A Fierce and Subtle Poison by Samantha Mabry
Everyone knows the legends about the cursed girl--Isabel, the one the señoras whisper about. They say she has green skin and grass for hair, and she feeds on the poisonous plants that fill her family’s Caribbean island garden. Some say she can grant wishes; some say her touch can kill.
Seventeen-year-old Lucas lives on the mainland most of the year but spends summers with his hotel-developer father in Puerto Rico. He’s grown up hearing stories about the cursed girl, and he wants to believe in Isabel and her magic. When letters from Isabel begin mysteriously appearing in his room the same day his new girlfriend disappears, Lucas turns to Isabel for answers--and finds himself lured into her strange and enchanted world. But time is running out for the girl filled with poison, and the more entangled Lucas becomes with Isabel, the less certain he is of escaping with his own life.
I was so excited to read this book, so intrigued by the premise, and I'm equally disappointed that it didn't live up to my hopes. The plot was clumsy and the pacing was erratic, so that it was difficult to really get caught up in the story. The characters were only minimally developed and not always easy to relate to.
Some parts of the book, like the inclusion of Puerto Rican folklore, were really enjoyable, and like I said, the premise was really cool. Which I suppose is why I'm so disappointed by this book - it had so much potential, and I think if it had been told differently, it would have been an amazing novel. If Isabel had been the narrator, the mystery aspect of the story would have had so much more impact (honestly I'm so sad that instead of being narrated by a cursed, half-native girl in the heart of a mystery the novel is narrated by a rich white boy from the mainland). If the author had spent more time developing and exploring the characters, it might have been a truly moving story. If the pacing had been smoother and the plot less clunky, I might have been swept away by this book.
But I wasn't. For me, this book was just an entertaining read for a boring Saturday.
Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price—and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can't pull it off alone...
A convict with a thirst for revenge.
A sharpshooter who can't walk away from a wager.
A runaway with a privileged past.
A spy known as the Wraith.
A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums.
A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes.
Kaz's crew are the only ones who might stand between the world and destruction—if they don't kill each other first.
This is the best adventure book I've read in a long time, and maybe the best adventure book I've ever read.
I thoroughly enjoyed Bardugo's Grisha Trilogy, but I didn't love it like I love Six of Crows. Alina and Mal's story was engrossing and well-told, but it wasn't a five-star read for me, and Six of Crows definitely is. There wasn't a single thing about it that I didn't like.
The worldbuilding is beautiful and intricate and so realistic I had to remind myself that Ketterdam and Fjerda are not real, and I can't vacation there. The level of detail in the description of Kerch alone is mind boggling, and Bardugo put that much detail and more into six other countries in a god-like show of writing ability.
If Bardugo's writing prowess is evident in the construction of the countries and cities in Six of Crows, it shows even more in her skill at creating and developing characters. I have a certain weakness for bands of outcasts that form their own little families, especially when they're on daring, death-defying missions. But the Dregs blow all others out of the water. I love these stupidly brave, flawed characters with all my heart. Each of them gets near-equal attention from Bardugo, who gave them all a detailed backstory without bogging down the plot. The details of their characters were revealed so masterfully as the story progressed that it felt like I was getting to know them while going on this crazy, brilliant mission with them.
I don't think I've ever been so immersed in an adventure story. The realism of the story never broke down for me (and I know that someone somewhere is hollering "But it's unrealistic that teenagers could do the things the Dregs do!" To which I reply, the world Bardugo has created is very different from ours, and it is one where kids are expected to grow up very quickly, so I'm not surprised that teenagers in the Dregs' position are far more quick-witted and talented than most teenagers of our world. And if some of their skills still seem a little out of reach, remember that you're reading a book in which a kind of magic exists).
Everything that I loved about Bardugo's writing and the world she'd created in the Grisha Trilogy have returned tenfold in Six of Crows, without it seeming like a rehashing of the Grisha Trilogy. Whether you've read Bardugo's first series or not, Six of Crows is an imaginative and impressive story that will leave you anxious for more. As for me, I'm glad the Dregs' story doesn't end here, but not quite sure how I'll make it to Crooked Kingdom's release in September!
Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
Simon Snow is the worst chosen one who’s ever been chosen.
That’s what his roommate, Baz, says. And Baz might be evil and a vampire and a complete git, but he’s probably right.
Half the time, Simon can’t even make his wand work, and the other half, he sets something on fire. His mentor’s avoiding him, his girlfriend broke up with him, and there’s a magic-eating monster running around wearing Simon’s face. Baz would be having a field day with all this, if he were here—it’s their last year at the Watford School of Magicks, and Simon’s infuriating nemesis didn’t even bother to show up.
Carry On is a ghost story, a love story, a mystery and a melodrama. It has just as much kissing and talking as you’d expect from a Rainbow Rowell story—but far, far more monsters.
I don't know how to carry on after reading this book.
I read almost the entire book straight through last night, finishing well past one in the morning, at which point I was basically a puddle of emotions. I haven't been able to stop thinking about it all day - every other thought in my head is related to Carry On, and how amazing it was, and how I'm probably going to go home and immediately start rereading it. A book hasn't made me this ridiculously happy in a long time.
I don't read a lot of romances, or get super emotional over them very often, but Rainbow Rowell has this amazing ability to write a romance that leaves me flailing my limbs like an overexcited toddler and feeling like a swarm of Amazonian butterflies have settled in my stomach. And the romance inCarry On is just so well done. The growth of Simon and Baz's relationship is so realistic and beautifully written (and wonderfully cliche free!) that I don't think I'll ever be over it.
Carry On is, at its core, a romance, but it's also a fantasy novel that loosely parallels Harry Potter. The first few chapters have a lot more parallels and veiled allusions to HP, but after after that, Rowell sets up her own magical world with a unique set of rules, values, spells, and magical creatures. The worldbuilding is honestly genius, playing off of what people expect to find and adding plenty of twists. The politics of the World of Mages and Simon and Baz's place in them are fascinating and intricate, and the magiclore is clever and intriguing (I especially love the spells - they seemed a little silly at first, but after we got a better explanation of them, I was blown away by how ingenious they were).
The adventure/fantasy side of the story is predictable (I guessed the Big Twist not even halfway into the book) but with enough small surprises that it isn't stale. The focus is on Simon and Baz's characters and relationship, and their roles in the magickal world add more depth to that without being the center of attention. That said, if you're only interested in Carry Onbecause of the fantasy aspect, Rowell created such a cool world and villain that it's still worth the read.
(And the reread. And the next reread).
I think the only thing I didn't like about this book was that there wasn't more of it - which is saying something, given that it's 522 pages!
Winter by Marissa Meyer
Princess Winter is admired by the Lunar people for her grace and kindness, and despite the scars that mar her face, her beauty is said to be even more breathtaking than that of her stepmother, Queen Levana.
Winter despises her stepmother, and knows Levana won’t approve of her feelings for her childhood friend—the handsome palace guard, Jacin. But Winter isn’t as weak as Levana believes her to be and she’s been undermining her stepmother’s wishes for years. Together with the cyborg mechanic, Cinder, and her allies, Winter might even have the power to launch a revolution and win a war that’s been raging for far too long.
Can Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter defeat Levana and find their happily ever afters?
This book was hard to finish. Not because it was bad or anything, but because I didn't want this series to end. From the first page of Cinder, Marissa Meyer delivered lovable characters, fast-paced action, political intrigue, and beautiful storytelling, and she didn't stop until the last page of Winter. I think The Lunar Chronicles are the only YA series that has never let me down. I loved every sentence of every book, and I am so sad to be finished with it.
That said, Meyer absolutely nailed the ending. Bittersweet and wonderfully thought out, Winter is the perfect conclusion to this amazing series. The elements of Snow White are incorporated with the subtle genius that Meyer brought to her sci-fi/dystopian/political thriller/romance interpretations of Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, and Rapunzel.
The leading ladies of The Lunar Chronicles are the best part of the series. I could rant for hours about the importance of a series based around six fully realized female characters and filled with a beautifully diverse cast of characters, but for now I'm just going to thank Marissa Meyer.
Thank you for this exciting, heart-wrenching, stay-up-reading-until-two-am-good series.
The Mission by Jason Meyers
Kaden Norris's life is shattered when his older brother -- his best friend and hero -- is killed in Iraq. All Kaden has left of Kenny is a letter, urging him to break away from his sheltered life and to go to San Francisco to visit his cousin, James.
Kaden is blown away as James introduces him to a life filled with drugs, sex, and apathy. He goes from extreme high to extreme low, having no idea what to expect. And when Kaden uncovers secrets about his family that have been kept from him for years, his entire world comes crashing down. This may not be the trip his brother had envisioned for him, but it's one Kaden will never forget.
DNF at page 270 out of 361
This book reminds me of The Catcher in the Rye, but somehow even less profound. After 270 pages, not much had happened besides Kaden wandering around San Francisco being stupid and reckless and thinking it made him "rad." I have honestly never heard the word " rad" used so often and so unironically before reading The Mission.
My biggest problem with this book was that I didn't like any of the characters at all. More than that, I just didn't care about them. James Morgan, who could have been a very complex character, only waltzed into the story occasionally to add a bit of drama before becoming irrelevant again. Caralie, the only character I liked even a little, was oversimplified and sexualized.
Kaden's characterization was lazy and conflicting rather than complex. He's described a being both a timid kid with self-esteem issues and as a confident tough guy unafraid to dress like a rapper in rural Iowa. All of Meyers' descriptions of Kaden are scattered and contradictory. He's described as poor enough to wear a coat he found in a parking lot on one page, and fifty pages later as "well-off." He's afraid to kiss his girlfriend but has no issue hooking up with unknown girls.
And every single woman in the book is described in terms of her body. Even Kaden's mother. It was honestly gross, and combined with a disturbing amount of slut-shaming, is a huge reason I'm not finishing this book.
Maybe the end of this book is great and does something to negate the crappiness of the first 300 pages, but I really don't feel like slogging through another 100 pages of drunk, high assholes arguing with each other and acting like that's the best way to live to find out.
The Darkest Corners by Kara Thomas
There are ghosts around every corner in Fayette, Pennsylvania. Tessa left when she was nine and has been trying ever since not to think about it after what happened there that last summer. Memories of things so dark will burn themselves into your mind if you let them.
Callie never left. She moved to another house, so she doesn’t have to walk those same halls, but then Callie always was the stronger one. She can handle staring into the faces of her demons—and if she parties hard enough, maybe one day they’ll disappear for good.
Tessa and Callie have never talked about what they saw that night. After the trial, Callie drifted and Tessa moved, and childhood friends just have a way of losing touch.
But ever since she left, Tessa has had questions. Things have never quite added up. And now she has to go back to Fayette—to Wyatt Stokes, sitting on death row; to Lori Cawley, Callie’s dead cousin; and to the one other person who may be hiding the truth.
Only the closer Tessa gets to the truth, the closer she gets to a killer—and this time, it won’t be so easy to run away.
I love a good murder mystery, especially one with a big twist. I was certain that The Darkest Corners would deliver the shocking, double-check-your-locks thrills of a good mystery, but it just...didn't.
Not too long after starting the book, I got the feeling that Kara Thomas had read Gillian Flynn's books, decided she wanted to write mysteries too, and then wasn't quite able to write a book that set itself apart. The Darkest Corners has a lot of similarities to Flynn's Dark Places, from the title to the basic plotline (girl witnesses murder as a child and puts a potentially innocent man in jail; years later she must revisit her podunk hometown and re-investigate the murder) to the use of non-police true-crime-junkie groups and prostitutes as sources of information.
I want to make it very, very clear here: I am in no way accusing Thomas of plagiarizing Flynn; I am simply saying that The Darkest Corners emulates Flynn's Dark Places in enough ways that it doesn't really feel like a new story, so there's no need to read both. And if you're only going to read one, it should probably be Dark Places, which is infinitely better written.
The Darkest Corners was interesting enough to keep me reading and didn't lag, but I also think it didn't lag because it didn't spend enough time on things. The relationship between Callie and Tessa - which had been broken for ten years - healed very quickly; major themes, like corruption in the police, were barely touched upon; and all of the events at the end of the book were resolved so rapidly that I hardly had time to start worrying for the characters before they were out of trouble again!
All of that aside, the end of the book was dark and twisted enough to save The Darkest Corners from a 2 star rating. The last few chapters are the only part of The Darkest Corners that readers really see the darkness alluded to in the title; while the rest of the book is implicitly dark, it's overshadowed by teenage politics and randomly inserted backstory from Tessa, to the point that you have to stop and think for a second before you realize just how messed up something is. Maybe that was Thomas' intention, but it's not what I was hoping for from this book, so it only earns 3 stars.
If you're thinking of reading The Darkest Corners as a follow-up to a Gillian Flynn novel, don't waste your time. But if you're looking for a YA-friendly murder mystery with a good twist, you could do worse.
Cracked by K M Walton
Victor hates his life. He has no friends, gets beaten up at school, and his parents are always criticizing him. Tired of feeling miserable, Victor takes a bottle of his mother's sleeping pills—only to wake up in the hospital.
Bull is angry, and takes all of his rage out on Victor. That makes him feel better, at least a little. But it doesn't stop Bull's grandfather from getting drunk and hitting him. So Bull tries to defend himself with a loaded gun.
When Victor and Bull end up as roommates in the same psych ward, there's no way to escape each other or their problems. Which means things are going to get worse—much worse—before they get better….
This book was an enormous disappointment. I was promised a book about the reality of bullying and abuse and depression, and Walton handed me a book so divorced from that reality that it was almost painful to read.
The book starts off as legitimately affecting and emotional and quickly peters out into a charicature of mental illness. This is a book for people who don't know and don't care about the reality of mental illness and abuse - the people who want to believe that there's always a happy ending and it's not that hard to find it.
Bullshit. Walton made the psych ward sound like a boring summer camp - few rules, plenty of positivity, and maybe you'll even fall in love! In a real psych ward, you can't start making out in the hallway. Kids don't stay for a few days and go home all better. And they don't always get happy endings. Recovering from depression and the psychological effects of abuse is a long, difficult process, and neither Victor nor Bull experience that. A few group therapy sessions, a pretty (and severely underdeveloped) love interest for both of them, and - bam! - they're good as new. Not to mention everything falling into place so that they don't have to go back to the same situations and are less likely to relapse. That's just not how the real world works. Walton only makes one tiny mention of an unhappy ending, but blink and you'll miss it.
I can forgive Walton for her lazy descriptions (ex: "That made me feel bad.") I can forgive her for the badly writted side characters and sloppy romance. But I can't forgive her for writing a book about depression and abuse that barely grazes the surface of that reality.
The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara
It is 1950 when Norton Perina, a young doctor, embarks on an expedition to a remote Micronesian island in search of a rumored lost tribe. There he encounters a strange group of forest dwellers who appear to have attained a form of immortality that preserves the body but not the mind. Perina uncovers their secret and returns with it to America, where he soon finds great success. But his discovery has come at a terrible cost, not only for the islanders, but for Perina himself. Disquieting yet thrilling, The People in the Trees is an anthropological adventure story with a profound and tragic vision of what happens when cultures collide.
The People in the Trees is the (fictional) memoir of A. Norton Perina, a renowned scientist and train wreck of a man who manages to be both extremely unlikable and compelling in telling his story. There is quite a lot I don't like about this book - which I'll get to later - but almost none of it is due to the way it's written. Perina's voice is clear and well-developed, but because it's also racist, sexist, and misanthropic, after a while it's more tiring than anything. Perina's attitude towards his colleagues, his research subjects, his brother, even his children, is obnoxiously derisive and dismissive. His constant disdain for the people and things around him - often unreasonable and always detailed explicitly - reminds me a little of Holden Caulfield, but not in any of the ways that make The Catcher in the Rye's narrator a good character.
Ostensibly, The People in the Trees is about the fallout caused by Perina's discovery of "immortality" among a remote Micronesian society. The time Perina spends on Ivu'ivu unraveling the mystery of the "dreamers" is interesting enough that I didn't mind the narrator's exasperating narcissism. The inevitable decline of the island and the fate of the dreamers is emotional, though only briefly detailed. This part of the book is probably eighty percent of the reason I'm giving it three stars.
After Perina's discoveries on the island force it into the Western world's spotlight, the book moves away from Ivu'ivu, the dreamers, and their "immortality." The themes of discovery and scientific ethics are abandoned, but the theme of moral ambiguity remains. Yanagihara explores the idea a little bit with the a'ina'ina ceremony on the island, and in that context it's thought-provoking and basically anthropological in nature.
In the interest of not giving away spoilers, I'm not going to do into much detail, but the moral ambiguity in questions concerns Perina allegedly raping at least one of his 43 children. Both Perina and his friend Kubodera, who narrates the introduction and epilogue, are extremely lax about the issue, even trying to pass it off as okay. Kubodera especially, remarking that whether or not Perina is guilty shouldn't matter because of his contributions to science, and even going so far as to propose that Perina raping his son was an act of pure, untainted love. Perina himself is unapologetic and even acts as if he's the one who's being victimized. Honestly, it just gets sickening towards the end. Exploring the idea of moral relativism with the Ivu'ivuan culture was provocative and poignant, but Yanagihara takes the idea much, much too far.
Most people, like me, would probably pick up The People in the Trees expecting an adventure story - complete with science, a mysterious disease, an unkown people, and terrible consqeuences - but instead they'll find the rather ugly and disquieting confessions of Perina. The People in the Trees is engaging mostly because of its portrayal of the lives Perina ruins or damages, whether they're his children's, the Ivu'ivuans', or the dreamers'. The only people I would feel comfortable recommending this book to would be budding anthropologists and psychologists, and I strongly urge anyone who reads this book to make sure they know what they're getting into.
I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
Jude and her twin brother, Noah, are incredibly close. At thirteen, isolated Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude cliff-dives and wears red-red lipstick and does the talking for both of them. But three years later, Jude and Noah are barely speaking. Something has happened to wreck the twins in different and dramatic ways . . . until Jude meets a cocky, broken, beautiful boy, as well as someone else—an even more unpredictable new force in her life. The early years are Noah's story to tell. The later years are Jude's. What the twins don't realize is that they each have only half the story, and if they could just find their way back to one another, they’d have a chance to remake their world.
Oh, my heart! One minute this book had it bursting with happiness and the next it was broken to bits. The last book to send my emotions on such a roller coaster ride was The Fault in Our Stars (although I wasn't reduced to a blubbering puddle of tears with this one, thank God).
I'll Give You the Sun is narrated by both twins, in two different times of their lives. Both narrations are perfectly interwoven, and the whole story is revealed to readers only at the very end of the book. Along the way, each twin narrates their version of events in their own distinct voice.
All of the characters were fantastic, but especially the twins. They both develop tremendously throughout the book, and their changes are seen mainly through the eyes of the other. This, combined with their individual artistic creations, adds volumes to their characters. I am head-over-heels in love with both of them, their myriad eccentricities, and the way Nelson wrote them.
If I ever meet Jandy Nelson, I am going to hug her for writing not one but two gorgeous love stories into this book. Fairly realistic and definitely swoon-worthy (I was honestly so happy I was lightheaded at one point), both Noah's love story and Jude's deserve some serious praise.
Towards the end of the book, Nelson starts to wax poetic a but much; the last chapter is filled with its fair share of cheesy lines. The chapters themselves are rather monstrous in size (some of them are 100+ pages) and should probably have been broken down more. However, the guidance-counselor quotes and incredibly lengthy chapters weren't egregious enough errors to take anything away from this shining example of YA fiction.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to find a rooftop to yell about this book from.
Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour
A wunderkind young set designer, Emi has already started to find her way in the competitive Hollywood film world.
Emi is a film buff and a true romantic, but her real-life relationships are a mess. She has desperately gone back to the same girl too many times to mention. But then a mysterious letter from a silver screen legend leads Emi to Ava. Ava is unlike anyone Emi has ever met. She has a tumultuous, not-so-glamorous past, and lives an unconventional life. She’s enigmatic…. She’s beautiful. And she is about to expand Emi’s understanding of family, acceptance, and true romance.
Everything Leads to You is the perfect book to read on a lazy afternoon, or backstage. Emi's job as a set decorator - in Hollywood, not even just in a high school - made me like her instantly. As a theatre tech, I probably got a lot more into Emi's project than most readers. Even without a drama background, readers will find the backlot setting interesting and different from most YAs.
Lacour has a particular talent in bringing characters to life. Emi is both prodigious and down-to-earth, grown up and talented while still being a typical teenager. Even the characters in the movies Emi works on undergo character development.
The best element of this book is the romance. It's written like a million other romances, but that's what makes it awesome. Everything Leads to You is a completely unabashed lesbian romance, a shining example of LGBTQ representation in YA. Romantics everywhere will be smiling when they finish this book.
Ex Libris, Veritas
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As Simple as Snow