Mini Reviews: The Last Four Books I Read For My YA Book Club

I just realized that I never talked about the last few books I’ve read for the YA book club I’m part of!  Now seems like a good time to talk about them.  At least a little, because I’m really fuzzy on a couple of them, since a couple are from a few months ago.  Hopefully, I’ll get a little better about actually reviewing them, but we shall see.

First, there’s Roar by Cora Carmack.  We read this one back in August, and is the only one I didn’t finish, and I didn’t particularly like the love interests.  I thought they were pretty terrible guys, and while I liked the magic, that was pretty much it.  I think there were a few different perspectives that weren’t done well, but I could be wrong, and confusing it with a different book.  I tried to keep reading, but I just couldn’t.  And I couldn’t figure out why it seemed so familiar, and then I realized I tried to read it about a year ago, and it was a DNF then.  I figured I’d try it again, but this read wasn’t any better.

In September, we read Anger Is A Gift by Mark Oshiro.  I liked this one, and I was crying by the end of it.  Usually, I love books where I end up crying, but not for this one.  I didn’t really feel the main characters anger, and he had anxiety, but the anxiety sort of disappeared a little bit into the book.  Parts of it felt really sci-fi- the tech the police had felt really futuristic, which didn’t fit with the book.  I think, if I hadn’t read books like The Hate U Give first, I think I would have liked it a lot more.  I did like seeing how Moss and his friends wanted to make a difference.  I’d rate this book 3 stars.

The Dark Descent Of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Kiersten White is my favorite of the books we’ve read so far.  We read it in October, and it’s a great Halloween/October read.  I’ve never read the original Frankenstein- I tried but couldn’t get through it- but maybe one day I can actually finish it.  It would be interesting to see how much she drew from Frankenstein.  I didn’t like Elizabeth at first, but as we got more into the story and her world, I really liked her, and understood why she acted the way she did.  It was more historical/horror/thriller than I thought it would be, but I still loved it.  It was creepy and I can’t wait to read it again.  My rating is 5 stars.

The last book I really wanted to talk about was Bring Me Their Hearts by Sara Wolf.  We read it last month, and I ended up really liking it.  I liked the world, and even though I was expecting it to be an Evil Queen origin story, I was still really surprised by the ending.  I can’t wait to read the next one to see where things are going to go.  There was a point where I wanted Zera to the opposite of what she actually did, but at least for now, I’m curious to see how it will play out, even though she didn’t do what I really hoped she would do.  My rating is 4 stars.

That’s all for today, and I’ll definitely be back with more reviews!

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Book Review: A Blade So Black by L.L. McKinney

Book: A Blade So Black by L.L. McKinney

Published September 2018 by Imprint|384 pages

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

Series: A Blade So Black #1

Genre: YA Contemporary/YA Re-Telling

The first time the Nightmares came, it nearly cost Alice her life. Now she’s trained to battle monstrous creatures in the dark dream realm known as Wonderland with magic weapons and hardcore fighting skills. Yet even warriors have a curfew.

Life in real-world Atlanta isn’t always so simple, as Alice juggles an overprotective mom, a high-maintenance best friend, and a slipping GPA. Keeping the Nightmares at bay is turning into a full-time job. But when Alice’s handsome and mysterious mentor is poisoned, she has to find the antidote by venturing deeper into Wonderland than she’s ever gone before. And she’ll need to use everything she’s learned in both worlds to keep from losing her head . . . literally.

I really liked A Blade So Black!  It’s a really cool re-telling of Alice In Wonderland, and I really liked McKinney’s take on the story.

I’m not going to lie, for a while I thought her dad (and his death) were connected to the Nightmares, and everything going on with Wonderland.  I really thought, at least for a while, there was going to be a connection between the two.  Maybe it was wishful thinking on my part, and even though it didn’t go this way (and it probably won’t for the rest of the series), part of me really wants there to be more of a connection between the two.

I really liked seeing Alice struggle with having to leave to fight Nightmares, and leaving her family and friends behind.  She disappears for random periods of time, and you see how much it affects her friendships (particularly with a very high-maintenance best friend) and a mom who worries when Alice disappears and doesn’t answer her phone, it’s because she was killed.

Alice was a little bratty at times, and I don’t blame her mom for being concerned about Alice, especially when a neighborhood girl was killed.  I definitely see where her mom is coming from, and a kid like Alice would drive me crazy.  It’s hard, because I know what’s going on with Alice, and why she keeps disappearing.  But I still really felt for her mom.

It did take me a while to get into the book, and it didn’t get really interesting until the end of the book.  I’m very intrigued by this Wonderland, and I wanted more of it.  Hopefully, we’ll see more of it in the rest of the series, especially with how things ended.  It was slow and a little choppy at times, but overall, it did keep my interest until the end.

4 stars.  Even though the book didn’t get really good until the end, I’m still interested enough to continue on with the series.  I’m hoping we get to see more of Wonderland, because I did like the glimpses of it that we saw.

Book Review: Pride by Ibi Zoboi

Book: Pride by Ibi Zoboi

Published September 2018 by Balzer + Bray|285 pages

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

Series: None

Genre: YA Contemporary/Re-telling

Pride and Prejudice gets remixed in this smart, funny, gorgeous retelling of the classic, starring all characters of color, from Ibi Zoboi, National Book Award finalist and author of American Street.

Zuri Benitez has pride. Brooklyn pride, family pride, and pride in her Afro-Latino roots. But pride might not be enough to save her rapidly gentrifying neighborhood from becoming unrecognizable.

When the wealthy Darcy family moves in across the street, Zuri wants nothing to do with their two teenage sons, even as her older sister, Janae, starts to fall for the charming Ainsley. She especially can’t stand the judgmental and arrogant Darius. Yet as Zuri and Darius are forced to find common ground, their initial dislike shifts into an unexpected understanding.

But with four wild sisters pulling her in different directions, cute boy Warren vying for her attention, and college applications hovering on the horizon, Zuri fights to find her place in Bushwick’s changing landscape, or lose it all.

In a timely update of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, critically acclaimed author Ibi Zoboi skillfully balances cultural identity, class, and gentrification against the heady magic of first love in her vibrant reimagining of this beloved classic.

I really liked this one!  I wish I hadn’t waited so long to review it, because I am a little fuzzy on the details, but I’ll do my best.  It’s not the first time I’ve waited a few weeks to review a book, and I’m pretty sure it won’t be the last.

Anyway, onto the actual review!  I really liked it, and I knew I had to read this one.  Pride And Prejudice is one of my favorite books, and after reading American Street (also by the same author), I was really looking forward to reading this one.  It didn’t disappoint, and it was a great re-telling!

I really liked Zuri, and how much she loves her neighborhood.  It was obvious, throughout the book, that her family was important to her, as was going to college.  I really loved that, and I loved the relationships she had with her sisters.  I do wish we saw more of her relationship with her sisters, because they do seem pretty awesome, from what we see of them.  Zuri is fierce but judgmental, and she’s a character I think people will either love or hate.  I’m having a hard time seeing a middle ground with her but maybe that’s just me.  And anything is possible.

I also liked seeing Zuri realize that the Darcy family isn’t as bad as she thought.  She changes her mind about Darius, and even Ainsley is different by the end of the book.

I thought it was a great re-telling, and though it’s been quite a while since I read the original, it was fun seeing how it matched up with the original.  From the characters, to how the story was told, it was overall a great story.  I loved seeing it set it New York, and in a more current time.  We see how gentrification affected her neighborhood, and it’s woven throughout the novel so well.

It does stand on its own really well, and even if you haven’t read Pride And Prejudice, Pride is definitely worth reading.

4 stars.  I didn’t love, but I really enjoyed this modern update for one of my favorite books.

Book Review: Between The Blade And The Heart by Amanda Hocking

Book: Between The Blade And The Heart by Amanda Hocking

Published January 2018 by Wednesday Books|319 books

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

Series: Valkyrie #1

Genre: YA Fantasy/Paranormal/Re-Telling- Norse Mythology

Between the Blade and the Heart is the first book in a brilliant new young adult fantasy duology inspired by Norse mythology by New York Times bestselling author Amanda Hocking.

As one of Odin’s Valkyries, Malin’s greatest responsibility is to slay immortals and return them to the underworld. The balance of the world rests on her ability to carry out orders. But when Malin discovers that her mother spared the life of an immortal who was destined to die, her world is thrown into chaos.

As Malin wrestles with the knowledge that her mother might not be who she thought, she’s also thrust into the path of a gorgeous blue-eyed guy named Asher who needs her help slaying the rogue immortal who destroyed his family. Malin, along with her best friend and her ex-girlfriend, must decide where her loyalties lie…and whether helping Asher enact his revenge is worth the risk—to the world and to her heart.

I didn’t like Between The Blade And The Heart as much as I thought I would.  It is a cool idea, but I thought the mythology and world were more confusing than it needed to be.

Yes, you get a general idea of Malin’s world but I thought that things weren’t explained very well…if they were explained at all.  The book was both futuristic and old, all at the same time, but it didn’t work for me.  I think it just made it seem like Hocking wasn’t sure if she wanted something more traditional or more futuristic.  I think it did need a little more direction, because I felt like most of the time, it was unclear where things were going.

And I didn’t particularly care about the characters…or like them.  I don’t need to like characters to like a book, and sometimes unlikable characters are what make me like a book, but I felt like the characters were superficial and boring.  For whatever reason, I just couldn’t care about any of them, or what happened to them.  The book was on the shorter side, so maybe the characters didn’t develop as much as they needed to.

It did move fast, and there was quite a bit of action, but I was bored.  I don’t understand how a book with a lot of action can be boring, but this book was.  Maybe I was bored but I didn’t like or care about the characters.  Maybe it’s just me, and not the book.

Going back to the mythology, I did like seeing Valkyries!  It’s not something you see a lot in fantasy/paranormal, and you do see some other paranormal beings that you don’t typically see.  So that was nice, but like I mentioned before, things weren’t explained very well.  I’m not too familiar with Norse mythology (or anything else we see in the book, in terms of supernatural/paranormal beings), so it’s possible that having that knowledge would have made a difference.  Still, I felt like some of the basics should have been explained, because I was left feeling confused and bored.  I know I picked up this book up because it sounded really cool, and not everyone reading this book is going to have enough knowledge of Norse mythology to know what’s going on.

2 stars.  This book was okay, and while I wanted to like it more, I couldn’t.  It had a lot of potential, but it wasn’t the book for me.

Book Review: Brightly Burning by Alexa Donne

Book: Brightly Burning by Alexa Donne

Published May 2018 by HMH Books For Young Readers|400 pages

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

Series: None

Genre: YA Sci-Fi/Re-telling

Seventeen-year-old Stella Ainsley wants just one thing: to go somewhere—anywhere—else. Her home is a floundering spaceship that offers few prospects, having been orbiting an ice-encased Earth for two hundred years. When a private ship hires her as a governess, Stella jumps at the chance. The captain of the Rochester, nineteen-year-old Hugo Fairfax, is notorious throughout the fleet for being a moody recluse and a drunk. But with Stella he’s kind.

But the Rochester harbors secrets: Stella is certain someone is trying to kill Hugo, and the more she discovers, the more questions she has about his role in a conspiracy threatening the fleet.

I really liked this one.  It’s a Jane Eyre re-telling, and though it’s been ages since I’ve read Jane Eyre, I still remembered just enough to recognize it as a Jane Eyre re-telling.  I think, even if you haven’t read Jane Eyre, it’s a pretty interesting and good read.

If you like Across The Universe by Beth Revis, I think you’ll really like this one.  I was reminded of it the entire time I was reading this book, and I liked seeing the fleet of spaceships just waiting to get back to earth.  Brightly Burning isn’t really an exploration of earth or space or trying to find a place to live like Across The Universe is, but it’s still an interesting and intriguing read.

I think I was surprised it was a stand-alone.  I think I assumed it would be the first of a trilogy, and there are a lot of questions that aren’t answered.  There are a lot of things I’m curious about, like the fleet sent up to orbit Earth because of an ice-age.  How did we end up in an Ice Age?  How did they decide who would get sent up on spaceships?  Were there people left to die on Earth?  It’s never really explained (and if it was, then it obviously didn’t stick).  I did like the references to movies and books (like The Sound Of Music, which is the only one I’m remembering right now), and it’s clear that that some of the more…pop culture-y things did make their way to space (and hopefully back to earth).

I’m always hesitant with stand-alone sci-books (and also stand-alone paranormal and fantasy books) because I’m always nervous that I’ll be really confused about the world and what’s going on.  Sometimes, one book doesn’t seem like enough to build a world, but I thought we got a really good sense of Stella’s world and what it was like becoming a governess on the Rochester.  And while I did want more of her story, particularly with how things ended, I’m also glad that it was only one book.  Maybe the fact that it’s Jane Eyre in space made it work as a stand-alone.

4 stars.  I really liked it, and the combination of Jane Eyre and space worked really well together.  I do wish I knew more about the ice age that led to us going up to space, and what things are like on earth, but overall, I thought that we got a really good sense of Stella’s world that I didn’t mind that a lot of my questions weren’t answered.

Book Review: Forest Of A Thousand Lanterns by Julie C Dao

Book: Forest Of A Thousand Lanterns by Julie C Dao

Published October 2017 by Philomel Books|363 Pages

Where I Got It: I own the hardcover

Series: Rise Of The Empress #1

Genre: YA Fantasy/YA Re-telling

An East Asian fantasy reimagining of The Evil Queen legend about one peasant girl’s quest to become Empress–and the darkness she must unleash to achieve her destiny.

Eighteen-year-old Xifeng is beautiful. The stars say she is destined for greatness, that she is meant to be Empress of Feng Lu. But only if she embraces the darkness within her. Growing up as a peasant in a forgotten village on the edge of the map, Xifeng longs to fulfill the destiny promised to her by her cruel aunt, the witch Guma, who has read the cards and seen glimmers of Xifeng’s majestic future. But is the price of the throne too high?

Because in order to achieve greatness, she must spurn the young man who loves her and exploit the callous magic that runs through her veins–sorcery fueled by eating the hearts of the recently killed. For the god who has sent her on this journey will not be satisfied until his power is absolute.

I absolutely loved this book!  It took me forever to get through (partly because I wasn’t in the mood, and partly because I was trying to get through some other books).

I love this re-telling of The Evil Queen, and while this story is Xifeng’s journey to becoming the evil queen, it’s still worth reading.  It makes me want to read the next book so, so much.  Regina Mills from Once Upon A Time is an amazing Evil Queen, but Xifeng comes pretty close.  It’s basically Snow White before Snow White, if that makes any sense.  It’s basically a prequel to the Snow White story that we all know (at least from Disney, but this is not the happy Disney version.  Please don’t expect a happy, Disney version of the Evil Queen, because this is not that book.

If you need to like characters, especially the main character, this book probably isn’t for you.  It was so hard to like Xifeng at times, but I did find myself understanding where she came from, and why she did what she did.  She does get jealous of other women, and she wasn’t very confident, especially at the beginning of the book.  She changes so much over the course of the book, but it felt really natural and not forced at all.

I feel like her journey isn’t going to end well, but this is one story that I feel pretty invested in, and I can’t wait to see where her story goes, even if the ending isn’t a happy one.

I thought the world was amazing and really detailed.  I had such a clear picture of what was going on, and I loved how vivid everything was.  My copy of the book was an annotated one from PageHabit, and those extra details really made the book for me.  It was interesting to see what inspired her, and where certain things in the book came from.

Also, this is not a light and fluffy story.  It is dark and twisted and sometimes gory.  I mean, she eats hearts to gain power and make herself stronger.  She will do anything to become Empress, and I thought the use of a prophecy was interesting.  As weird as it may be, I did like seeing how far she was willing to go to get what she wants and what she was willing to do so she could fulfill the destiny that was foretold.

I’m not sure if this was something the author intended, but I couldn’t help but think about prophecy and destiny and how cutthroat some people are, and how they’ll use prophecy to get whatever they want.  Also, some of the characters are pretty catty (and petty), and Xifeng was willing to take them down because they were standing in her way.  I’m sure there’s some sort of real world parallel you could draw.  I won’t, because my brain doesn’t want to work right (and I myself in not confident in my ability to draw a meaningful comparison) but it did feel very real.  Girls and women are pitted against each other as well, and you can definitely see why they act the way they do.

5 stars.  Overall, I loved this book.  The setting is amazing and vivid, and I just loved the world and the mythology and the characters.

Book Review: A Wicked Thing by Rhiannon Thomas

Book: A Wicked Thing by Rhiannon Thomas

Published February 2015 by HarperTeen|337 pages

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

Series: A Wicked Thing #1

Genre: YA Fantasy/YA Re-telling

Rhiannon Thomas’s dazzling debut novel is a spellbinding reimagining of Sleeping Beauty and what happens after happily ever after.

One hundred years after falling asleep, Princess Aurora wakes up to the kiss of a handsome prince and a broken kingdom that has been dreaming of her return. All the books say that she should be living happily ever after. But as Aurora understands all too well, the truth is nothing like the fairy tale.

Her family is long dead. Her “true love” is a kind stranger. And her whole life has been planned out by political foes while she slept. 

As Aurora struggles to make sense of her new world, she begins to fear that the curse has left its mark on her, a fiery and dangerous thing that might be as wicked as the witch who once ensnared her. With her wedding day drawing near, Aurora must make the ultimate decision on how to save her kingdom: marry the prince or run.

Rhiannon Thomas weaves together vivid scenes of action, romance, and gorgeous gowns to reveal a richly imagined world … and Sleeping Beauty as she’s never been seen before.

I thought A Wicked Thing was okay.  I’ve wanted to read it for a while (and it’s been on my TBR for years), and I finally got around to reading it.

I did like that everyone she knew had passed away in the time it took for her to wake up.  Can you imagine waking up and learning that everyone you knew was dead?  And to be taken in by the current king and queen because their son is your true love?  I can’t say I’m surprised by that, because I really wasn’t.  But I did like it, predictable as it was.

I know this book is a series, so we’ll learn a lot more about Aurora’s world in the next books.  We did get a pretty good picture of her life before the curse and also what happened during her 100 years of sleep.  But I just wasn’t as into it as I thought I would be.

I thought Aurora’s reaction to everything was pretty well done- she did seem confused and overwhelmed and not sure what to do.  I feel like I’d feel the same way if I were in her position, and I can see myself reacting the same way she did.  She constantly felt like she a prisoner- both before her birthday, and long after.  I really felt for her, because her life was decided for her, and no one bothered to ask her what she thought or how she felt.  Everything was decided for her because everyone knew better than she did.

There’s a lot she doesn’t know, of course, and she does need some sort of protection.  I don’t think she helped things by randomly wandering around in the middle of the night, but she also didn’t deserve to be locked up again.  I think a little more freedom (and explanation and including her in things) would have gone a long way.

I did like that her tale is well-known, and that she reads a book that is her story.  I’m not sure why I liked it, but when you’ve been sleeping for as long as she has, it does make sense that stories would be told.  And of course, the original story is far more gruesome than what we see here.  It should be interesting to see where things go, if I do decide to continue on with the series.  I don’t know that I’m interested enough to keep going.

The book does move pretty slow, and even though it took me a few days to finish it, it’s because of how short the book was.  I expected more action, and the action scenes we do have were boring.  I did want to see how things would turn out for Aurora, and what she’d do, but that was one of the very few things that kept me going.

2 stars.  A Wicked Thing was okay, and even though I like the idea of a Sleeping Beauty re-telling, this one didn’t work for me.

Book Review: The Afterlife Of Holly Chase by Cynthia Hand

Book: The Afterlife Of Holly Chase by Cynthia Hand

Published October 2017 by HarperTeen|389 pages

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

Series: None

Genre: YA Paranormal/Re-Telling

On Christmas Eve five years ago, Holly was visited by three ghosts who showed her how selfish and spoiled she’d become. They tried to convince her to mend her ways.

She didn’t.

And then she died.

Now she’s stuck working for the top-secret company Project Scrooge–as the latest Ghost of Christmas Past.

Every year, they save another miserly grouch. Every year, Holly stays frozen at seventeen while her family and friends go on living without her. So far, Holly’s afterlife has been miserable.

But this year, everything is about to change…

I’ve been a fan of Cynthia Hand since her Unearthly series, so when I saw this book at the library, I knew I had to pick it up!  I wasn’t sure what to expect, since I loved her Unearthly series but didn’t care for My Lady Jane.  It’s not at all like Unearthly, but the writing did remind me of My Lady Jane.

I really liked Afterlife, and it’s a really interesting take on A Christmas Carol.  I like that they try to do some good, and actually help people.  It’s light and silly and Holly is not a likable person, in life or death, but I do think she learned from her time at the Project Scrooge.  At least, that’s what I’d like to think.  She seems to try at the end of the book, and it really did seem like she wanted to make an effort to be a better person.

It is interesting that Ethan is what gets Holly to start seeing things differently.  Even years after her death, she was still the spoiled brat we saw int the beginning of the book.  Why Ethan changed things, I don’t know.  It is explained, but…I don’t know.  It’s just interesting that someone her age is what got her to change.  It seems like she was more changed by making this work than he was.

It is a quick read, and it’s fun.  It’s entertaining, and while it’s not this meaningful look at changing yourself, it did get the point across.

I also liked how each group had a team, and everyone worked together to make it happen.  It’s definitely a lot of work, and while you think it’s about Ethan, it’s really about Holly.  I don’t know about anyone else, but that did surprise me a little.  I wasn’t too fond of Ethan, and while I wanted to like some of the other characters we see in the book, we unfortunately didn’t see them enough.  At least, not long enough to have a strong opinion of them.

I remember liking some of the other characters we saw in her Unearthly series, but with Afterlife, we didn’t have enough time to get to know the other characters.  We probably saw Stephanie the most (after Holly and Ethan), but even with her, I had a hard time really caring.  Again, I know it’s about Holly, and Ethan (a little bit) but still.  I wanted a little bit more to some of the other characters.

3 stars.  I liked The Afterlife Of Holly Chase, and it is a cool take on A Christmas Carol, but I wish we saw more of some of the other characters.

Book Review: The Hollow by Jessica Verday and Aristotle And Dante Discover The Secrets Of The Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Book: The Hollow by Jessica Verday

Published September 2011 by Simon Pulse|509 pages

Where I Got It: I own the paperback

Series: The Hollow #1

Genre: YA Paranormal/Re-telling

When Abbey’s best friend, Kristen, vanishes at the bridge near Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, everyone else is all too quick to accept that Kristen is dead…rumors fly that her death was no accident. Abbey goes through the motions of mourning her best friend, but privately, she refuses to believe that Kristen is really gone. Then she meets Caspian, the gorgeous and mysterious boy who shows up out of nowhere at Kristen’s funeral, and keeps reappearing in Abbey’s life. Caspian clearly has secrets of his own, but he’s the only person who makes Abbey feel normal again…but also special. 

Just when Abbey starts to feel that she might survive all this, she learns a secret that makes her question everything she thought she knew about her best friend. How could Kristen have kept silent about so much? And could this secret have led to her death? As Abbey struggles to understand Kristen’s betrayal, she uncovers a frightening truth that nearly unravels her—one that will challenge her emerging love for Caspian, as well as her own sanity.

I didn’t like The Hollow as much as I thought I would.

I mean, it is a re-telling of Sleepy Hollow, so that part is cool. And I like that Abbey knows what she wants to do- make and sell perfume for a living.  It’s really different, and it is odd to see a character who will probably take some college classes, but doesn’t have a plan to go to college.  College isn’t for everyone, and yet, she still knows what she wants to do, and has things planned out.

There is a little bit of a mystery, but I was bored by it.  It’s the typical best friend goes missing and turns up dead mystery, and of course, the missing best friend is basically Abbey’s only friend.  I know this book came out years ago, but what is with that sort of story?  It’s frustrating to read, and I’m not sure why.

I just wasn’t invested in Abbey’s story, to the point where I don’t think I’ll keep going with the series.  While there are some things I’m wondering, like everything with Caspian and the secrets Kristen was keeping, I have no burning desire to move forward with this series.

It seems like Abbey, especially at the end of the book, needs a lot of help, and I did like that she recognized she needed help.  But again, I just wasn’t invested in her story, and while I want to feel some sort of sympathy for her, I found I didn’t.

My Rating: 2 stars.  There were some things that I liked, but The Hollow ended up being okay.

Book: Aristotle And Dante Discover The Secrets Of The Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Published April 2014 by Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers|360 pages

Where I Got It: I own the paperback

Series: Aristotle & Dante #1

Genre: YA Contemporary

Dante can swim. Ari can’t. Dante is articulate and self-assured. Ari has a hard time with words and suffers from self-doubt. Dante gets lost in poetry and art. Ari gets lost in thoughts of his older brother who is in prison. Dante is fair skinned. Ari’s features are much darker. It seems that a boy like Dante, with his open and unique perspective on life, would be the last person to break down the walls that Ari has built around himself.

But against all odds, when Ari and Dante meet, they develop a special bond that will teach them the most important truths of their lives, and help define the people they want to be. But there are big hurdles in their way, and only by believing in each other―and the power of their friendship―can Ari and Dante emerge stronger on the other side.

I know everyone LOVES this book, but unfortunately, I didn’t.  I liked The Inexplicable Logic Of My Life a lot better than this one.

It felt like I was reading snapshots of their lives, as opposed to a story about them.  I mean, there is a story there, and we see them hang out and become friends and discover things about themselves.  But I really felt like I was reading a lot of smaller stories that formed one big story.  It felt like there were a lot of scenes that were missing, and the pacing and timeline felt off.  It’s hard to believe this book took place over the course of the year, because it felt a lot shorter.  Again, I don’t think we saw everything that happened over the course of that year.

I did like the strength of their friendship.  That stood out, and there is strength in friendship.  I also liked the focus on family, and if there’s something Saenz does well it’s having parents be involved while also showing how much characters can grow and do things on their own.  He does fully-formed friendships really well too, but what really stands out is how much their parents are around and involved in their lives.  They’re actually there, and have really important roles, which is nice to see in YA.  It’s not very common to have parents actually around and involved.  Especially when the parents are still together.  I’m glad their parents were around, alive and still together.

I can see why people love the characters and story so much, but unfortunately, I’m not one of them.  As much as I want to believe that I just didn’t read this book at the right time, that just wasn’t the case.  I found myself bored and eventually, there were times where I skimmed the book because I just wanted to get through it.  It seemed a little slow, and while not a lot happens, I just wasn’t feeling it.

There was a moment where I wanted one of the characters to come to the realization that his parents did.  Unfortunately, we never see him come to terms with it in his way, or even talk about it on his terms.  Instead, he’s told by his parents, and I thought that took away from it, because we never see him actually think about.  I felt like he’s being coaxed into it, and that didn’t work for me.  However, I do understand that people may feel differently, and that maybe he did feel that way, but just didn’t want to admit it.

My Rating: 2 stars.  I didn’t actively dislike it, and while a few things things were done really well, it wasn’t enough to change the rating either way.  It wasn’t for me, obviously, but if it sounds like it’s up your alley, I’d say go for it.

Book Review War Of The Cards by Colleen Oakes

Book: War Of The Cards by Colleen Oakes

Published November 2017 by HarperTeen|352 pages

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

Series: Queen Of Hearts Saga #3

Genre: YA Re-telling/Fantasy

 The final book in the twisted YA trilogy re-imagining of the origin story of the Queen of Hearts.

Dinah has lost everyone she ever loved. Her brother was brutally murdered. The wicked man she believed was her father betrayed her. Her loyal subjects have been devastated by war. And the boy she gave her heart to broke it completely.

Now a dark queen has risen out of the ashes of her former life. Fury is blooming inside Dinah, poisoning her soul and twisting her mind. All she has left is Wonderland and her crown, and her obsession to fight for both. But the war rages on, and Dinah could inherit a bloodstained throne. Can a leader filled with love and rage ever be the ruler her kingdom needs? Or will her all-consuming wrath bring Wonderland to its knees?

This is not a story of happily ever after.

This is the story of the Queen of Hearts.

I’ve been with this series since the very beginning, and while I’m sad to see it end, I also thought it was a great ending to the series.  I remember reading ARC’s of the first two books on netgalley years ago, and I’ve been anxiously awaiting this book ever since.  I’m really glad I finally read it!

There were things I did not see coming, and I really felt for Dinah.  I have, for the entire series, and in particular, everything with Wardley and her (biological) father broke my heart.  More so with Wardley than anything else, because I was wondering how things would work out for them.

I really liked this take on the Queen Of Hearts, and while I’ve read very few Alice In Wonderland re-tellings, this one is my favorite by far.  The Queen Of Hearts is such a villain in the Alice In Wonderland story, and yet, Dinah doesn’t feel like a villain at all.  She’s a very sympathetic character, and I couldn’t help but want things to work out for her.

I did love how the original version of Alice In Wonderland was tied in to this story, and I thought it was very original and different.  I’ve read quite a few re-tellings over the years, and this one is the most connected to the original story that I’ve ever seen.  It was unexpected but also really cool, especially since I did have fun trying to figure out who was who from the original story.  Now I feel like re-reading Alice In Wonderland…

It’s definitely the strongest in the series, and Dinah has changed a lot.  You’d want (and hope) that the last book of a series would be the strongest, and this book delivered on that.  I could picture the battle so clearly, and yet, it was pretty gory, so keep that in mind if you decide to pick this up.

And the epilogue…I have mixed feelings about it.  I don’t understand why Wardley did what he did, considering how things went between him and Dinah, but there was something very hopeful about the epilogue as well.  Like things are okay, and will continue to be okay.  I’m glad there’s hope for Wonderland, and that the series ended with some hope that things would get better.

5 stars.  War Of The Cards is a great ending to a great series, and I absolutely loved the book and Dinah.