The Upside of Unrequited

5139zwihtyl-_sx329_bo1204203200_First Lines: I’m on the toilet at the 9:30 Club, and I’m wondering how mermaids pee.  This isn’t random.  There’s a mermaid Barbie attached to the door of the bathroom here.  Which is a pretty odd choice for a bathroom mascot.  If that’s even a thing.

Hey guys!  So I got this as an ARC ages ago and forgot I had it…(oops?)…but I did manage to finish it around the time it came out!  (It released yesterday.)  At least I’m timely!  Anyway, I had to give this book a try.

Molly knows all about crushes and unrequited love, since she’s had twenty-six crushes throughout her life.  And it doesn’t matter how many times her twin sister Cassie tells her to get out there because Molly can’t stand the idea of being rejected.  Fat girls never win the guy in movies.  When a cute girl comes into Cassie’s life, Molly finds herself suddenly alone and dealing with her sister’s love life.  Luckily, Cassie’s new girlfriend brings with her a cute hipster boy.  If Molly can win him over, he could be her first kiss.  The only problem is Reid, Molly’s chubby Tolkein-superfan coworker.  Because there’s no way Reid could be cuter than the hipster…right?

I was up and down with this book. There are some very intelligent observations in this book about family, relationships, and friends. I appreciated those. I also really liked its portrayal of love in all its forms. (We have lesbian parents, another couple involving one female who is gay and one female who is pansexual, and straight couples too.) I didn’t feel like it was trying to make a big flashy point like, “LOOK! WE HAVE A GAY COUPLE HERE! PRAISE ME FOR ADDING GAY CHARACTERS!” It felt more natural. No one questioned why anyone was gay or straight or anything else. It was just their normal.

I also liked the portrayal of those uncomfortable feelings, like being a third wheel or having an unconventional, politically-incorrect, probably racist grandmother making uncomfortable comments in front of other people. (As cringe-y as she was, I did like Grandma Betty.)  And the truths about dealing with misogyny, weight, social pressures, etc.  This book covered a lot of ground.

I liked that the main characters included so many diverse types. Molly is, by her own admission, a big girl. She has two moms, one white and one black. Her twin sister is gay. Molly’s friends include total nerds and hipsters. So it was cool to see how some of this played out throughout the story.  And, of course, I love people who are unapologetic nerds.  The ones who like what they like and everyone else can take it or leave it.  There are a few of those in this story too.

But there were also things I didn’t like. I didn’t like the constant (and I mean constant) profanity. And boy, do they get creative with it. I think every other page had some form of profanity on it. Yes, I know people curse, but this was prolific.

I also thought a lot of the dialogue was unnecessarily vulgar and forced. I have lived a quarter of a century and I have never had 60% of the conversations Molly and her friends have about female bodies, boys, sex, etc. Nor have I heard most of those conversations at any point. At first it felt fine, like it was a little bit of a shock factor but whatever. But the longer it kept going on, the more it sounded like that attention-grabbing student who blurts out dirty comments in order to get the class to pay attention to them. It was more annoying than anything.

It just all came across as kind of eh to me. I keep picking it up and then losing interest. Not that it wasn’t good in a lot of ways, but it just didn’t keep my attention.  But given its high rating on Goodreads, it’s working for a lot of people.  Just not me.

The Outlaws of Sherwood

51g4kt1rhxl-_sy344_bo1204203200_First Lines: A small vagrant breeze came from nowhere and barely flicked the feather tips as the arrow sped on its way.

Hey guys!  So I grabbed this at the library because A) it’s Robin McKinley, who has written some of my favorite Beauty and the Beast retellings and B) I really do love me some Robin Hood.  I’m on a British/medieval kick right now (not really shocking, since I am about 60% of the time anyway), and this seemed like it would hit the spot.

Robin, a young forester, is weak.  Or at least that’s what the other foresters think.  As a target for their bullying, Robin does his best to stay out of their way.  But when one confrontation leaves a man dead, Robin knows his only option is to hide in Sherwood Forest.  With the help of a few friends, Robin manages to put together a small camp and recruit others who don’t fit in.  But creating a band of outlaws is the easy part…what happens when the Sheriff of Nottingham begins hunting for them?

I’m not really doing this book justice with that blurb, because it covers so much of the Robin story that it’s impossible to mention all of it, but it covers the big parts.

This was pretty well done. It does start off slow though, I will say. It took me a while to get into the story, but once I did, it was cute. There were a few twists I was not expecting, which says something for a legend I know as well as this one. I liked the changes that she made to the story (which every author does) and I thought it built well on the original legend.

The characters are all quite charming (well, besides the villains, obviously). They each have their quirks and I liked being introduced to each of them. I really liked Little John, who has been rapidly rising in my respect of his character the more I read these retellings.  And it has all the old favorites: Alan-a-dale, Much, Marian (who is a very strong and vivacious lead, certainly not a caricature), Will Scarlet, the Sheriff, King Richard, etc.  It also includes characters I was not familiar with.  A few I’m pretty sure were made up for this story (like the young Cecil, who becomes Little John’s boy), but others I think are in some of the older version of Robin Hood and have been dropped in more recent years.

Speaking of characters, as I mentioned with Marian, she is a female character worthy of admiration.  Most/all of the female characters were.  I absolutely loved that McKinley made it a point to show the strength of women, whether they were fighters, nobles, or simply the kitchen help.  Each one of them had a moment where you saw them as a person with fears and strengths rather than simply a shadowy, requisite female character.

The plot, after the beginning, can be quite exciting.  We cover so many of the stories surrounding Robin that we’re familiar with: Robin on the run, meeting Little John, Robin’s feelings for Marian, stealing from the rich to give to the poor, etc.  This story does make it more of an Us vs. Them story, with the Saxons (the original people of England) vs. the Norman invaders (those who came from France with William the Conqueror to take over and settle England, thus starting British history as we know it).  This was a point of real contention at this time, and it was a twist that I don’t usually see a lot in modern Robin Hood tales.

The ending is definitely worth it. It just takes a little while for this band of merry men (and women) to get going.

Romeo and What’s Her Name

28265679First Lines: “What’s so urgent?” my best friend Jillian Frankel called out as she made her way through the throngs of juniors clogging the halls of Shaker Heights High School.

Hey guys!  So I’m on Spring Break this week and incredibly hopeful that I’ll get a few more posts up than I have been lately!  (Also, I know it’s April Fools today, but let’s just ignore that.  Not really a fan of this “holiday” anyway.)  So this book was one that I wanted to read because of the Shakespeare connection.  And the acting.  You’ll see.

I’m just going to copy the actual jacket here, since it does a good job: Understudies never get to perform. . . which is why being Juliet’s understudy in the school’s yearly “Evening with Shakespeare” is the perfect role for Emily. She can earn some much-needed extra credit while pursuing her main goal of spending time with Wes, aka Romeo, aka the hottest, nicest guy in school (in her completely unbiased opinion). And she meant to learn her lines, really, it’s just:
a) Shakespeare is HARD,
b) Amanda, aka the “real” Juliet, makes her run errands instead of lines, and
c) there’s no point because Amanda would never miss the chance to be the star of the show.

Then, Amanda ends up in the hospital and Emily, as the (completely unprepared!) understudy, has to star opposite the guy of her dreams. Oops?

It was…sort of cute. If this was any Shakespearean work, it was A Comedy of Errors. Everything that our characters do is just one farce after another. Emily especially is basically a comedian in teenager form. Everything she touches turns into a clumsy accident. Which, while funny, gets incredibly old when she seems to be incompetent rather than simply an unfortunate girl.

It wasn’t until the second half of the book that I started getting more into it. I truly almost put it down in the beginning because I just couldn’t connect with anyone or anything. Even the Shakespeare sometimes made me cringe (especially Emily’s attempts at Shakespearean language). While I’m not a Shakespearean purist by any means, I do think it needs to be treated with respect. And I didn’t really feel like this book did that, so it was off-putting to me as an English teacher/nerd. For the normal reader? It’s probably not a huge deal.

The second half, as I mentioned, was better. I understood the friendships better and Emily was less of a Danger-Prone-Daphne. If only the Emily that existed there could have existed throughout most of the book.

I also struggled with some of the characters seeming like complete stereotypes. Amanda, Emily’s rival for the role of Juliet and Wes’s affections, is your textbook Queen Bee. Vicious, popular, manipulative, and nasty, Amanda is every Mean Girl we hated in school. But it’s completely a caricature rather than feeling like an actual character. It just wasn’t fun to read.

I think part of my problem was with the writing style.  It was very obvious.  I mean, you can tell so much information from the first sentence alone, like an info-dump there.  I’m not saying the whole book was an info-dump, but it was one of those where the surprises were never subtle.  It was one where Emily would say things like, “Why should I do that?  That’ll never happen.”  And then it does.  Like 10 times over.  Rinse, wash, repeat.  It’s only funny like twice.
But I did still kinda like it because it was still entertaining after I understood what was going on. It just wasn’t as great as I was hoping.

Dangerous Lies

20909906First Lines: An angry rap shook the motel room door.  I lay perfectly still on the mattress, my skin hot and clammy.

Oh my gosh, it’s a book review!  The odds of seeing one of those on here anymore is like trying to spot a unicorn.  I picked this up at the library a while ago when I got nostalgic for the suspense in Black Ice, Becca Fitzpatrick’s first foray into suspense thrillers.  I thought this would be worth it.

After witnessing a horrific crime, a girl is given a new identity and a new home.  She becomes Stella Gordon and moves to Thunder Basin, Nebraska.  But Stella isn’t ready to give up her life just yet.  Why should she give up her boyfriend, her high school career, her life–because someone else committed a crime and she needs to testify against them?  How can she be expected to start a life in Nebraska, of all places?  Stella begins to count the days until she turns 18 and can legally set out on her own…but things change when she meets Chet Falconer and it becomes harder for her to keep her distance.  She knows she can’t tell Chet about her past, but the guilt of constantly lying to him is starting to eat her alive.  And just when Stella begins to feel safe in her new home, she’ll realize that her enemies are much closer than she believed…

While this had moments of feeling like a thriller/suspense story, it’s way more mellow than Black Ice. Basically, this is the story of Stella as she struggles to feel normal in the middle of Nebraska after being relocated there by the witness protection program. Yes, there’s quite a bit of stuff about how she landed in witness protection, but this book is equally about her culture shock, coming from Philly.  So it’s not much about the suspense as it is about her learning about life, love, and forgiveness.

Stella is a good protagonist for this story because she’s stubborn and strong, even though sometimes she’s too stubborn for her own good. I kind of like that, though. And I also liked that she had moments of weakness that made her seem more flawed. She’s more annoying at the beginning than she is later.  And I only say that in retrospect because I don’t remember finding her annoying in the beginning at all.

The plot was good as well, though I felt like it tended to jump around a lot. There are quite a few loose ends in this story that never fully get answered. They are left vague, perhaps to force you to make your own conclusions. That wasn’t really a tactic I liked, but I’ll freely admit that I had a hard time putting this book down. I read most of it in one sitting.

Mostly, I enjoyed the characters in this book and how they all interact. I like trying to figure people out, so to watch Stella do that in a town she doesn’t know or truly understand was fun. And there are definitely some interesting characters, as you would expect in any small town. There are secrets, gossips, corruption, and cover-ups. It’s always interesting.

Overall, I found this to be an interesting cast of characters and a serious look at the problems in life from addiction to teenage pregnancy.  But if you’re looking for a hardcore thriller, this probably isn’t your book.

World After (Penryn & the End of Days, #2)

17849112First Lines: Everyone thinks I’m dead.

Ok, so if the beginning of this book wasn’t a big ol’ spoiler for the previous book, I would definitely give you more information.  But as it stands, that one sentence is all you get for first lines.  This was a book I moved to the top of my to-read list like a year ago and I finally tried reading it.  (I move quickly, you see.)  But first, I reread Angelfall to remember the story and the characters.  Best. Idea. Ever.

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*

To Penryn, the world after the angel apocalypse looks nothing like the world she knew before.  Making it seem normal again isn’t easy, especially after a group of people attack her sister, Paige, thinking Paige is a monster.  What ends in a massacre leaves a family torn apart and Paige disappears.  Desperate to find her again, Penryn takes to the empty streets of San Francisco, but a question lingers: where is everybody?  Her search reveals the angels’ plans and the depths they are willing to go to for control.  Meanwhile, Raffe can’t rejoin the angel ranks unless he gets his wings back.  But stuck between helping Penryn survive or his wings, which will he choose?

Y’all, I love this series.  There’s something that’s so different about it and I wish I could put my finger on it. But I’ll do my best.

Penryn is such a fascinating lead. She’s independent and self-reliant for such a realistic and reasonable reason: her mentally ill (and unstable) mother has never been able to care for her or her sister. So for Penryn to be clever and resourceful makes sense. She has strong survival instincts that only come more in handy in this apocalypse. I love that she’s sassy and a fighter. It makes every scene where she gets to fight back that much more exciting.

The minor characters also are a complete joy because they are so nuanced. I adore Raffe, I have a crush on Dee and Dum, and I have a place inside of me where I just want to pummel the angels for destroying Penryn’s world. But even the angels (looking at you, Uriel) have nuanced motivations and personalities. There was one moment in this book where Uriel was startled by something that happened and it sticks with me because it shows that he wasn’t planning on something happening the way it did. Penryn assessed the situation perfectly and I just can’t get over how simply perfect that one little sentence was.

The action is as amazing as ever. We haven’t seen the last of the scorpion creatures and they certainly bring a level of insanity and terror to every scene they are in. They’re just creepy and wrong. But at least we have Penryn around to kick butt (literally…just wait and see what she does in this one!) and take names. The fights are intense and I just love the way a couple of them turned out.

The world of this apocalyptic Silicon Valley is just amazing. I may never have been there, but it doesn’t matter. I can picture all the destruction and devastation as easily as if I had seen it myself. Ee pulls in a lot of landmarks that also help set the scene well.

What I loved best about this book was this tension with whether or not Penryn and Raffe would find each other again. There are a few…twists…that come along the way that I thought were well done.

Seriously, is there anything this book can’t do?

Vassa in the Night

28220892First Lines: When Night looked down, it saw its own eyes staring back at it.  Two big black eyes, both full of stars.  At first Night ignored them.

I got this book a few months back from Uppercase, but I kind of let it sit on my shelf forever because I just wasn’t sure what to make of it.  I hadn’t really heard of it at all before it arrived in the mail and it seemed like the type of book I had to be in just the right mood to read.

In the  enchanted city of Brooklyn, there are two types of people: the people who can party without worrying about anything and the people stuck in the working class district where the chance of death is much, much higher.  This is Vassa’s neighborhood, where she lives with her stepmother and two stepsisters.  Nearby is a convenience store owned by Babs Yagga, a women whose policy is to behead anyone caught shoplifting in her store–and sometimes innocent people when the mood strikes.  When Vassa’s stepsister sends her out for light bulbs, Vassa knows this could easily be a suicide mission.  But with a little big of luck and a magical wooden doll from her mother named Erg, Vassa might just break the curse and free her neighboorhood.  But when Bab’s doesn’t play fair, what will Vassa do?

This book was weird.  Like A.G. Howard’s Splintered series weird.  The kind of weird where you have to read sections two or three times and you still don’t actually understand what’s happening.

Vassa is a teenage girl in Brooklyn who doesn’t really fit in. Her stepsisters don’t understand her and her only real friend is a talking doll named Erg. As a trick (sort of a game of chicken, really), Vassa’s sister insists that Vassa go to the nearby BY’s store, where most people who go in after dark never make it out alive.  I thought Vassa was incredibly dumb for even taking her stepsister’s dare, and my opinion of her didn’t improve much throughout the story.

The story is just so bizarre that it’s very hard to follow and I found myself getting bored of it because it was so hard to follow. I kept giving up. I’d read a chapter or two and put it down to do something more interesting.  That’s never a good sign.

There was very little about the first half of this story that I liked. I never had a single character that I clicked with who kept me reading. I never had a moment where I was excited about what I was reading. Even the climax wasn’t terribly exciting for me besides the fact that I was almost done with the book.

The story only really started to improve when it was in its last twenty pages or so. Once the loose ends started getting wrapped up, I finally started feeling like the story was falling into place. Unfortunately, that’s not exactly encouraging. I had to put up with 270 pages before that.

(Some of you are probably wondering why I even bothered finishing this. I own it, bought through Uppercase. I felt obligated to read it all the way to the end.)

It was just too much.  It tries to play into many fairy tale tropes while simultaneously turning them on their head.  But it felt like it was trying to do this with every trope instead of just focusing on a couple.  It’s overwhelming.  Not one I’ll be reading again.

American Street

30256109First Lines: If only I could break the glass separating me and Manman with my thoughts alone.  On one side of the glass doors are the long lines of people with their photos and papers that prove that they belong here in America, that are allowed to taste a bit of this free air.

I receive this as an ARC from Edelweiss (I’m cutting it close; it comes out February 14, 2017.)  Before I saw it on Edelweiss, I’d never heard of this book.  But the description sounded awesome and I wanted to give it a shot.

This was supposed to be Fabiola Toussaint’s chance to live the perfect American life.  With her mother, she was going to move into the little house on the corner of American and Joy Streets with her cousins and aunt.  But after they leave Haiti, Fabiola’s mother is detained by US immigration, leaving Fabiola on her own as she tries to navigate the complex world of Detroit’s west side with her cousins Chantal, Princess, and Donna.  Just as Fabiola begins to figure out this strange new place, a dangerous offer presents itself to her and Fabiola must decide how much she’s willing to pay to live the American dream.

Can I just start by saying how timely this novel is?  The fact that it’s being released only weeks after a massive American travel ban that is separating families the same way Fabiola is separated from her mother?  I know these book releases are planned far in advance, but the timing is astounding.

Ok, here’s what I liked: I liked the infusion of Haitian culture and American culture. I liked seeing Fabiola try to understand American culture while her cousins, most of whom never saw Haiti, struggle to understand her culture and beliefs.  It’s a real culture shock for both sides.  (Especially when you see what happens on Thanksgiving!)

I thought Fabiola was a dynamic character. She begins scared and completely out of her element, especially as her mother remains detained in New Jersey. She’s on her own, with family she doesn’t remember. Then, as the story progresses, she grows into a stronger, braver girl who is beginning to find her place in this new city and new family. I liked seeing that confidence build.

I also liked how none of the characters were black-and-white heroes or villains. The characters you believe are good make mistakes–monstrous ones. The characters you hate have redeeming moments that make you think there’s still a chance for them to mend their ways. You can’t call any of them good or bad because everyone is both. Just like in life.

I also felt this was a stark and jarring view of life for many African-Americans and teenagers. I will be the first to admit that I have absolutely no idea of what the hardships are that people face in places like Detroit, that seem to be written off by everyone else as a dying city (which it’s not). But this book was shocking and, at times, uncomfortable. My world is nothing like that. And I had no idea that this was what it took to survive in these places.

Here’s what I didn’t like so much: the portrayal of Fab’s cousins and aunt. While I understand why they are so complicated, they also managed to seem flat. There was almost too much going on in their lives and by the time I got adjusted to what I’d just read, we were throwing more on top of it. For such main characters, they underwent virtually no change at all. And Matant Jo was barely in the story at all.

The story also seemed a bit unfocused. While we’re waiting to see what happens to Fab’s mother, we’re also watching her Haitian culture mix with American culture, Donna’s story, Pri’s story, Chantal’s story, how brutal American schools are, Dray’s story, Kasim’s story, and this backstory about a white girl who died taking bad drugs. There is literally so much going on that I could type out three full pages on the plot alone. Half of the time, I forgot about Fab’s mother.

This is neither negative nor positive, but I would like to just throw it out there that this is an incredibly dark book.  There is a massive amount of profanity, drug references, and violence in this story. It’s on virtually every page, which helps drill home what teenagers in Fab’s situation deal with on a daily basis. But it’s also a lot and sometimes it’s exhausting because it’s so common.

Overall, I thought this was a daring book that shows the struggle of teenagers we don’t normally get to read about.