in these books, but a brief summary of book one for those who need a memory jog: “Normal American Teenager” Avery West learns that she’s heir to an extremely powerful group of of families known as The Circle. Not only that, Avery happens to be “the girl with the purple eyes” that has long been prophesied as having a hugely important impact on the fate of The Circle, particularly when there is a union with Avery and “the One,” who we discovered in The Conspiracy of Us is Stellan, a “Keeper” (AKA “unusually young and attractive security”) for another family in The Circle and the one of Avery’s two Keeper accomplices that she’s not kinda-sorta in a relationship with. Awkward.

Oh and also, there’s this adversary group called The Order that kidnapped Avery’s mom and wants Avery’s help to find this very abstract, never clearly defined source of power that is apparently in Alexander the Great’s tomb or something. And Stellan being The One is a secret, so The Circle thinks The One could be any dude from one of its families, basically, so they’re all desperate for Avery to marry into their family. I mean…the story is fun but the details…don’t think too hard about them, mmmkay? Your head might start literally spinning. So much for a brief summary, eh?

Map of Fates catches up with Avery and her actual-sort-of-not-really-because-he-might-get-killed-for-it Keeper boyfriend Jack as they investigate clues left behind by their shared mentor in an attempt to trade info for Avery’s mom. This eventually leads to an agreement with Avery’s father, who starts parading Avery around to various countries with Circle families with eligible bachelor sons. Avery and Jack, along with some help from Stellan, use this as an opportunity to research potential clues in the countries they’re visiting. And so begins a whirlwind of visiting different countries, dressing up pretty to meet marriageable guys, and then sneaking out to comb museums and historical sites for clues.

There’s a decent amount of action and mystery in Map of Fates, and I appreciate the plot despite it being a bit…well, fanciful. But it’s executed well, so long as you aren’t expecting a straightforward thriller but are fine with some boy drama and pretty dresses being involved as well. I should probably address the dreaded love triangle. Yup, this series has one. But Hall handles it exceptionally well. She maintains the integrity of all three characters while shifting the story around them in a believable way, without straight manipulating you as a reader. It’s one of the best (or, as a love triangle skeptic might say, least-awful) love triangles I’ve ever read in YA, so there’s that.

Map of Fates takes the elements of Conspiracy of Us and amps them up a bit, and it becomes clear that Hall’s true talent lies more in the realm of contemporary YA than action and intrigue. Not that she can’t manage the action and intrigue, but the best parts of this story are the ones that focus on characters and relationships, not globetrotting action and high-power conspiracies. I dearly hope Hall has plans to write a straightforward contemporary at some point, because I have no doubt she’d excel at it.

This book is also a real page-turner, particularly once you hit the halfway point. There are twists and turns; some unexpected and some not so much, but all are engaging. Map of Fates also deftly avoids bridge book syndrome by seeing a major plot line through while setting up a new one for the final book in the series. Hall seems to have a knack for finding the balance in drawing out the things that need to be but not stretching out the things that don’t. (Perhaps Ms. Hall should be recruited to write for Pretty Little Liars; she could teach them a thing or two.) Hall is a frequent traveler, which I both love and hate – it’s great that her descriptions of Avery’s travels are authentic; that really shines through in her writing. I’m just bitter that I don’t have the kind of lifestyle where I can jet around the world constantly. 🙂

As much as I enjoyed The Conspiracy of Us, it wasn’t until finishing Map of Fates that I realized I am fully on board with this series and excited to see how it ends! If you need reprieve from the winter reading rut, I highly recommend this series to tide you over until spring’s exciting slate of new releases.

 

If you’re itching for more Map of Fates, be sure to check out the blog tour running through March 22nd – you can find the first top, as well as links to additional blog tour stops, at Fangirlish.

Movie Review: ‘Krampus’ Suffers from Lack of Direction

(Image Credit: Universal Pictures)

(Image Credit: Universal Pictures)

Take all the time needed to figure out what you want to be. This is good advice for the most part: try a bunch of different things in order to learn which are best for you. Krampus is like a person who heard this idea and really ran with it. Unfortunately, they ran right into the ground for it is Krampus’s inability to commit to a genre or tone that really hinders it from being even decent.

Max (Emjay Anthony) is dreading Christmas this year because his aunt’s family is coming over to celebrate which he knows will lead to hectic uncomfortableness and palpable familial tension. Because of this, Max writes a letter to Santa, asking for a happier family. Sadly, one of his cousins sees it, makes fun of him for still believing in the big guy from up north, and Max ends up ripping his letter. This, in turn, calls upon the evil spirit of Krampus – basically Saint Nick’s evil twin – because Max no longer believes.

The house becomes snowed in, the two families are forced to work together, the kid is responsible for the chaos because of his new disbelief – these are good ingredients for a nuanced horror movie. It’s not the same five-teenagers-go-into-the-woods story, that’s for sure.

However, it’s unclear as to whether Krampus thought of itself as a horror movie or a weird family/rom-com hybrid with some horror sprinkled in.

Perhaps this is because the movie was just not all that scary. Sure, there are monsters and some loud noises here and there, but the effects don’t do their job. Along with that, a couple of the monsters are just plain ridiculous, fitting better in a kids’ comedy.

For example, there are these gingerbread men that attack the uncle, Howard (David Koechner). Howard gives slight signs of fright, but the fight stays upbeat for the most part as the gingerbread men try to stab him and he shoots at them with a shotgun (Yes, you read that sentence correctly). While it’s great to have some comedy inside a horror movie, this scene, like most, fell flat on both fronts: the funny and the scary.

Though, this isn’t to say every scene was a bust. Interestingly enough, Krampus succeeds best with some of its heartwarming moments between the father, Tom (Adam Scott), his wife (Toni Collette) and Max. It made me wish I was watching a straight-up rom-com in which Tom and his wife make their marriage better through the hijinks of their loved son. But, alas, I was not. And oftentimes any sort of momentum the movie got going with the development of its characters was short changed by the unneeded “scary” sections.

Adam Scott and David Koechner both give valiant performances, as does most of the cast (notably Allison Tolmon and Conchata Ferrell). It was strange to be enjoying the casts’ chemistry and acting, but to be disliking the movie happening around it. Scott, like I’ve hinted, plays a really great dad and husband who’s trying his best – the guy is adorable. And Koechner plays a slightly altered version of Todd Packer, his character from The Office, and does it very well. Unsure whether it’s an insult or a compliment, but he has a knack for playing the ignorant bigot type.

Unfortunately, their performances are not strong enough to carry the movie, not even close. The whole thing was just a mess. A mess with some promise hidden beneath it all, but still a mess – like a person trying to discover herself.

Overall, Krampus was not a good movie. I’d like to see a similar cast in a completely different movie – preferably one that can encompass multiple genres more seamlessly, or one that can more clearly define itself.

Book Review and Giveaway: ‘Frozen Tides’ by Morgan Rhodes

(Image Credit: Penguin)

(Image Credit: Penguin)

Head’s up – there’s a giveaway for Frozen Tides at the end of this review. I think I avoided spoilers completely in my review, but if you’re uber cautious about it, you may want to jump to the bottom of the page for the giveaway!

Call me crazy, but I jumped into Frozen Tides having not read any of the previous Falling Kingdoms books (despite my best intentions). I had read A Book of Spirits & Thieves, which has some crossover universe stuff, but the story and characters are basically totally different. I thought maybe it would be hard for me to get into Frozen Tides without context, but to my surprise, it wasn’t even a little hard! I realize if you’re reading this, you’re probably more familiar with the series than I am, so I’ll avoid recapping and get to the point and hopefully this will make some sense!

The book is told from several alternating perspectives who readers familiar with the series probably already know – Cleo, Jonas, Magnus, Amara, and Lucia.. I did consult with the list of characters at the beginning of the book a few times when I first started reading, just to help me keep track of how the characters were related to each other, but it didn’t take me long to pick up. Context for the characters’ backstories was readily available within the narrative without being distracting. And story-wise, Frozen Tides totally stands on its own. It’s possible that there may have been more of an emotional punch at certain points of the story if I had three books’ worth of investment in the characters involved, but I didn’t feel like my experience with Frozen Tides was lacking.

Another surprising thing for me was how I wasn’t particularly put off by the magical piece of this story. I’m not a big fan of fantasy books, particularly when they involve magic (or magical creatures), but as it was presented in this book, I actually enjoyed it. Maybe it’s more of a layman’s take on fantasy and that’s why I enjoyed it, or maybe it’s just Rhodes’ writing style, but it totally worked for me. The story feels epic, with elements of danger and adventure and romance and fantastic world-building, so there’s a little something for whatever tickles your fancy.

I don’t want to spoil things, of course, but throughout the course of Frozen Tides, some characters find themselves making unlikely alliances (and betrayals!) and others reassess their plights. It was interesting – and quite enjoyable – for me to try to sort out who is supposed to be good and who is supposed to be bad at this unique time in the character development when many of the characters fall into a gray area. I particularly enjoyed Cleo & Magnus’s storyline and complex relationship, but all the perspectives were unique and engaging, and ultimately tied together in an important way. I also loved how the Amara character continually challenged my perceptions. Is she really a villain when her intentions are based in something good?

Related: It’s great that Rhodes gives these characters reasons for their actions, although by the end of the book I was like, “C’mon guys, enough with the avenging,” as it appears book 5 will feature more of that. At a certain point the vengeance starts to feel very juvenile, although I think that’s part of Rhodes’ point.

Even with juggling a pretty hefty pile of character perspectives, Rhodes managed to make me feel a connection to each narrator, even without having any context to them from previous books. I also get the feeling that she really knows where she is going with this story and is building each book carefully to reach that ending.

When it was all said and done, rather than being frustrated or overwhelmed by jumping into the middle of a series, I found myself truly enjoying Frozen Tides and bumping up all the Falling Kingdoms books on my to-read list. I hope other readers who are a bit hesitant about fantasy will consider giving this series a chance; you may also be pleasantly surprised!


And now the giveaway! Whether you’ve been waiting with bated breath for Frozen Tides to come out or are new to the series and had your interest piqued by my review, this is a great chance to get your hands on a copy of the book – just enter below.

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Giveaway open to US addresses only. Prizing courtesy of Penguin Publishing.

Book Review: ‘The Revolution of Ivy’ by Amy Engel

The Revolution of Ivy by Amy EngelIt’s pretty rare for a story to end on a literal cliffhanger, but Amy Engel’s The Book of Ivy came awfully close, and I’ve been waiting a year to find out what happens next! Finally the sequel, The Revolution of Ivy, is available, and we get some answers. This is where you need to stop reading if you don’t want The Book of Ivy spoiled for you.

Okay, all good? Excellent. The Revolution of Ivy picks up exactly where The Book of Ivy left off – our heroine, Ivy, has been forced outside the fence surrounding Westfall, left to fend for herself as punishment for her ploy to kill Bishop. Of course we know Ivy is actually doing this to protect Bishop, but that doesn’t make it any easier for her to leave him behind. And surviving on her own without basic resources for food, water, and shelter…it’s no easy feat.

The Revolution of Ivy begins purely as a survival story as we follow Ivy as she simply tries to stay alive beyond the fence, but eventually evolves into a story of community and family, and, finally, redemption. I was a little worried about how the story would take shape with the environment changing so much between books, but I actually really enjoyed the story of Ivy’s survival outside the fence. Engel did a lovely job of using it as a means of character growth for Ivy, but also tying it back in with the larger story of political upheaval in Westfall.

Some familiar characters make appearances (yes, we do encounter Bishop again, although I won’t spoil the context or to what extent) and some fantastic new ones are introduced. I enjoyed Ash and Caleb, Ivy’s new friends and partners in survival beyond the fence, and their presence added some really interesting layers to the story overall.

I found The Revolution of Ivy to be a fast-paced, quick read…and if I had to pinpoint a weakness, it would be that the end almost feels a little too fast-paced. Things get wrapped up very quickly and neatly. I didn’t mind the events themselves, but they seemed to come up very suddenly and then were over so fast I wasn’t really able to work up an emotional investment in what was happening.

Fortunately I already had enough investment in the main characters at that point that the events at the end of the story were less important to me than the resolution for the characters, and I was happy with that. And I don’t want to nitpick a handful of chapters when the dozens leading up to them were solid, it’s just a shame the end of the series felt rushed after such a lovely set-up.

It seems like these days female narrators in dystopian series are almost obligated to go through some kind of severe mental breakdown. Even if it’s brief, there’s always this moment in every series where the main character is frustratingly weak. There may be a good reason for it, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating. Sometimes it would just be nice to see a girl suck it up and get through it while keeping herself pretty well together. And that, in a nutshell, is what I enjoy most about the The Book of Ivy series. There is no point in time where Ivy just completely gives up, or does ridiculous or stupid things because she’s at a breaking point. Even though she has plenty of challenging moments, she handles even near-death with a pretty no-nonsense attitude.

I’d recommend the The Book of Ivy series for readers who enjoy strong female leads, like dystopia but don’t mind if world-building is secondary to story and character development, and who appreciate a quick read over a long series. It’s actually a pretty unique combination to find, and it makes The Book of Ivy and The Revolution of Ivy a fun change of pace.

REVIEW: Jackpot Candles are a real prize!

(Image Credit: Jackpot Candles)

(Image Credit: Jackpot Candles)

There are several things in life that I have a hard time turning down. One of those things is a candle. I love candles, and I have two shelves in my pantry that prove to you that I seriously don’t need to buy anymore. However, I just keep coming back to candles because there’s nothing like coming home from a stressful day at work, turning on your favorite music, dimming the lights and lighting a candle to just relax (optional but usually required – a glass of wine). Continue reading

An Interview with ‘Hey Sunshine’ author Tia Giacalone

HEY SUNSHINE Author Tia Giacalone

HEY SUNSHINE Author Tia Giacalone

From the minute I started Hey Sunshine by Tia Giacalone I could hardly put it down. As a new mom, my time spent reading is precious, so I only save it for the best. And Hey Sunshine was definitely the best. A mix of romance and new adult fiction that kept me intrigued and smiling the whole way through. Continue reading

What We’re Loving Right Now: ELEMENT Snacks

(Image Credit: Element Snacks)

(Image Credit: Element Snacks)

I love to snack. Honestly, if I could snack all day and not eat a full meal I think I’d be perfectly content. Of course, my snack options aren’t always healthy. Potato chips, Snickers bars, Girl Scout cookies, french fries… the list goes on. But what if I told you you could snack healthy and still get that sweet fix you so desperately need at that 3:00 p.m. wall? Continue reading

Book Review: ‘Saint Anything’ by Sarah Dessen

Saint-Anything-678x1024Sarah Dessen is kind of a big deal in the YA book community. And for good reason. But I’m going to say something potentially controversial right now: I didn’t care for her last book, The Moon and More. Unlike most of Dessen’s books, I found it a bit dry and not particularly memorable. As a result, I approached Dessen’s new novel, Saint Anything with a mix of anticipation and anxiety. Would it live up to my expectations? And how high were my expectations anyway, after the disappointment of the last book?

Turns out, after just a couple of chapters there was no question in my mind: Saint Anything is a triumphant return to what Dessen does best. One of the things she does best, of course, is giving her characters realistically obnoxious upper middle class suburbanite names, but in Saint Anything she even reigns that in with relatively non-offensive offerings – Sydney, Mac, Layla, Ames, a male Peyton…I can work with that! Tangent aside, let’s get to the good stuff!

Our main girl Sydney has spent her life in the shadow of her charismatic older brother, Peyton. When Peyton starts spiraling into poor decision-making, alcohol and drugs, it has a huge impact on Sydney’s family. The cherry on top is when Peyton gets a prison sentence for paralyzing a teenage cyclist in a drunk driving collision. Sydney switches from private to public school for a fresh start, away from people who don’t know her apart from her brother’s big personality and big mistakes. She struggles to make new friends, but lucks into some great ones with french fry enthusiast Layla and her pizza-making (i.e. dreamboat) brother Mac. Meanwhile, Sydney’s mom is hyper-focused on Peyton, treating his prison sentence like a semester at boarding school while treating Sydney like the inmate. And let’s not forget about Peyton’s creepy rehab friend Ames, who is uncomfortably fixated on Sydney and yet still trusted alone with her on the reg.

As with most Dessen books, Saint Anything is not so much about plot as it is about a character dealing with a particularly important time in her life. There’s a fantastic character arc as Sydney learns that she’s a worthwhile person on her own, despite not demanding attention like her brother. She learns to both make and keep good friends, and her tense relationship with her parents and brother eventually help her gain new perspective. She also picks up some mad pizza delivery skills. The amount of times garlic knots are mentioned in this book is criminal.

There were also so many times in this book when I was so frustrated on Sydney’s behalf. She keeps getting in situations where she speaks up and is unfairly shut down, then others when she chooses not to speak up when she should because she’s so used to being shut down. The Ames stuff was super creepy and uncomfortable, and I liked how Dessen made that piece of the story effective but held back from making it too dramatic – it becomes relatable, and something that teen readers can learn from without being at all preachy. It is so hard to walk that line of relating to teenagers without condescending or falling into the trap of writing the book equivalent of an embarrassing aunt trying to be hip instead of a cool older cousin who is a wise mentor. Okay, so my metaphor sucks, but you get the point – part of what makes Sarah Dessen so popular is that she is consistently able to toe that line successfully, and Saint Anything is a lovely reminder of that.

One of the things that really makes a Sarah Dessen book is her ability to write really fantastic side characters for her main characters to have various relationships with, whether it’s a new friend, a confidant, a romantic relationship, or a family bond. Saint Anything includes all of those, and Dessen includes just enough detail about those side characters to give them depth without letting their stories overwhelm Sydney’s. I would have liked to have gotten to know some of Layla and Mac’s friends a bit better; I never really felt Sydney’s connection to them as much as it was implied, but when you only have so many pages to work with I suppose concessions have to be made.

So, to summarize: Saint Anything is an excellent read, and I think Dessen fans will be really happy with it, particularly after the mixed reactions to The Moon and More. It also contains a great deal of pizza, french fries, and candy, so be prepared to crave junk food for however many days it takes you to read it. On the bright side, you won’t want to put it down so you should be able to limit your junk food binges to a reasonable time frame. So get this book, order a pizza, and settle in; I promise you won’t regret it.

Book Review: ‘Someone Like You’ by Sarah Dessen

Recently The Daily Quirk was invited to participate in the #IHeartDessen summer campaign in support of the reigning queen of YA contemporary writing, Sarah Dessen. I jumped at the chance to review one of Dessen’s early novels, Someone Like You – because unlike most of her other books, I hadn’t read Someone Like You since I was in college and very close to the ages of the main characters. I was interested to see how the story had aged and how I felt about it now, at a much different place in my life.

Someone Like You tells the story of Halley, a teenager who is just beginning to experience tension with her parents. Halley has always been a good girl with very close relationship with her mother, but as the book begins she starts to experiment with pushing boundaries. Meanwhile, Halley’s best friend Scarlett finds out she is pregnant with the child of her now-dead summer boyfriend, Michael. Also in the picture is Macon, Michael’s best friend and the kind of bad boy who is more than willing to help Halley with her boundary-pushing.

I expected to find Someone Like You to be familiar and comforting, which it certainly was. Many of Dessen’s trademarks can be found – the fantastic friendship between Halley and Scarlett, for one. Slightly offbeat side characters (like Hallie’s mother’s LARPing boyfriend) and bittersweet teenage lessons learned are also present, although it’s apparent Dessen has grown significantly as a writer in the past 15 years. The bones are in Someone Like You, but Dessen has really learned to flesh out her characters and their relationships more fully and really pull readers into these coming-of-age stories.

When Someone Like You was originally released in 1998, the world was a very different place for teenagers. Personal computers and cell phones were just beginning to gain popularity. Social networks and texting weren’t around, and certainly weren’t an integral part of teenagers’ day-to-day lives. I was curious how time had treated Someone Like You, and I’m happy to report that the story held up extremely well. Sure, it’s a bit of a novelty reading about a contemporary teenage relationship restricted by landline telephones, but the story itself focuses so much on the characters that these things barely register and certainly aren’t problematic. It really shows how timeless both Dessen’s stories and writing are.

While I enjoyed re-reading Someone Like You, my own age and life experience made it harder for me to dig in to the story than the first time around. More than most Dessen books it is really targeted specifically to teenagers and feels a bit more after-school-special-let’s-learn-a-lesson than her usual fare. That’s not a bad thing in general – it’s great for teen readers who will be able to relate to Halley’’s rebellion and see her mistakes and how she learns from them. But reading it as an adult…I found it much harder to sympathize with Halley’’s choices. Dessen has since refined her style and is more than capable of writing flawed characters like Halley in a more universally-relatable way. When I read a more recent Sarah Dessen book (like the fantastic Saint Anything), I don’t feel like I relate more with the parents than the children.

Ultimately, though, Someone Like You is a story of friendship, and that’s one thing Dessen gets just right with Halley and Scarlett. I love that these girls support each other and look out for each other. When there is tension or fighting, it’s always because one girl is concerned about the other, and it’s resolved maturely. It’s such a fantastic portrayal of friendship between teenage girls, which can be handled so carelessly in contemporary YA. If you’ve never read Someone Like You or are like me and haven’t read it in years, it’s a quick, poignant summer read worth checking out for many reasons, but especially to get a peek at Halley & Scarlett’s friendship. And if you enjoy the book, I’ll also recommend How to Deal, a 2003 movie starring Mandy Moore and Allison Janney that is mostly based on Someone Like You, with a few elements from another early Dessen novel (That Summer) thrown in for good measure.

Be sure to check out #IHeartDessen on social media for more Sarah Dessen love!

Book Review: ‘Homecoming’ by Kass Morgan

HomecomingIf you’re a fan of the first two books in the The 100 series by Kass Morgan, or if you’ve caught any episodes of the TV adaptation on the CW, I have good news: book three in the series, Homecoming, is now available.

The story picks up right where Day 21, the second book in the series, left off. Clarke, Bellamy, Wells, and Octavia, along with their new friend Sasha, have been on Earth for several weeks, but dropships carrying the remaining citizens from the Colony (including Glass and Luke) are crash landing as the book begins. Without giving too much away, the characters all face difficult challenges as the Colonists try to reestablish society on their “new” planet.

The first two books in the series end with some pretty wicked cliffhangers. In Homecoming, we finally get a sense of closure when the novel ends, but Morgan leaves enough up in the air that another book wouldn’t be out of the question. With the popularity of the TV adaptation and the success of the book series, I wouldn’t be surprised to see another installment or a spin-off series focusing on some new characters.

One of my favorite things about this book was the strong female characters. It seems like in a lot of YA lit, the female characters leave a lot to be desired. Even when they appear to be assertive and capable, they often take a backseat to the male characters. In Homecoming, however, the ladies are smart, independent and take-charge. When the dropship crash lands on Earth, Clarke immediately rushes to help the wounded. She turns out to be a very capable medic, and she balances her relationship with Bellamy with the work she feels called to do. And he respects her strengths and doesn’t try to stand in her way! It’s pretty great.

Romance is a major factor in this installment of the series. There are several love stories going on throughout the course of the book. We get to see more of some fan-favorite couples (Bellarke!) and watch other romances bloom and grow.

There are still plenty of twists and turns to keep you on your toes. In typical fashion, Morgan is not afraid to break some hearts, and no character is safe. Each character faces the dangers of Earth, the violent Earthborn factions, and the evil Vice Chancellor. Honestly, this book has something for everyone.

I’d definitely recommend this series for fans of dystopian young adult fiction. If you enjoyed The Hunger Games or Divergent, then the The 100 series (and its newest installment, Homecoming) are probably right up your alley. Fans of books that pull you in and keep you on the edge of your seat will definitely want to check this one out.

A Book of Spirits and Thieves by Morgan Rhodes

Book Review: ‘A Book of Spirits and Thieves’ by Morgan Rhodes

A Book of Spirits and Thieves by Morgan RhodesYou know how when you pick out a book to read, there are certain things that you gravitate toward and certain things that make you hesitate? Well, if you haven’t heard me say it before, fantasy makes me hesitate. There’s a very fine line for me in terms of fantasy I can enjoy vs. fantasy that is just too out there for me. Another potential red flag? Picking up a book that’s a spinoff of a series I haven’t read. So for my review of Morgan Rhodes’ A Book of Spirits and Thieves, I’m going to give you my perspective as someone who a) is a little scared of fantasy and 2) has zero experience with the Falling Kingdoms series that inspired this story. (the a & 2 thing was a mistake but I kinda like it so…)

The first thing you should know about A Book of Spirits and Thieves is that it doesn’t assume you have any previous knowledge of Falling Kingdoms. When the story begins, it feels like it’s own distinct plot with its own distinct characters, and the book itself is a lot of setup. You’re not picking up where something else left off or trying to make sense of a context that was spelled out in another book, but instead are getting rich world and character-building within this story. In other words, perfect for someone like me!

The story is told from three alternating third person perspectives. The first is Crys, a sarcastic teenager whose family owns a bookstore in Toronto. When the store receives a mysterious old book, Crys watches her sister Becca reduced to a catatonic state after handling the book, which leads her on a mission to figure out the story behind the book and how to cure her sister. The second is Farrell, whose wealthy and privileged family is deeply connected to the secret Hawkspear society. When Farrell is tapped to join the “inner circle” of the society, he finds himself on a mission to learn more about Crys. And finally there’s Maddox, a boy from another world with magical powers he doesn’t quite understand. When Beca’s spirit appears to Maddox, he becomes embroiled in a plot to save his kingdom from cruel leadership and a pledge to help Becca return home.

At first I thought I might struggle with the third person perspectives, but it actually works really well here. All of the three main characters are engaging narrators with distinct voices. I had a love/hate relationship with how Farrell was portrayed; largely because he seemed to become more and more of an unreliable narrator as the story progressed, which I actually love, but can be oh-so-frustrating when you’re invested in the story! There was also a bit of an instalove situation with Becca and Maddox, but it didn’t bother me too much because the story is so big it couldn’t logistically spend too much time on romance, and because both characters were pretty sweet and innocent and I could kind of see them realistically getting mooney-eyed over each other in this situation.

The fantasy aspect of the story is mainly in the magic, so I found it to be a really nice balance of contemporary mystery and fantasy – definitely not high fantasy, as I’ve seen the Falling Kingdoms series described. There was not one moment of A Book of Spirits and Thieves where I felt confused or out of the loop, even though the plot contains some pretty complex threads. Rhodes does a really nice job of teasing out a mystery and pulling things together in a way that makes sense, but also leaving plenty of conflict for future books.

So to summarize:

Do you need to have read Falling Kingdoms to appreciate this book? Nope, it’s a total non-issue.

Do you need to love fantasy to appreciate this book? No – fantasy is just one part of this story. I’d compare it to Renee Adieh’s The Wrath and the Dawn in terms of the level of fantasy-ness, so if you enjoyed that, you’ll have no problem with A Book of Spirits and Thieves.

And on the subject of future books, you can bet I’m definitely looking forward to finding out what happens next in this series. As to whether I’ll check out Falling Kingdoms remains to be seen, but I’m definitely on board for A Book of Spirits and Thieves.