Book Review: Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin

A surprising story of loss and perseverance in a powerful alternate historical setting.

4.5/5 stars

cover wolf by wolf

Goodreads Description

The year is 1956, and the Axis powers of the Third Reich and Imperial Japan rule the world. To commemorate their Great Victory over Britain and Russia, Hitler and Emperor Hirohito host the Axis Tour: an annual motorcycle race across their conjoined continents. The victor is awarded an audience with the highly reclusive Adolf Hitler at the Victor’s ball.

Yael, who escaped from a death camp, has one goal: Win the race and kill Hitler. A survivor of painful human experimentation, Yael has the power to skinshift and must complete her mission by impersonating last year’s only female victor, Adele Wolfe. This deception becomes more difficult when Felix, Adele twin’s brother, and Luka, her former love interest, enter the race and watch Yael’s every move. But as Yael begins to get closer to the other competitors, can she bring herself to be as ruthless as she needs to be to avoid discovery and complete her mission?

My Review

I discovered Ryan Graudin at the beginning of this year when I read The Walled City on a whim and was blown away with the vividness of her writing. When I heard her most recent book was an alternate historical fiction exploring a world were Hitler won WWII, I knew that I had to read it.

Wolf by Wolf did not disappoint.

From the first pages, Yael’s character drew me into the story. She’s a strong protagonist. I know that phrase (“strong” character) has become almost useless at this point, but I need to say it—Yael has lived through a lot, but she’s come out the other side determined to do something about it. I liked that her character wasn’t stuck in the past—she carries her experiences with her, but she also lives very much in the present, ready to change things.

Her tattoos, five wolves snaking up her arm, were one of the most interesting parts of her character. The gave insight both into her personality and into her past, providing an easy connection between the current story and flashbacks to her time in the death camp. Each flashback was written well, with a pacing and length that fit well with the rest of the story; I looked forward to the flashback scenes, instead of getting annoyed at them for breaking up the story (which is usually what happens).

Yael’s skinshifting—essentially the ability to make her body look like any female in the world—was interesting. I liked that even though it sounds like a fantasy element, the psuedo-scientific way that it was introduced (through experimentation in Hitler’s death camps) kept the book solidly in the alternate historical genre. Her abilities don’t dominate the story, but they complement it, adding conflicts to her personality and the plot that kept me reading.

Ryan Graudin’s world building was amazing. Without any scenes that felt weighed-down with exposition, Gruadin created a world that clearly felt like a fascist, dictatorial world. Yes, my prior knowledge of fascism and WWII helped me visualize and understand the politics, but I would have been okay without it. The straightforward way that Graudin created the world allowed me to focus on the story instead of complex details.

I loved the Axis Tour motercycle race concept. Again, Graudin left the premise simple and allowed character conflicts to bring most of the action, though there were definitely some tense, purely race-related moments thrown in. Yael’s fears and frsutrations about the pace of the race, especially when she was struggling, really affected me—I felt like I was the one competing in the race.

The pacing is good, though overall slower and more contemplative than I expected from a book based around a race. There are definitely dramatic scenes, but much of the book focuses on the events that occur on the stops between the legs of the race. Still, I enjoyed the pacing, as it allowed the character development to from to the forefront, instead of every second of the race dominating the story.

Each side character added their own layer to Wolf by Wolf. Some of the most minor characters added some of my favorite scenes, giving certain aspects of the book serious thought-provoking qualities. The fact that Yael was impersonating a racer (Adele) that many of them had met before put extra tension into the plot.

Felix, Adele’s brother, was an interesting character, his family-centric values contrasting sharply with Yael’s ends-justify-the-means mindset. There were times that I found him annoying, though, because he basically only exists to stand in the way of the plot. Yes, it created important conflicts, but it was also kind of frustrating.

Luka, Adele’s competitor and former love interest (though the specifics of that are left vague), was a much more entertaining character than Felix. I loved his interactions with Yael. He wasn’t just a ruthless victor, he was a guy with a broken heart—which Yael had nothing to do with. Watching him bare his soul to a confused Yael was both funny and bittersweet. Luka and Felix forced Yael to confront her own emotions, and I loved watching Yael’s character grow.

Unfortunately, the hints of romance that developed between Yael and Luka didn’t work for me. I needed a few more scenes to prove to me that Yael felt anything serious for him, and certain things that happen ended up confusing me because I didn’t believe in Yael’s emotions. Hopefully, this will be expanded on in the second book and their relationship will win me over, because I honestly love the idea of them as a couple—if it were written better.

Finally, the writing of Wolf by Wolf is gorgeous. I loved the way that Graudin wove in metaphors and symbolism without overpowering the story or feeling out-of-touch with Yael’s character. I absolutely love the title as well. And I CANNOT WAIT for the second book. That ending was ridiculously unexpected!!!

I would recommend this book for anyone who loves alternate historical stories, complex protagonists, great writing, or all of the above.

Book Review: A Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger

Wow, I am conflicted about this book.

3.5/5 stars

cover a catcher in the rye

Goodreads Description

Since his debut in 1951 as The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield has been synonymous with “cynical adolescent.” Holden narrates the story of a couple of days in his sixteen-year-old life, just after he’s been expelled from prep school, in a slang that sounds edgy even today and keeps this novel on banned book lists. His constant wry observations about what he encounters, from teachers to phonies (the two of course are not mutually exclusive) capture the essence of the eternal teenage experience of alienation.

My Review

I read this book for school, and I had no idea what to expect. From the first pages, I was in love with the vividness of Holden’s voice, but I was also frustrated with the lack of plot.

I love and hate this book, and I have a lot of thoughts, but most of them are half-sentence “yeah, but”-s that refuse to coalesce into a review. Because I read this book for school, I also have a lot of other people’s comments in my head, a lot of which I disagree with.

Let’s start with Holden. A lot of people in my class described him a whiny, selfish, and lazy, which is kind of fair, I guess. But Holden is also a poster child for depression, something that a ton of people (including, apparently, my teacher) missed, and for me, it explained a lot of his character flaws.

Seriously, I goggled symptoms of depression and Holden hits basically all of them at some point or another.

I’d love to hate his guts for all the times that he mentions something that he’d like to do, then says he “isn’t in the mood for it”—but when I looked at his apathy through the lens of depression, I couldn’t hate him for it. He’s damaged and lonely and cynical, and he has a ton of opportunities to make his life better that he doesn’t take, and of course that is frustrating as hell to read about. But he’s also living in a time before antidepressants existed and a world that says guys don’t need therapy.

It really frustrated me how often people in my class wrote off Holden as bitchy and stupid when he so obviously needs help. How are we supposed to deal with mental illness in a positive way when our class discussions reinforce the “depressed people are just people who are too lazy to smile more” narrative?

However, Holden also has a fairly crappy personality, even factoring his depression. He’s oblivious to his own self, out-of-touch with the struggles of people who aren’t rich and white, and incredibly judgmental. He’s hypocritical and immature. There were times when I wanted to bash Holden in the head with some common sense. When you get down to it, Holden is the kind of character people hate, and though I didn’t want to fall into that majority, I did at times.

I LOVED the way JD Salinger wrote Holden’s voice, though. It goes beyond your average first person, drawing the reader in and giving you an incredibly clear picture of who Holden is. (Which sometimes backfired, since who Holden is can be really annoying.) His cursing felt natural, and his voice was clear and alive.

My biggest problem with this book is the lack of plot. There is no clear arc, besides Holden slowly dissolving in a mess of self-hatred and sleep-deprivation (okay, that’s overly simplistic, but you get the idea). Lots of things happen, but they are disjointed and muddled, never gelling into a clear plot. It was hard to get into the book when I had no idea where the book was going. The book ended suddenly, almost as if JD Salinger just stopped writing and sent it into the publisher.

But I can’t write off this book entirely, because every few chapters, there would be an intensely emotional few sentences and I’d fall back in love with the story. Hidden in the jumbled mess of Holden’s New York explorations are some gorgeous tidbits about life and loss. A lot of them are sad, not exactly inspiring, but they make you feel something, and think.

I would recommend this book to people who are willing to read a book that will frustrate them, but that will offer a window into the mind of a person struggling with depression. JD Salinger did an amazing job crafting his character, so if you want an example of intense first person, you should also read this book. And if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t need a clear plot arc to enjoy the story, you should definitely pick up this book.

Book Review: Dream Things True by Marie Marquardt

A powerful look at life as an undocumented immigrant that moved me emotionally, even if there were parts of the story that could have been executed better.

3.5/5 stars

cover dream things true

Goodreads’ Description

Evan, a soccer star and the nephew of a conservative Southern Senator, has never wanted for much — except a functional family. Alma has lived in Georgia since she was two-years-old, excels in school, and has a large, warm Mexican family. Never mind their differences, the two fall in love, and they fall hard. But when ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) begins raids on their town, Alma knows that she needs to tell Evan her secret. There’s too much at stake. But how to tell her country-club boyfriend that she’s an undocumented immigrant? That her whole family and most of her friends live in the country without permission. What follows is a beautiful, nuanced, well-paced exploration of the complications of immigration, young love, defying one’s family, and facing a tangled bureaucracy that threatens to completely upend two young lives.

My Review

This book impressed me. Though I’ve heard a lot of new stories about the trials of life as an undocumented immigrant in the US, especially in reactionary areas of the South, this book drove home the personal struggles of such a life. Things I’d never considered, like not being able to get a driver’s license or apply for scholarships, were put front-and-center, giving the story an emotional edge.

However, there is more to this book than its insight into the life of people like Alma, one of the protagonists. Romance plays a major role in the plot, something I simultaneously enjoyed and was frustrated by.

Alma was an amazing protagonist. She’s strong and independent and has her semi-tragic backstory without falling completely into the Strong Female Character stereotype that seems to dominate YA today. Her thoughts were realistic; I was empathetic with her frustrations. Her culture was clearly apparent throughout the story—it never felt like she was a white character just given an “ethnic” last name to fit the story. I loved her voice and I wanted to see her succeed in life.

Evan was an interesting character, but I was never totally sold on him. He’s a great guy—a soccer star, a good student, and a rich white boy without being a jerk. His family is monumentally screwed-up and hiding it to save face, and he’s trapped in the middle. I loved seeing how his relationship with Alma forced him to wake up to the problems in his life and the failings of his family members.

Unfortunately, Evan’s voice didn’t 100% work for me. He felt a little too perfect, like his thoughts weren’t actually his own, but the kind of thoughts women wish guys had. I wanted a bit more complexity from him, and I wished that his character was able to stand on its own without Alma’s influence.

There were a lot of secondary characters, but most of them were done well enough that they brought life to the story. Whit, in particular, ended up being one of the most fascinating characters in the book, as well as Mrs. King. I wanted to see more of a couple of characters, but them staying in minor roles didn’t ruin the book for me or anything.

I’m really torn about the romance in this book. From page one, there is definite instalove, the bane of every reader’s existence. Evan’s sudden interest in Alma—obsessing over how pretty she is and instantly reading her facial expressions—was one of the main things that made his character feel unrealistic. Alma took a little longer to warm up to Evan, but it was still only a few chapters before they were officially at the “we should date, like, right now” stage.

Past the beginning of the book, however, the romance actually develops, becoming layered and complicated in a way that isn’t exactly common in YA contemporaries. Alma and Evan’s relationship was cute and positive. I loved their banter, and I believed that they honestly had feelings for each other. But it was still really annoying to think back to the beginning of the book and realize there was basically no build-up to those feelings.

The plot of Dream Things True is both lighthearted and gut-wrenching. There is a lot of humor in this book, and the overall mood of the story is positive and hopeful. Nevertheless, this book doesn’t pull punches, and when hell starts to rain down on Alma’s family, things turn emotional extremely quickly. The balance of humor and seriousness was impressive, and the pacing was just about perfect.

Still, the story kinda lost me at the 3/4 mark. The plot ended up going cliche and unnecessary places. Still, the ending tied everything back together and presented a powerful message, making me glad that I stuck with the book.

I loved that Dream Things True didn’t just focus on undocumented immigrants. Rape culture, white privilege, and racism are all explored throughout the plot. The plot line that dealt with rape culture was especially well done, in my opinion, and left me shaking with rage and sadness at the same time (and created a really surprising ending).

If you’re looking for a book with powerful social commentary and you can deal with a bit of instalove, Dream Things True is a must-read. It’s romantic, funny, and though-provoking, and I can honestly say that it has changed the way that I look at undocumented immigrants. 

Book Review: A Madness So Discreet by Mindy McGinnis

A dark and gripping tale of insanity and murder that kept me enthralled from cover to cover.

5/5 stars

cover a madness so discreet

Goodreads Description

Grace Mae knows madness.

She keeps it locked away, along with her voice, trapped deep inside a brilliant mind that cannot forget horrific family secrets. Those secrets, along with the bulge in her belly, land her in a Boston insane asylum.

When her voice returns in a burst of violence, Grace is banished to the dark cellars, where her mind is discovered by a visiting doctor who dabbles in the new study of criminal psychology. With her keen eyes and sharp memory, Grace will make the perfect assistant at crime scenes. Escaping from Boston to the safety of an ethical Ohio asylum, Grace finds friendship and hope, hints of a life she should have had. But gruesome nights bring Grace and the doctor into the circle of a killer who stalks young women. Grace, continuing to operate under the cloak of madness, must hunt a murderer while she confronts the demons in her own past.

In this beautifully twisted historical thriller, Mindy McGinnis, acclaimed author of Not a Drop to Drink and In a Handful of Dust, explores the fine line between sanity and insanity, good and evil—and the madness that exists in all of us.

My Review

WOW. I’d seen this book floating around the book blogging world and not thought much of it, besides that it had a great title and an amazing cover. I am SO GLAD that I decided to pick this book up because it blew my mind.

AMSD is dark. Set in an insane asylum in the mid/late 1800s (the specific historical time is never made clear), the story explores a variety of abuses that are barbaric to a modern reader. The book captures the horrific ways that society saw insane people; it is impossible not to think about our modern age and realize that some people have carried those prejudices forward.

I loved how perfectly McGinnis shaped the setting—there is very little world-building, she just throws you into the story and works from there. The historical elements really helped create a plot that was unique and moving. It’s honestly hard to describe how perfect the world-building in this book was; I was so absorbed in the story that I forgot that it was historical fiction. (I know that that sounds kind of weird.)

Originally, based on the cover and some parts of the blurb, I’d thought that AMSD would have paranormal elements. It doesn’t, but it made that clear from the beginning. Once I realized that the story’s darkness would come solely from real life scenarios, the story was even more intense.

Grace is an incredible protagonist: damaged but strong, with a love/hate relationship with emotions and a fierce loyalty streak. She starts off the book voiceless, traumatized into silence by the same event that got her pregnant and thrown into the asylum. (Her story was so vivid that at time, I forgot that I was allowed to speak.) Throughout the story, Grace’s character develops a lot, and not always in the positive direction. I loved the complexity of her arc, how I never quite knew if she was healing or getting worse.

I appreciated that McGinnis never beat around the bush about what happened to get Grace pregnant. Though it is never explicitly stated, from early on, characters are able to deduce what happened, keeping the reader in the loop. Grace’s rape is dealt with in a refreshingly straightforward way, with no mystery surrounding it (“well who did it” or “did he actually“) and no hesitation before condemning her rapist. For such dark subject manner, I don’t think I would have been able to read the book if part of the plot had involved dissecting or qualifying Grace’s trauma.

Thornhollow, the doctor that rescues Grace from the Boston asylum, was a fascinating character. Yes, he fits the stereotypical unemotional, Sherlockian mold, but for once, his character does so without being cliche, fake, or annoying to read about. I honestly believed that he saw emotions as pointless and damning, that he saw the world as facts and cause-and-effect only. His morality, especially when related to how he treated mental patients, was gray and murky, but I liked him for it. Also, his insight into what makes insane people crazy—which proves the sanity of a lot of the mental patients—was compelling, and fit well with the overall message of the story.

(Minor spoiler here, just skip this paragraph to avoid it.) I really wanted Thornhollow and Grace to end up together. All of their arguments and late-night wanderings—there was so much passion between them. However, when the book ended and Grace and Thornhollow were still just colleagues, I was okay with it. It is so refreshing to read a story where a male and a female with similar ages spend time together, fight with each other, learn about each other, and don’t fall in love. Allowing their relationship to stay platonic created interesting conflicts and made the sacrifices each of them made for the other more significant.

The other characters were vividly portrayed. Nell and Lizzie, especially, felt real and alive. They could always make me laugh, but they also had their emotional moments, a few of which almost drove me to tears. The dialect that McGinnis used for both of them was easy to read and never got in the way of the story, only enhanced it.

The plot of AMSD centers around Thornhollow teaching Grace about criminal psychology as they track down murderers. From that plot, lots of character-based plot lines branch off—basically my ideal plot set-up. The pacing is quick, but not break-neck, allowing you to enjoy the complexities of the story. There were a lot of heartbreaking moments, including a few moments that actually made me say “NO” out loud. The main mystery (focused on a serial killer) was interesting and unexpected, without being needlessly flashy. The ending broke and healed my heart all at once, leaving me emotionally and morally conflicted in so many ways.

I would recommend AMSD to anyone who is prepared for a dark and emotional roller coaster.

The Importance of Platonic Relationships

So for the day before Valentine’s Day, I thought it would be interesting to talk about the importance of platonic (instead of romantic) relationships in YA books.

A cornerstone of the YA genre is romance—and I’m fine with that. I love that actually. I love watching pairs of characters go from friends to significant others (or from enemies to SOs…;) ). If I didn’t want to read romance-centered books, I’d probably read a different genre, but YA is my love—which means I’ve signed up for a lot of romance.

But just because a story contains romance doesn’t mean that friendships should be neglected.

I know, I know. That statement isn’t anything new; it’s barely even worth writing. Of course, we all know that friendships help round out series. Basically every book has some kind of “best friend” character to fill this role.

But these best friend characters are often underdeveloped and underutilized. They exist to support the main character, to help the main character achieve their goals, and to create some minor conflicts throughout the book or series. But they couldn’t stand on their own. We don’t really know anything about them besides how they relate to the main character.

Sometimes, of course, these friendships are the BEST—they’re the thing that makes the book come alive for the reader.

awesome friendships pic

And often, we only see friendships with people who are the same gender as the main character. A girl main character will have a male love interest and a female best friend. If another male character is presented, he’s probably a love interest, at least for a bit, before he becomes her friend.

Again, I’m fine with reading books that have this set-up. They’re simple and easy to read and they’ll probably put a smile on my face. But I want more.

I want to see girls have friendships with guys that never dabble in romance. And not because one of them is gay. And not because the guy is “in the friendzone” (ugh I’m puking just writing that disgusting phrase). Not because of unrequited love or because an SO is standing between them.

Because they’re—wait for it—friends.

awesome mf friendships pic

In pop culture today (and basically forever) there is the prevalent idea that “girls and guys can’t just be friends.” There are a lot of problems with this narrative. It promotes a hetero-normative world view by presenting guy-guy and girl-girl relationships and friendships and guy-girl ones as romance. It implies that any girl who crosses the invisible boundary must be a tomboy (and she probably plays sports) because why else would a girl hang out with guys? It suggests that any guy that hangs out with girls (probably in some kind of artsy setting) is gay, because apparently it isn’t “masculine” to be able to talk to girls without flirting.

But most of all, it means that teenagers today have virtually nowhere to look when searching for examples of how to form friendships with other genders.

I’ll be honest—I don’t have very many guy friends. The ones I do have, I’m not very close with. We’ve had classes together for long enough that we’ll hang out at lunch, crack jokes with (and at) each other, and we do the same extracurriculars. We don’t talk about our lives beyond how much homework we have and how little sleep we’ve gotten.

And that kind of sucks. I know that a lot of the reason I don’t have more male friends is my own personality. I’m shy, and I find it about 12,000 times easier to talk to girls than guys. But when I really stop and think about why that is, I realize that the “guys won’t be your friends, just your SO’s” narrative is a big part of it.

When I’m talking to a girl, I feel comfortable seguing from random schoolwork into more meaningful conversations. But when I’m talking to a guy, there’s always a voice in the back of my head, wondering if something I said sounded like flirting (and hoping it didn’t, for the most part), if they’re flirting, if I like them, if they like me….

You get the picture. And it’s a picture I hate.

I’m not saying that I’d be a stunning conversationalist if I’d read more books that showcased male-female friendships. Let’s be honest, I’d still be me. But I’m tired of having that voice in my head reinforced by the thoughts and actions of characters in the books I read.

Again—I love reading romances. I’m not condemning the giggly, accidentally flirtatious trope—I love that trope. But could we have another, platonic character set-up? One that appears often enough to become it’s own trope? Pretty please?

Book Review: Miss Mayhem (Rebel Belle #2) by Rachel Hawkins

Miss Mayhem was still hilarious, but it wasn’t as impressive as Rebel Belle.

3.5/5 stars

cover miss mayhem

Goodreads Description

Life is almost back to normal for Harper Price. The Ephors have been silent after their deadly attack at Cotillion months ago, and her best friend, Bee, has returned after a mysterious disappearance. Now Harper can focus on the important things in life: school, canoodling with David (her nemesis-turned-ward-slash-boyfie), and even competing in the Miss Pine Grove pageant.

Unfortunately, supernatural chores are never done. The Ephors have decided they’d rather train David than kill him. The catch: Harper has to come along for the ride, but she can’t stay David’s Paladin unless she undergoes an ancient trial that will either kill her . . . or make her more powerful than ever.

My Review

No spoilers for this book, but some unavoidable ones for book one—sorry!

Miss Mayhem was a lot of fun to read.

I love Harper so much, even though she’s still somewhat of a control freak. We definitely get to see her develop in this book, and her relationship with the original characters changes. I loved seeing her priorities (slowly) shift as she started to become more self aware. She’s still frustrating, but she’s getting better, and I have high hopes for her in the next book.

David’s character develops a lot, not always for the better, as the stress of being an Oracle gets to him. He’s still a lovable geek, but he’s also an incredibly powerful Oracle who just lost the only family he ever knew. Though I wanted to shake some sense into him, none of David’s reactions felt wrong—in fact, they were probably exactly what I’d do if anything like this happened to me. His flaws become more pronounced, but they are so understandable that I still loved him.

I liked the way that Miss Mayhem brought more characters into the main conflict. Ryan, now a Mage, becomes a larger character, though I still never felt like he had a lot of personality, which was disappointing. Also, Bee returns in this book, still a Paladin, bringing with her a ton of new conflicts. She’s gone through basically the same thing as Harper, but their reactions are very different. I liked the strange juxtaposition of her old and new selves that Bee showcased, especially when she hung out with Harper.

The plot, like in book one, was paced well. There is never a dull moment, never a scene without multiple conflicts being touched on. I read Miss Mayhem in one sitting; I couldn’t put it down.

The new plot places a lot of stress of David, Harper, and Ryan’s dynamic. At the beginning of Miss Mayhem, the three of them had settled into a sort of holding pattern, working with their magic but never pushing it. But when the Ephors show up in their hometown and started meddling, things start to fall apart between the three of them. Especially when Bee comes back and adds even more tension.

Though subplots grew out of this tension, I felt like Miss Mayhem lacked the powerful net of subplots that had made Rebel Belle so great. There were less contemporary moments, with more of the plot being directly connected to magic. I missed the deeper, emotional scenes that had made book one relatable and unique. The only subplot that really got me was the romantic tension between Harper and David. Though it killed me, it felt natural; it had to be a part of this book, and Rachel Hawkins made it play out perfectly.

From this, book two’s overall plot is simpler than book one’s. It almost felt unfinished, like it needed a few more things to happen to make all of the plot lines gel together. For a plot based mostly on Harper having to complete a series of tests designed by the Ephors, the tests were underwhelming, and the Ephors were kind of lame, never complex enough for me.

If you read Rebel Belle, you should definitely read Miss Mayhem. While I wanted more from it, this book is still fun to read, well paced, and hilarious. I’m sooooo excited for the third book, which comes out sometime in 2016!!!

Top Ten Romances I’ll Read To Cheer Me Up

TTT is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

This week’s theme is a Valentine’s Day freebie! I haven’t done a lot of TTTs recently, but I liked this topic, and I thought it would be fun to share with you guys my “comfort” reads—the books I turn to when I need to be cheered up, and a sweet romance is exactly what I want.

  1. A Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler

cover the summer of chasing mermaids

This book was sweet, moving, and unique. The concept of a voiceless MC was perfectly written. My full review here.

2. The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

cover the scorpio races

Just thinking about Sean and Puck’s romance makes me swoon a little. They are seriously perfect for each other, and the rest of the book is impeccable too. My full review here.

3. The Fill-In Boyfriend by Kasie Westcover the fill in boyfriend

This is a cute and funny story guaranteed to put a smile on my face. My full review here.

4. Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreundcover across a star swept sea

A compelling fantasy-dystopian with a touching—but hilarious—romance. My full review here.

5. I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have To Kill You by Allie Carter
cover gg 1

Or really anything by Allie Carter. My full series review here.

6. Ten Things We Did (And Probably Shouldn’t Have) by Sarah Mlynowski
cover ten things we did

This book surprised me with how emotional it made me, and how many times it got me to laugh out loud. Honestly, so much fun to read. My full review here.

7. Peace, Love, and Baby Ducks by Lauren Myracle

cover peace love and baby ducks

This book is an old favorite. It’s impressive contemporary that captures the struggles of frustrating parents and high school drama without going overboard.

8. Angel Burn by LA Weatherly

Technically, this is the first book in an intense paranormal series, but the romance, especially in the first book, is smile-inducing. Their relationship is honest and interesting, and I love seeing the moments as they slowly fall for each other (while saving each other’s lives).

9. The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner

cover king of attolia

Okay, so this definitely isn’t a romance. And it’s the third book in the series. But there are certain scenes in this book that are so freaking romantic that I die a bit thinking about them.

10. Going Underground by Susan Vaught

cover going underground

Del and Livia falling in love is one of the sweetest (and most bittersweet) stories I’ve ever read. With a heavy dose of social commentary, this book is an all-time favorite. My full review here.

So there are my favorite pick-me-up romances! What about you? Do we share any favorites? What should I read the next time I need to be cheered up?

Book Review: Rebel Belle (Rebel Belle #1) by Rachel Hawkins

A hilarious tale of teenage superheroes that gripped me from page one.

4.5/5 stars

cover rebel belle big

Goodreads Description

Harper Price, peerless Southern belle, was born ready for a Homecoming tiara. But after a strange run-in at the dance imbues her with incredible abilities, Harper’s destiny takes a turn for the seriously weird. She becomes a Paladin, one of an ancient line of guardians with agility, super strength and lethal fighting instincts.

Just when life can’t get any more disastrously crazy, Harper finds out who she’s charged to protect: David Stark, school reporter, subject of a mysterious prophecy and possibly Harper’s least favorite person. But things get complicated when Harper starts falling for him—and discovers that David’s own fate could very well be to destroy Earth.

With snappy banter, Cotillion dresses, non-stop action and a touch of magic, this new young adult series from bestseller Rachel Hawkins is going to make y’all beg for more.

My Review

Let’s start off with this: Rebel Belle is HILARIOUS. Honestly, this book is like if Buffy the Vampire Slayer had Cordelia as the MC (and if Cordelia was a massive overachiever). There are so many awkward and cringe-humor moments. Seriously, if you need a book to put a smile on your face, this is the perfect one for you.

Harper is a great protagonist. She’s a straight-A student, the class president, a member of about sixty extracurricular organizations, and a Southern belle on top of it. She’s bossy, slightly self-absorbed, and a perfectionist. She doesn’t let anyone (even magical people) take over her life without permission. She’s the girl that does everything and never admits that she’s overwhelmed. Which was fine when her life was just school-related, but the addition of magic and superpowers definitely pushed her over the edge.

I loved Harper, but there were times when I wanted to grab her and shake her. Though she has her annoying moments (like, give it a rest, girl), I loved her as a protagonist, because I knew exactly who she was and what she stood for. Though she’s not the most original character on the surface, her voice is so clear that it makes her unique.

Oooh! One other thing that I absolutely LOVED about Harper. When crazy, obviously magical things happened to her, she didn’t spend pages and pages denying it or thinking she was insane. She started researching it. She accepted that something crazy had happened and worked forward from there. There aren’t words for how refreshing it is to read about a character that is able to do that.

David is an adorably geeky love interest. I liked that both he and Harper kind of freaked when magical craziness took over their lives, but that they were also willing to go with whatever kept both of them alive. David’s chemistry with Harper gives me life. Their sass with each other was AWESOME, and the romance that developed was perfect.

But Rebel Belle isn’t just the story of Harper and David falling in love while doing magical things—it also has strong contemporary subplots. Rachel Hawkins captures the overwhelming nature of high school really well, especially the pressure of extracirriculars. And as being a magical superhero takes over Harper’s life, she starts to realize that her life wasn’t perfect before. She has to see her friends and her boy friend in a new light, and though it wasn’t exactly cheery to read about, this plot line gave the book depth. It could have just been a funny story about enemies falling in love, but Rachel Hawkins made it a multifaceted story about being a high school student—and I loved it.

The plot of Rebel Belle is paced really well, always building toward the climax. The subplots wove together to create a strong story. It is a fun and exciting book to read, plain and simple.

I would recommend this book to anyone who needs a good laugh, likes romances between mortal enemies, or who wants a dose of high school drama (but realistic drama, not stupid drama). Also, to fans of Buffy. Basically everyone. 😉

The Cinderella Book Tag

I haven’t done a tag in a while, so when Kirstie @ Upside-Down Books tagged me in the Cinderella Tag, I thought, I think it’s time for another book tag! 

This tag was created by Tiffany @ About to Read. Now, full disclosure, I’m really not a Disney buff. Cinderella is one of the only Disney movies that I’m sure I’ve seen all the way through (please don’t throw things at me). Still, I like this tag 🙂 I get to talk about books—what else matters?!

Evil Stepsisters: a book with characters you just hate

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Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas. Like, everyone. Especially that DA. Seriously, reading this book made me so angry…but in a good, very well written way.

Prince Charming: a book with a gentleman

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Simon Middleton in Rebel Angels by Libba Bray. Yes, he’s part of a love triangle. Yes, he kind of gets in the way of twoo wuv. But I honestly loved Simon. He’s definitely a gentleman, and I am so glad that he was a part of the Gemma Doyle series.

Cinderella: a character that is graceful, kind, and defiant

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Maddie from Code Name Verity. She’s not as spunky as Verity, but she definitely stands up for herself and the people she loves. She’s kind and a graceful pilot, too.

Fairy Godmother: a character that always has someone looking out for them

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Mei Yee in The Walled City. She doesn’t know it, but her sister, Jin, is always looking for her, doing her best to try to rescue her from her awful life.

Helpful Creatures: something that makes you happy when you’re sad

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Rereading any part of The King of Attolia (Queen’s Thief #3). This book is my actual (no competition, seriously) favorite book, and just thinking about some of the amazing scenes—from fight scenes to declarations of love—in this book makes my heart flutter (wow that ended up being lame).

Ashes: a book you didn’t care for

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Ash and Bramble. Technically, this is my sister talking (from next to me as I write this post). She got a few chapters into this book and had to put it down—it just didn’t grab her at all. I trust her judgement 😉

Pumpkin: a character with a transformation

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Macey McHenry from The Gallagher Girls series. She starts off as a total bitch, but she turns into one of my favorite characters. The third book in this series, which is really focused on her, is one of my favorites, simply because we get to see how much she’s grown (and how much she’s stayed the same).

Impossible: a book with an ending you didn’t see coming

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Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson. Also the other two books in the trilogy. Every single Mistborn book left me gaping at the last page, in complete denial as to what had just happened. If you like being shocked, definitely pick up these books.

Just Breathe: something that inspires you to be courageous

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Verity from Code Name Verity. I know I’ve already talked about this book in this post, but it’s too perfect. Verity’s story brings me to tears, and just thinking about everything that she went through makes me determined to be courageous in my life.

Happily Ever After: a book with a perfect ending

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Well, it’s a series, but I felt like the Gallagher Girls series by Ally Carter ended on a perfect note: hopeful and looking to the future. I cried at the ending, but they were happy tears, and though I never wanted that series to end, at least it ended perfectly. Again, I’ve already talked about these books, but they deserve it.

Book Review: The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore

A magical remake of the classic Romeo and Juliet setup that could have impressed me more.

3/5 stars

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Goodreads Description

For twenty years, the Palomas and the Corbeaus have been rivals and enemies, locked in an escalating feud for over a generation. Both families make their living as traveling performers in competing shows—the Palomas swimming in mermaid exhibitions, the Corbeaus, former tightrope walkers, performing in the tallest trees they can find.

Lace Paloma may be new to her family’s show, but she knows as well as anyone that the Corbeaus are pure magia negra, black magic from the devil himself. Simply touching one could mean death, and she’s been taught from birth to keep away. But when disaster strikes the small town where both families are performing, it’s a Corbeau boy, Cluck, who saves Lace’s life. And his touch immerses her in the world of the Corbeaus, where falling for him could turn his own family against him, and one misstep can be just as dangerous on the ground as it is in the trees.

My Review

There were a lot of things that I loved about this book. The premise was fascinating: a pair of travelling circus families that hated each other, going so far as to be superstitiously terrified of even touching a member of the other clan. Though the conflict between the two families seemed inflated to a neutral party (the reader), the story was framed in such a way that it made sense why each family hated the other so much.

A complex and layered story grew out of this conflict, touching on issues dealing with environmental protection, stigmas, and body image. I especially loved the (somewhat unexpected) focus on the chemical plant in the town the story was set in. The plot line that grew out of the chemical plant was unique and realistic, with a dash of honest terror. Without the social commentary woven through the story, TWOF would have been a fairly straightforward forbidden romance, and I’m glad that it wasn’t.

Both protagonists had clear personalities. I loved seeing them interact with the rest of their families, especially with their simultaneous love and hatred of the shows. Unfortunately, I never really shipped Lace and Cluck. They were an okay couple, but for a plot that relied so much on romance, I never got that spark of “ohmygod I NEED the ship to sail” that I expected.

The rest of the characters had the same lifelike realism as Cluck and Lace, adding their own layers to the story. I liked how characters that seemed minor at the beginning ended up being really important at the end. I also appreciated the fact that lots of different conflicts existed between various characters, going beyond the obvious family vs family hatred.

The writing of TWOF is gorgeous, with the descriptions being the most impressive part. I feel like I’ve seen both of the family’s shows, like I know exactly what their costumes look like. Honestly, the shows may be my favorite part of the book.

I loved the way that the author wove the characters’ culture into the story through languages. Each chapter starts with a quote, either in French (signifying Chuck’s POV) or in Spanish (for Lace’s POV), and characters periodically speak in their native tongue. This was a simple but powerful way to weave the characters’ cultures into the story.

The story clearly conveys lots of thought-provoking themes, and it does so with a gentle hand that most authors can’t pull off without seeming preachy. The mirror-like quality that the author wove in (where extremely similar situations play out in both families without them knowing) was a nice touch that added power to the “why the frick do you hate each other” theme, though at times it seemed a bit too perfect.

The only problem I had with this book was the plot itself. The pacing was moderate and constant, leaving me wondering what the main plot was and what the subplots were. I never felt like the story built to a clear climax, and the ending felt abrupt, undoing some of the story’s original magic. I liked all of the different parts of the story, but I’m not sure that they all came together the way that the author intended. When the story ended, I was left wishing that more had happened, and wondering what exactly the story was supposed to be. I didn’t hate this book at all, but I wanted more from it.

I would recommend this book to people who love descriptive books and who like contemporary stories that have a magical quality, even if magic isn’t involved. This book is not for people seeking a fast-paced or intense romance, but it is a sweet and thoughtful story with strong social commentary.