Book Review: These Witches Don’t Burn by Isabel Sterling

Book: These Witches Don’t Burn by Isabel Sterling

Published May 2019 by Razorbill|336 Pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the e-book from the library

Series: These Witches Don’t Burn #1

Genre: YA Paranormal

Hannah’s a witch, but not the kind you’re thinking of. She’s the real deal, an Elemental with the power to control fire, earth, water, and air. But even though she lives in Salem, Massachusetts, her magic is a secret she has to keep to herself. If she’s ever caught using it in front of a Reg (read: non-witch), she could lose it. For good. So, Hannah spends most of her time avoiding her ex-girlfriend (and fellow Elemental Witch) Veronica, hanging out with her best friend, and working at the Fly by Night Cauldron selling candles and crystals to tourists, goths, and local Wiccans.

But dealing with her ex is the least of Hannah’s concerns when a terrifying blood ritual interrupts the end-of-school-year bonfire. Evidence of dark magic begins to appear all over Salem, and Hannah’s sure it’s the work of a deadly Blood Witch. The issue is, her coven is less than convinced, forcing Hannah to team up with the last person she wants to see: Veronica.

While the pair attempt to smoke out the Blood Witch at a house party, Hannah meets Morgan, a cute new ballerina in town. But trying to date amid a supernatural crisis is easier said than done, and Hannah will have to test the limits of her power if she’s going to save her coven and get the girl, especially when the attacks on Salem’s witches become deadlier by the day.

Isabel Sterling’s delightful, suspenseful debut is equal parts sweet romance and thrilling mystery. With everything she loves on the line, Hannah must confront this murderous villain before her coven–and any chance she has with the new girl–is destroyed.

I really liked These Witches Don’t Burn!  I wasn’t sure what to expect but I ended up liking it a lot more than I thought I would.

I really love this take on Salem and the witches that live there.  It’s definitely different, and I liked how current day Salem was tied to the Salem that we know from the Salem witch trials.  It really did tie together really well, and Sterling did a great job with connecting everything.

In a lot of ways, it’s a pretty typical story.  There are witch hunters, witches can’t tell mortals, and there’s a council overseeing everything.  I didn’t mind it, though, and it was pretty interesting to see the mystery unravel.  People are definitely not who I thought they were, and it was hard to know who to trust.  I was a little bit surprised by the revelations and now I kind of want to go back and re-read the book to see if I can pick up on anything.

The story did feel pretty realistic, and the weird things that are happening could be done by anyone.  I was surprised by some of the things in the book, but I felt like things were revealed pretty naturally.

I liked Hannah, though I didn’t love her.  I felt for her, though, and she had a lot going on, from the beginning of the book to the very end.  Especially at the end of the book.  I wasn’t a fan of Veronica and her love interest Savannah, and it seemed like Savannah had a lot of issues she needed to work out.

I get where Savannah’s coming from, and that she’s not ready to come out, but I also thought she was pretty horrible to Hannah for a good chunk of the book.  Veronica was pretty careless at times as well, and she was pretty terrible to Hannah at times.

Hannah was sweet, though, and you can tell she’s really earnest.  She wants to help and do good, and it shows.  It makes her really endearing, and I’m curious to see how the events of this book will change her.  If it does, but I don’t see her staying the same person she was in this book.

4 stars.  I really liked These Witches Don’t Burn.  It was fun and intriguing, and I am looking forward to reading the next book.

Book Review: Her Royal Highness by Rachel Hawkins

Book: Her Royal Highness by Rachel Hawkins

Published May 2019 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books For Young Readers|304 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the e-book from the library

Series: Royals #2

Genre: YA Contemporary

Millie Quint is devastated when she discovers that her sort-of-best friend/sort-of-girlfriend has been kissing someone else. And because Millie cannot stand the thought of confronting her ex every day, she decides to apply for scholarships to boarding schools . . . the farther from Houston the better.

Millie can’t believe her luck when she’s accepted into one of the world’s most exclusive schools, located in the rolling highlands of Scotland. Everything about Scotland is different: the country is misty and green; the school is gorgeous, and the students think Americans are cute.

The only problem: Mille’s roommate Flora is a total princess.

She’s also an actual princess. Of Scotland.

At first, the girls can barely stand each other–Flora is both high-class and high-key–but before Millie knows it, she has another sort-of-best-friend/sort-of-girlfriend. Even though Princess Flora could be a new chapter in her love life, Millie knows the chances of happily ever afters are slim . . . after all, real life isn’t a fairy tale . . . or is it?

I liked Her Royal Highness!  I don’t know that I liked it as much as the first book in the series, but it was still fun and entertaining.

I wasn’t sure about Millie and Flora at the beginning, and by the end of the book, I still wasn’t sure how I felt about them as characters. They’re thrown together since they have to share a room for part of the school year.  They did have some pretty interesting interactions and I was curious to see what Flora would do next to get out of boarding school.  It didn’t work but it was fun to see what she would actually do, and I was glad that she actually found a reason to stay.

The nice thing about Her Royal Highness is that you don’t need to read the first book to know what’s going on in this one.  Some of the characters from Royals make an appearance in this book, and while it’s a good idea to read the first book for some background, you’ll know what’s going on in this one if you don’t.

One thing I didn’t like about the book was the timeline.  It seemed liked things were going really fast with not a lot of explanation of what was going on.  I felt like there were a lot of gaps in time with no indication time had passed and yet it also felt like it took forever to get to Millie and Flora getting together.  Don’t get me wrong, the book was entertaining and fun but at the same time, it did drag in the beginning.

As a couple, I didn’t really feel any connection between them.  Maybe because it felt like there were these weird gaps in time?  Honestly, I couldn’t tell you much about Millie and Flora, and maybe that’s why I’m not sure about them.  I wish there had been a little more time developing them as characters.

Speaking of characters, I couldn’t even begin to tell you about the other characters.  I can’t remember much of anything about Millie and Flora, so there’s no hope for any of the other characters that we meet in the book.  It’s also been a while since I’ve read the book, so that might be part of it, but you’d think something would stick.  Millie does make friends, which is great, and hopefully they’ll stick around for awhile.

3 stars.  Her Royal Highness was fun and entertaining, but things seemed to jump around and the characters didn’t stand out.

Book Review: Girls Of Paper And Fire by Natasha Ngan

Book Review: Girls Of Paper And Fire by Natasha Ngan

Published November 2018 by Jimmy Patterson Books|400 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: Girls Of Paper And Fire #1

Genre: YA Fantasy

Each year, eight beautiful girls are chosen as Paper Girls to serve the king. It’s the highest honor they could hope for…and the most cruel.

But this year, there’s a ninth girl. And instead of paper, she’s made of fire.

In this lush fantasy, Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most oppressed class in Ikhara. She lives in a remote village with her father, where the decade-old trauma of watching her mother snatched by royal guards still haunts her. Now, the guards are back, and this time it’s Lei they’re after–the girl whose golden eyes have piqued the king’s interest.

Over weeks of training in the opulent but stifling palace, Lei and eight other girls learn the skills and charm that befit being a king’s consort. But Lei isn’t content to watch her fate consume her. Instead, she does the unthinkable–she falls in love. Her forbidden romance becomes enmeshed with an explosive plot that threatens the very foundation of Ikhara, and Lei, still the wide-eyed country girl at heart, must decide just how far she’s willing to go for justice and revenge.

TW: violence and sexual abuse.

I absolutely loved this book!  I wasn’t sure about it at first but I ended up loving it, and while it’s not my favorite book from this year, it’s definitely one of my favorites.

One thing I wanted to start off with is the trigger warning for sexual abuse and violence.  I loved that this book had one at the beginning, but I feel like it could have been slightly more obvious.  Still, I’m glad it’s there but keep that in mind if you decide to pick up this book.

I thought Ngan handled both very delicately and respectfully.  You really felt for Lei and the other girls as they were taken from their homes, and given to the king.  The world Lei lives in, particularly once she goes to the palace seems beautiful, but danger lurks beneath the beauty, and she has to do things she doesn’t want to do.  She says no, but is ultimately punished for that.  It’s haunting, and even though Lei’s world is not real, quite a bit of the book is all too real.  The way the king uses fear and power to control the Paper Girls, and they are seen as nothing but objects.  It broke my heart to see what they had to go through, but I also loved that there was hope that things would change.

I loved Wren, and though she’s not the main character, she really was my favorite character.  I just loved her story and everything about her.  It took some time to warm up to Lei, but I ended up really liking her.  And Aoki was really interesting as well.

I also loved the world.  The author drew from her life growing up in Malaysia, and everything was so vivid.  I wish we saw more of the world that Lei lives in, but we’ll have to wait until the next book, because we’re limited to just a few places in this book.

5 stars.  I loved this book, and I wholeheartedly recommend it, especially if you like diverse books and fantasy!

Book Review: Tell Me Again How A Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan

Book: Tell Me Again How A Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan

Published October 2014 by Algonquin Young Readers|304 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: None

Genre: YA Contemporary

High-school junior Leila has made it most of the way through Armstead Academy without having a crush on anyone, which is something of a relief. Her Persian heritage already makes her different from her classmates; if word got out that she liked girls, life would be twice as hard. But when a sophisticated, beautiful new girl, Saskia, shows up, Leila starts to take risks she never thought she would, especially when it looks as if the attraction between them is mutual. Struggling to sort out her growing feelings and Saskia’s confusing signals, Leila confides in her old friend, Lisa, and grows closer to her fellow drama tech-crew members, especially Tomas, whose comments about his own sexuality are frank, funny, wise, and sometimes painful. Gradually, Leila begins to see that almost all her classmates are more complicated than they first appear to be, and many are keeping fascinating secrets of their own.

Tell Me Again How A Crush Should Feel was just okay.  I wanted to like it more, and there were some things I liked, but it wasn’t enough to actually get me to like it.

I did like seeing Leila get involved with the school play, and that her classmates aren’t who Leila thought they were.  I was glad she got to know some of them, and that she started to find her place at school.  I liked seeing her struggle with fitting in, and how different she felt from her other classmates.  It made it easy to relate to Leila, and I could picture it really well.  I also get why

I didn’t care for Saskia, who was cruel and manipulative.  I can’t say I’m surprised by how she acted, especially with everything that happened towards the end of the book.  And I don’t know if it’s just me, but it felt like something out of Mean Girls.  Why, I don’t know, but that was the vibe I got from that one scene in particular.

I didn’t get why she had so many issues with her sister- it seemed like it was the fact that her sister was doing everything she was supposed to and Leila wasn’t.  Her sister turned out to be pretty cool, and I wish there was more depth with why Leila didn’t care for her sister.  Also, I’m an only child, so I don’t completely get the sibling dynamic.

It was pretty short, and I feel like it could have been a little bit longer.  It was a little bit younger than I thought it would be.  At the very least, it read young, and I thought it would have worked pretty well as a middle grade novel.

2 stars.  This book wasn’t for me, but I can see why people love it.

Book Review: The Upside Of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli, Narrated by Arielle DiLisle And The Fill-In Boyfriend by Kasie West

Book: The Upside Of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli, Narrated by Arielle DiLisle

Published April 2017 by HarperAudio|Length: 7 hours, 58 minutes

Where I Got It: I borrowed the audio book from the library

Series: None

Genre: YA Contemporary

Seventeen-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso knows all about unrequited love–she’s lived through it twenty-six times. She crushes hard and crushes often but always in secret, because no matter how many times her twin sister, Cassie, tells her to woman up, Molly can’t stomach the idea of rejection. So she’s careful. Fat girls always have to be careful.Then a cute new girl enters Cassie’s orbit, and for the first time ever, Molly’s cynical twin is a lovesick mess. Meanwhile, Molly’s totally not dying of loneliness–except for the part where she is.Luckily, Cassie’s new girlfriend comes with a cute hipster-boy sidekick. Will is funny, flirtatious, and just might be perfect crush material. Maybe more than crush material. And if Molly can win him over, she’ll get her first kiss, and she’ll get her twin back.There’s only one problem: Molly’s coworker Reid. He’s an awkward Tolkien superfan with a season pass to the Ren Faire, and there’s absolutely no way Molly could fall for him–right?

I really liked The Upside Of Unrequited!  It’s a really cute romance, and I really liked Molly.  I wasn’t the biggest fan of her sister, Cassie, who I thought was rude and irritating and she totally treated Molly like dirt.  And Molly let her.  But Molly was really cool otherwise, and so I’m glad the book was narrated by her.  Better her than Cassie, because I don’t think I could take it if the book were about Cassie instead.

Molly was really easy to relate to, and she was so easy to relate to.  I can’t relate to how many crushes she’s had, and while I will fangirl over certain pairings in the books I read, I’m not the hopeless romantic she is.  But the fact that she felt like everyone around her was growing up and that she wasn’t?  That was very easy to relate to.  She’s just at a different point in her life, and she’s not less of a person just because she wasn’t experiencing things at the same time that her sister and her friends were experiencing them.

Molly did seem shy and anxious but it wasn’t seen as a bad thing.  And while her sister seemed to believe that Molly needed to put herself out there, her shyness never seemed to be shamed.  Putting yourself out there can be hard, especially if your shy and anxious, but again, everyone does that at different points in their life.  Just because Cassie does it, doesn’t mean Molly has to do it at the exact same time.

Still, she seemed really uncomfortable with the idea of kissing or actually talking a guy or basically anything relating to relationships.  And yet, there seems to be this determination for her to be kissed and to have a boyfriend.  If that’s what she wants, that’s totally cool, but she just seemed really uncomfortable with it all.  I kind of got the sense that it was to say she had done it, and so that she felt like she was experiencing what everyone else was.

It wasn’t quite as funny or nerdy as Simon, of course, and I didn’t like it quite as much, though I still liked it.  Apparently not as much as other people seemed to like The Upside Of Unrequited.

I did like it as an audio book, and Arielle DeLisle was a good choice as narrator.  I could definitely picture Molly sounding like her.

My Rating: 3 stars.  I liked it, but not a lot.

Book: The Fill-In Boyfriend by Kasie West

Published May 2015 by HarperTeen|346 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the paperback from the library

Series: None

Genre: YA Contemporary

When Gia Montgomery’s boyfriend, Bradley, dumps her in the parking lot of her high school prom, she has to think fast. After all, she’d been telling her friends about him for months now. This was supposed to be the night she proved he existed. So when she sees a cute guy waiting to pick up his sister, she enlists his help. The task is simple: be her fill-in boyfriend—two hours, zero commitment, a few white lies. After that, she can win back the real Bradley.

The problem is that days after prom, it’s not the real Bradley she’s thinking about, but the stand-in. The one whose name she doesn’t even know. But tracking him down doesn’t mean they’re done faking a relationship. Gia owes him a favor and his sister intends to see that he collects: his ex-girlfriend’s graduation party—three hours, zero commitment, a few white lies.

Just when Gia begins to wonder if she could turn her fake boyfriend into a real one, Bradley comes waltzing back into her life, exposing her lie, and threatening to destroy her friendships and her new-found relationship. 

I like that her books are, for the most part, cute, light, fluffy romances.  They’re good reads for spring and summer, but I think I might have overdone it with them recently, because this was not one of favorites.  I mean, I liked it, but it’s one of my least favorites.  At least, as far as her contemporary novels go.

There’s the mean girl drama, of course, and it’s your typical rom-com in book form.  I knew how the story would end, especially with both the drama and the romance.  It was entertaining, though, and I didn’t hate it.  I also didn’t love it, so we’re settling for like.  I knew what to expect going into this book, and if I’m ever in the mood for some predictable but also cute and light, her books are the way to go.

Honestly, though, I don’t have much else to say, so onto my rating, I suppose.  It’s your typical Kasie West book, and it’s good if you want something light and fluffy.

My Rating: 3 stars.  I liked it, and it’s a cute book, though it is predictable.

Book Review: A Line In The Dark by Malinda Lo

Book: A Line In The Dark by Malinda Lo

Published October 2017 by Dutton Books For Young Readers|288 Pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: None

Genre: YA Contemporary/YA Mystery

The line between best friend and something more is a line always crossed in the dark.

Jess Wong is Angie Redmond’s best friend. And that’s the most important thing, even if Angie can’t see how Jess truly feels. Being the girl no one quite notices is OK with Jess anyway. While nobody notices her, she’s free to watch everyone else. But when Angie begins to fall for Margot Adams, a girl from the nearby boarding school, Jess can see it coming a mile away. Suddenly her powers of observation are more curse than gift.

As Angie drags Jess further into Margot’s circle, Jess discovers more than her friend’s growing crush. Secrets and cruelty lie just beneath the carefree surface of this world of wealth and privilege, and when they come out, Jess knows Angie won’t be able to handle the consequences.

When the inevitable darkness finally descends, Angie will need her best friend.

“It doesn’t even matter that she probably doesn’t understand how much she means to me. It’s purer this way. She can take whatever she wants from me, whenever she wants it, because I’m her best friend.”

A Line in the Dark is a story of love, loyalty, and murder.

This book was a strange one, and it ended up being okay, at least for me.  I felt like what happened in the book was very different than what I thought would happen.  It seemed like it would be this creepy, sinister book in the vein of Pretty Little Liars, but it ended up being more of this YA contemporary about friendships and unrequited love.  I feel like the blurb didn’t really describe what actually happened, and it was hard to like it when there was such a mismatch.

I did like Jess, and while she was very much flawed (and with a self-destructive streak), she was still a really complex and interesting character.  I liked how artistic she was, and that graphic novels were her thing.  I feel like artistic characters tended to be painters or photographers, and graphic novels were a nice change from that.  It was interesting how much it seemed to mirror her own life, and I wish we saw a little more of that.

There is a mystery aspect, but it didn’t happen until later on in the book, and it fell flat for me.  I wasn’t particularly interested in it, and I feel like it should have been introduced a lot earlier in the book.  It was definitely set up too late for my liking.  I will say that the ending of the book was a lot different than what I expected, and it’s an unusual way to do things.  I sort of liked it, but I think it would have had more impact if it didn’t take so long for it to actually happen.

It was such a confusing, strange read, because it felt like I was reading two very different stories.  It’s like Lo started telling one story, and then suddenly changed her mind about what kind of story she wanted to tell.  On their own, I think it would have been fine, but together?  Not so much.  They didn’t work together at all.

This book wasn’t for me, obviously, though there were a few things I liked.  Very few things, but one thing I liked that I haven’t talked about is the cover!  That cover definitely got my attention when I saw it at the library, and I did partially check it out because of the cover.  Also, I’ve read a few of her other books and liked them, but this one is my least favorite, and if you’re going to pick up a Melinda Lo book, I would not recommend this one, especially if you’ve never read one of her books before.  I mean, if it sounds cool for you, that’s great, and obviously everyone has different tastes, but I’d probably re-read one of her other books before I’d pick up this one.

2 stars.  A Line In The Dark was just okay, and while there were a few things I liked, it wasn’t enough to put it in the I liked this book category.