21 August 2018

Review: We Regret to Inform You

We Regret to Inform You
by Ariel Kaplan

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: August 21, 2018

WE REGRET TO INFORM YOU by Ariel Kaplan is the scariest, most terrifying horror story I've ever read, and it's a contemporary rom-com. Mischa is a perfect student with all the grades, scores, and extracurriculars that should guarantee her a spot at any college she wants. Yet, she experiences every high schooler's worst nightmare when every single college she applied to rejects her, leaving Mischa without a plan. Digging deeper, she finds her applications have been sabotaged. With a growing list of suspects and still no college plan, Mischa fights the clock to discover who did this to her and uncovers a much darker secret. 

As a rising senior, college is one of the most pressing things on my mind, and it was fun to read the worst possible outcome in a humorous way. The writing and characters were consistent and relatable, and although the beginning may have been a bit better than the rest of the book, it was still an enjoyable page turner. Kaplan seemed to have a better grasp on the actual high school experience than most YA authors, which was refreshing and made the story more immersive and realistic. The ending was a bit rushed and I would have loved a more elaborate conclusion. Overall, this was a fun and exciting read that other high schoolers should check out! 

07 August 2018

Review: Let Me List the Ways

Let Me List the Ways
by Sarah White

Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication Date: August 7, 2018

LET ME LIST THE WAYS by Sarah White is about Mackenzie Clark, a senior in high school who is in love with her best friend Nolan Walker. Of course he isn't aware of this fact. For their last summer together they decide to make a list of things they want to do together before it's over. Mackenzie has to decide whether she wants to jeopardize their friendship by telling Nolan her true feelings. I enjoyed reading this book. It was a fun light read.  I liked the author's writing style and the friendship development. I would recommend this book to romance novel lovers!

Review: These Rebel Waves

These Rebel Waves
by Sara Raasch

Publisher: Balzer & Bray/Harperteen
Publication Date: August 7, 2018

THESE REBEL WAVES tells the interwoven tale of three people whose lives are dependent on the rulings of two countries, Grace Loray and Agrid. Adeluna fought as a soldier for the magic-filled island of Grace Loray during the war that ended five years ago. She thought she was able to save the people from Agrid’s oppression, but when a Agridian delegate vanishes during peace talks, everything she worked for may soon be erased. Devereux is one of Grace Loray’s stream raiders, a pirate who deals in the island’s magical plants. But when Agrid accuses him and the rest of the stream raiders of kidnapping the delegate, he agrees to help Adeluna find him. Benat is the crown prince of Agrid. But unlike his magic-fearing people, he believes it could be used to heal. So when his father gives him the job of reversing Agrid’s fear, he must decide if changing his people’s lives is worth potentially losing his. But as new information is revealed and more players join the game, the three of them must decide how much they are willing to pay for peace.

This book has all the elements of a blockbuster novel, and it delivers excellently. Starting with the setting itself, the author clearly put a lot of research into it. From the lush plants that could be found around the island to the extremist church group that controls Agrid, readers are quickly immersed in how well developed everything is. While reading, I always found myself being sucked in to the author’s descriptive prose that makes you feel like what she was describing was actual history. Things like extreme and cultish religion can be hard to portray in books, but the author still found a way to do it excellently. This includes a multitude of magical experimentation which Raasch describes in a way that makes it sound like she was conducting them herself. The author also did an amazing job making sure that Grace Loray’s side of things wasn’t too biased, so their government didn’t seem like they were the absolutely good guys and that they could do no harm. I found that balancing and providing two sides to the coin like that enhanced the book beautifully and made it feel so much more real.

Another part of this book that I absolutely adored were the characters. None of them felt fake and overdone. None of them felt incomplete and undeveloped. A problem that frequently arises with books like this, is that the author often makes the characters tragic and overload them with dark and depressing backstory. And though these characters did have that, none of them used it to overload their personalities. It never felt like the only things that made up the characters were where they came from. Rather, these backstories helped guide the characters to where they might be, giving us insight to what they might do later on.

Adeluna, for example, was a character who was everything a typical badass female lead could be: smart, strong, and beautiful. She also plays the role of the sheltered-princess type despite fighting in a disastrous war. But what made her so different than other characters is that she not only showed that she is beyond and better than that, but she also showed that even ‘perfect’ girls can be wrong, and have faults. An example of something I found that made her different than other characters was something that occurred early on in the book. Adeluna is in an intense fighting scene (that I won’t describe even though it happens very early on) during which she does some complex moves. Typically when an ex-soldier-warrior-princess-like character does this, they do it perfectly. But though Adeluna did execute the move with finesse, she did think at one point "Oh, I wonder if I still remember how to do this. It’s been a while after all." I’m paraphrasing of course, but I found this thought to be interesting because it is so rare to see doubt in fighting ability from a character type like hers. This was just one example of many of how the author truly went beyond the standards of characters in typical fantasy novels to make hers unique.

Of course, no good cast of characters would be complete without an equally excellent plot. And the author delivered this perfectly, taking readers on a thrill ride which combined adventure, political intrigue, a slow building romance, and just a dash of magic to make the perfect novel for fantasy lovers. Readers will fall in love with the subplots of this book and the terrifying flashbacks that will integrate an element of surprise into the book that readers won’t see coming.

I would recommend this book to fantasy lovers, but also to people who enjoy reading books that feel like they were inspired by history. Also, if you love seeing LGBT characters and romance featured in fantasy, you will be happy to know that THESE REBEL WAVES features this (which isn’t typical in pirate fantasy like this). THESE REBEL WAVES is a book that won’t let you down if you are looking for a breathtaking adventure that will leave you begging for more.

Review: Finding Yvonne

Finding Yvonne
by Brandy Colbert

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: August 7, 2018

Eighteen-year-old Yvonne is at a crossroads. A violin prodigy, she’s always known she wanted to be a musician. But lately she worries she’s falling out of love with the instrument. She has another decision to make: Her almost-boyfriend Warren is a safe and familiar option; Omar, his polar opposite, is exciting and dangerous and a musician, but Yvonne fears he isn’t telling her everything. To make matters worse, lately her dad’s been more interested in getting high than he’s been in spending time with her. Just when it seems like her life is spinning out of control, she falls pregnant. 

FINDING YVONNE is a moving read. It’s a compassionate coming-of-age-story about teenage friendship, romance, and big decisions. Brandy Colbert deftly handles some of the weightier subject matter. She’s able to keep the book a relatively light-hearted read. 

01 August 2018

Review: Anna and the Swallow Man

Anna and the Swallow Man
by Gavriel Savit

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: January 26, 2016

ANNA AND THE SWALLOW MAN by Gavriel Savit is a captivating and enveloping story about a young Polish girl, who is left defenseless and alone at seven years old after her father is taken to a concentration camp by Germans in 1939. By chance she meets a fascinating man who can speak to birds and comforts her when she is lost. She follows him, having no one else to turn to, and although he initially resists, they begin to travel together through the forests and swamps of Poland, running from the impending dangers of WWII.

Everything about this story is wonderful. The situational irony of Anna’s experiences reveal horrors that Anna can’t understand, giving an interesting perspective to her experiences in the war. The story is gripping and at times heartbreaking. Although incorporating a bit of magical realism, the story is a real and moving depiction of the suffering in WWII. Each character is given extreme care by the author who carefully crafts their stories and interactions and each character grows throughout the book, often out of love for sweet, innocent Anna. The writing is beautiful and expressive, giving fascinating detail as the story slowly unfolds. This was an amazing book and I recommend it to any teens who enjoy historical fiction and a subtle yet thrilling story.

Review: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
by Jesse Andrews

Publisher: Abrams Books
Publication Date: March 1, 2012

Jesse Andrew’s much-revered debut novel, ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL, was the perfect sardonic counterbalance to what seemed like a wave of “fake-deep” books about illnesses that  seemed to not only populate the 2012 bookshelves, but dominate them. It isn’t hard to describe the essential Early 2010’s Cancer Book; a main character has an illness, a romance ensues, a life lesson is learned, and none of them are over the age of 19. Allow me to tell you why ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL is different: it acknowledges that its characters are teenagers.

Greg Gaines, the protagonist, doesn’t speak like some third-rate philosopher; he’s funny, he’s selfish, he’s flawed; Greg is a real teenager. He doesn’t know how to deal with Rachel, his old childhood friend who he’s only talking to again because she has cancer. He doesn’t even know if he should be dealing with her at all. This imperfection is what makes him such a compelling character. (That, and the fact that he’s hil-ar-ious.)
This ability to tap into the real feelings of teens makes ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL a book that will make you cry tears of laughter, and just cry in general. While it’s familiar in the sense of subject matter, it’s nothing that you’ve ever read before. ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL is a book that everyone must read, and trust me, you’ll thank me for suggesting it once you have!