Book Review: Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

An adorably fluffy romance that got me in the holiday spirit (in the middle of January) while making me laugh out loud.

3.5/5 stars


synopsis for reviews 2

“I’ve left some clues for you.
If you want them, turn the page.
If you don’t, put the book back on the shelf, please.”

So begins the latest whirlwind romance from the bestselling authors of Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Lily has left a red notebook full of challenges on a favorite bookstore shelf, waiting for just the right guy to come along and accept its dares. But is Dash that right guy? Or are Dash and Lily only destined to trade dares, dreams, and desires in the notebook they pass back and forth at locations across New York? Could their in-person selves possibly connect as well as their notebook versions? Or will they be a comic mismatch of disastrous proportions?

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my thoughts for reviews 1

This is one of those books that I have been meaning to read forever, so when I got it for my birthday, I didn’t let it sit on my TBR shelf. I expected it to be a cute, ridiculous love story, and it was.

I loved the premise of this book. Two teenagers united by a book of dares and a favorite bookstore? I’m in. And while the story takes place during Christmastime and is full of holiday cheer, I did not have any problem reading it in January.

Dash was by far my favorite character. He’s an honest-to-God introvert, something that I don’t see a lot of in YA. And while he hated the idea of going to Macy’s two days before Christmas and genuinely loved being alone, he wasn’t cringey or awkward the way most introvert characters are. He’s wordy (which might come off to some readers as pretentious), but I loved it. Add in a whole lot of sass and there was no way I wouldn’t fall in love with Dash.

I did not connect as directly to Lily, but I did enjoy her character. She was optimistic and energetic in an endearing way, but she also had her fair share of insecurities and frustrations. She wanted to be daring and ridiculous, but she also struggled to form friendships or break out of her comfort zone. I liked this take on extroversion—another character type that I haven’t read often.

Parents played an interesting role in both characters’ stories. Neither set of parents is in town, or paying much attention to their children. The specifics of how each teenager accomplished this was a little ridiculous, but I rolled with it. Still, the parents affected Dash and Lily from afar, adding subplots and forcing their characters to develop, which I appreciated.

Of course, the maybe-romance between Dash and Lily was the central focus of the book. The two of them bounce off each other for most of the book, interacting through the notebook while living their own lives separately. I enjoyed the way that the romance was handled in this book. Romance didn’t overpower the story, and it definitely wasn’t instalove, but it was there.

Let’s be honest, if I left a notebook full of dares in a bookstore and a guy decided to take me up on it, I would spend a lot of time trying to figure out if he was someone I could date. And if I picked up said notebook, I would do the same. But while both Dash and Lily think about the possibility of their relationship, neither falls head-over-heels for the other, and both remain skeptical about the chances of a random passerby being The One.

I loved the constant uncertainty of the romance. For most of the book, even couldn’t decide if I thought they were meant for each other or if they should go their separate ways. This kept me reading more than instalove ever would have, and was another part of this book that I appreciated for breaking the contemporary romance mold.

Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares was paced really well. There were enough subplots that I was always worried about what would happen next, but also enough lighthearted moments that I got the fluffy feels I wanted. The plot was not long or overly complex, but it was not so simple that I got bored. The story was filled with humor (some, but thankfully not all, cringe humor), literally making me laugh out loud—which I never do.

Side characters make this book. None of them played major roles in the story, but all of them collectively made the book what it was. I loved the contrast between Lily’s massive family and Dash’s more reserved group of friends, as well as how both of those groups worked to bring the two of them together.

On a side note, I loved this book for all of the LGBT+ side characters. While this book is definitely not Diverse™, it destroys the idea that a straight contemporary romance needs to exist in an entirely straight universe. It’s a small step in the right direction that made reading this fluffy book infinitely more enjoyable.

I would recommend this book for anyone looking for a fluffy story that will make them smile. It is not a heart-wrenching romance, nor it is even a transformative book about self-discovery. It is simply a sweet book that has romance, self-discovery, and lots of allusions to authors and poets. I will definitely read Dash and Lily’s Twelve Days of Christmas, but I might wait for the 2017 holiday season.

Have you read it? What did you think?

Problematic Moments and Trigger Warnings: (A new section where I call out books for problematic moments and alert readers to possible triggers. Please note I am by no means an expert on either, but I will do my best to research the books I review as I write this section. I added this to help readers, but I cannot promise it will be perfect. I am still learning, and any critiques you have will be greatly appreciated. If I missed something in either category, tell me and I’ll edit the review to include it.)

Problematic Moments: While DALBOD didn’t strike me as very problematic, is is not perfect. In one scene, Dash is really flippant about Hanukkah. Comment if you want more specifics.

Trigger warnings: parent with alcoholism, drinking, semi-blackouts

Book Review: My Lady Jane by Brodi Ashton, Cynthia Hand, and Jodi Meadows

A hilarious alternate historical fiction novel that was just so much fun.

5/5 stars

cover my lady jane

synopsis for reviews 2

The comical, fantastical, romantical, (not) entirely true story of Lady Jane Grey. In My Lady Jane, coauthors Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows have created a one-of-a-kind fantasy in the tradition of The Princess Bride, featuring a reluctant king, an even more reluctant queen, a noble steed, and only a passing resemblance to actual history—because sometimes history needs a little help.

At sixteen, Lady Jane Grey is about to be married off to a stranger and caught up in a conspiracy to rob her cousin, King Edward, of his throne. But those trifling problems aren’t for Jane to worry about. Jane is about to become the Queen of England

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my thoughts for reviews 1

From page one, this book was hilarious. I have rarely read a book that reveled so completely in being ridiculous. There are references to Shakespeare, The Princess Bride, and the Monty Pythons. (Full disclosure: if you don’t know the source material, this book will be way less funny.) The narrators talk directly to you and sometimes even point out plot holes. I laughed out loud throughout the book.

I loved the alternate historical premise of this book. The authors re-framed the Catholic-Protestant divide under Henry VIII as a conflict between humans that turn into animals (Edians) and those that hate Edians (Verities). From there, they took further liberties with the chronology of history, which the narrators call them out on in a hilarious fashion. Overall, the way that the authors twisted history created a perfect backdrop for the rest of the absurd story. (If you love this time period and will be pained by historical inaccuracies, I don’t blame you, but probably don’t read this one.)

My Lady Jane is told from three perspectives: Lady Jane, the future queen; Edward, Jane’s childhood friend and the dying king she will replace; and G, the cursed aristocrat that will marry Jane as a part of his father’s power grab. I loved that all three perspectives had clear voices and personalities, and that they were all equally important to the story. Also, the switch from perspective to perspective felt natural and never broke up the flow of the story.

I’ll start with Jane. She was bookish and introverted, and she had always known that she would not be important to court life (she was wrong). She got thrust into an arranged marriage, then into a position of power, but all she really wanted was to read. (Relatable.) I loved her optimism and her stubbornness, even if they were frustratingly naive occasionally.

Edward was equal parts infuriating and endearing. Infuriating because he’s a spoiled, sexist prick. Endearing because once the plot knocks him off his feet, he starts to realize just how spoiled and sexist he was, and he grows. He never wanted to be king, and he was surrounded by people that let him have the power without actually doing anything. He hid from responsibility, and in the face of his own mortality, he had to grow up a lot. So while I hated parts of his character, I loved watching him grow into a character that I didn’t hate.

If you’re worried about the sexism, I’ll say two things: 1) the narrators call him out on his sexism, and 2) his voice is not focused on being sexist, so you won’t have it shoved in your face constantly while reading. (If that’s not good enough for you, I don’t blame you.)

G was possibly my favorite character (maybe tied with Jane—I’m indecisive). Cursed to turn into a horse whenever the sun is up, G’s entire life is pretty ridiculous. Still, I loved his a clear, emotional voice. I was able to connect with his character’s frustrations and longings. He was surprisingly down-to-earth and honest, and I loved how those character traits juxtaposed with his horse curse’s humor.

The plot of My Lade Jane was equal parts court intrigue, romance, and rebellion (all of it humorous, of course). Most of the plot consisted of Jane, Edward, and G unwittingly getting caught in a web of power plays and faction rivalries and then trying to survive the mess. The pacing of the plot was just fast enough to keep me reading and to prevent the nearly 500 page book from feeling long, but not so fast that I felt dragged along.

The romance was a large part of the book, but it did not overshadow the political side. Watching Jane and G fall in love was adorable, but it was not the only thing forcing both characters to develop. I appreciated that romance was often used to support and comfort characters, rather than to tear them down. Additionally, Edward’s less-than-perfect love life helped to keep the book from feeling like a rom com.

Still, it would be a lie to say My Lady Jane is not heavily oriented about romance, or to say that the romance never gets cheesy. I let myself get carried away by the story and chose to enjoy the more middle-grade romantic arc, and I had a blast.

I would recommend My Lade Jane to anyone that needs a break from the stress of reality. You have to be able to suspend disbelief and enjoy the ridiculousness of the story. This book gets 5/5 stars for being unabashedly hilarious, not for any deep themes or gorgeous writing. My Lady Jane does not take itself seriously—at all—and if that sounds like fun, then you should definitely pick it up.

Problematic Moments and Trigger Warnings: (A new section where I call out books for problematic moments and alert readers to possible triggers. Please note I am by no means an expert on either, but I will do my best to research the books I review as I write this section. I added this to help readers, but I cannot promise it will be perfect. I am still learning, and any critiques you have will be greatly appreciated. If I missed something in either category, tell me and I’ll edit the review to include it.)

Problematic things: It’s straight and white. There’s no sugar coating it: this is not a diverse story. It’s just not.

Trigger warnings: sexism, violence against people/animals, terminal illness, (recreational) drinking

Book Review: Rook by Sharon Cameron

A fast-paced story of twisted loyalties and conflicting desires that I couldn’t stop reading.

3.5/5 stars

cover rook

Goodreads Description

History has a way of repeating itself. In the Sunken City that was once Paris, all who oppose the new revolution are being put to the blade. Except for those who disappear from their prison cells, a red-tipped rook feather left in their place. Is the mysterious Red Rook a savior of the innocent or a criminal?

Meanwhile, across the sea in the Commonwealth, Sophia Bellamy’s arranged marriage to the wealthy René Hasard is the last chance to save her family from ruin. But when the search for the Red Rook comes straight to her doorstep, Sophia discovers that her fiancé is not all he seems. Which is only fair, because neither is she.

As the Red Rook grows bolder and the stakes grow higher, Sophia and René find themselves locked in a tantalizing game of cat and mouse.

My Review

This has minor spoilers for Rook, mainly because I can’t talk about one of the character’s role in the book without spoiling a bit of the beginning. Proceed with caution.

This book started off slow for me. It took me a week to read the first thirty pages. This was because there were major problems with the exposition and the world-building. Sometimes I like it when authors just throw you into the action and leave you to figure out the world, but in this case, that format really didn’t work. I was confused and frustrated, and even once the book’s pace picked up, I was still unsure about the specifics of the world.

I did like some parts of the world building, however. It is something like a dystopian retelling of the French Revolution, focusing mostly on the Reign of Terror part. Since that time period was one of the most interesting ones that I studied last year, I loved the way that Cameron wove historical details into a new world, one that was revolting against technology and the rich a few centuries after an apocalypse.

Once the story got moving, I was able to focus on the characters. Sophie, daughter of a formerly wealthy merchant family and secret revolutionary, was an interesting protagonist, but I felt like there was always something missing that kept me from falling in love with her. She has all of the components I want in badass characters like this—sass, creativity, moments of weakness—but they never gelled into an awesome protagonist. She’s not a bad main character—far from it—but I would have enjoyed the story more if she had a few more layers, a bit more spark.

René, on the other hand, was an awesome character. Engaged to Sophie through an arrangement that neither of them like and with close ties to the dictator Sophie is secretly fighting, he starts off the book cloaked in mystery and distrust. I absolutely LOVED watching the truth of his character come out. I loved all of the intricacies of his character. René was definitely my favorite character in the book.

The romance that developed between Rene and Sophie was amazing. It takes a while, and it is always dominated by concerns over if they can trust each other, but their chemistry was impeccable and I loved them as a couple. It’s sweet and painful, and it really added to the book.

There are so many other characters in Rook. Amazingly, I rarely got them confused, but I also didn’t have much understanding of each character’s personality (mostly just their name and what role they play). Some of the more important characters stood out, of course, and added to the story. Benoit, in particular, was one of my favorite characters. LeBlanc was a terrifying villian—his religious fanaticism and lack of a conscience created a horrifying character, but one that was realistic (in an awful way).

Spear, the other kind-of love interest, was an annoying character. He was supposed to be annoying, so that was written well, but I still wanted to shove him out of the way so that Rene and Sophie could get together. I also wished there was more to his character than just his obsession with Sophie.

The most impressive part of this book is the web of interwoven loyalties and lies that binds the characters together. Throughout the book, you honestly have no idea who to trust. Everyone has another agenda, everyone is watching each other, and everyone ends up getting in each other’s way. It was actually stressful to read. I had to keep reading to find out who was good, who was evil, and what the frick everyone was doing.

Because of this, the pacing of this book is insane. Literally, the last half of the book is one massive scene. I couldn’t stop reading if I had wanted to.

While I was impressed with the breakneck speed of some scenes, there was something off about the overall book’s pacing. Maybe it was too many pages, maybe the last scene was too fast for too long, but when I finished the book, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something about the pacing hadn’t worked.

There isn’t much to say about the writing—it wasn’t amazing, but it wasn’t bad—but I loved the way that Cameron strung different scenes together by ending one scene and starting the next with similar wording. It’s hard to describe, but it helped different plot lines flow together and it sped the pacing up.

I would recommend this book to French Revolution buffs, dystopian fans (who want a semi-historical setting), or people who love not knowing who to trust. The romance is swoonworthy, the plot is complex, and there are a lot of surprises. Despite the book’s problems, it was still a really fun read, and I can see myself rereading it sometime in the future.

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: 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. 😉

Book Review: The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

I started out bored by this book, grew to like it, and got annoyed by the ending. In terms of books I’ve read for English classes, it was actually pretty good, even if suffered from sloppy storytelling.

3/5 stars

cover the scarlet letter

Goodreads Description

Set in the harsh Puritan community of seventeenth-century Boston, this tale of an adulterous entanglement that results in an illegitimate birth reveals Nathaniel Hawthorne’s concerns with the tension between the public and the private selves. Publicly disgraced and ostracized, Hester Prynne draws on her inner strength and certainty of spirit to emerge as the first true heroine of American fiction. Arthur Dimmesdale, trapped by the rules of society, stands as a classic study of a self divided.

My Review

I cannot make up my mind on this book. Parts of it I enjoyed, parts of it I hated. I guess it all averages out to three stars.

Hawthorne’s writing is beautiful but tiring. His use of metaphor and imagery is amazing; he understood how to make a point with rhetoric. (His habit of shoving any analysis that existed in his reade’s face was a tad bit annoying, but I’ll live.) His love of winding sentences and superfluous punctuation, on the other hand, can be exhausting to read. TSL is extremely quotable, but those quotes will end up being pretty long. (As I learned when I used two quotes for my Weekend Words meme.)

Looking back on the text, I come down in favor of his writing style–because, let’s be honest, it’s incredible to read, and as a long-winded comma-lover myself, I appreciated his dedication. (We won’t comment on how I would have answered this question while I was doing my reading homework at ten at night.) I’m glad that I’ve read this book…I’m just not sure that it couldn’t have been a novella.

The plot of The Scarlet Letter is…interesting. Hester Prynne was sent over to a Purtian colony in the 1600s ahead of her husband; her husband didn’t show up for two years, but Hester was pregnant. Accused of adultery, Hester was forced to wear a scarlet letter on her chest for the rest of her life–a punishment that ostracized her from the rest of the sin-fearing society. The plot focuses on discovering who she adultered with and how raising the child of her adultery (Pearl) affected Hester’s personality. Her husband also eventually shows up, hiding his identity from all but Hester, and becoming a symbol of revenge.

The plot had it’s dramatic and touching moments, but for the most part, is was slow-paced and on the cusp of being boring. Hawthorne has a habit of saying the same thing over and over again, which resulted in chapters being longer than they really needed to be for the amount of forward progress the plot underwent.

I was impressed by the characters in this book. Hester, our adulteress, is a fascinating mixture of characteristics: she is submissive and demure at times, but she has a bold, rebellious streak that she passes on to her daughter. Pearl, the aforementioned daughter, was hands-down my favorite character: she’s elfish and creepy, almost un-human, with both precocious and childlike mannerisms–she brought life to the story. I would not want her as my daughter, but I loved reading about her, and I would read a spin-off book about her life after TSL, no question. The two male characters–her husband and her adulterer–(unnamed purposefully) were realistic and strangely un-likable. The side characters were one-dimensional but added to the message and tone of the story in their own ways.

What frustrates me most about this book is its identity crisis. Since I read this book for English class, I spent a lot of time and energy trying to find a focus of the plot, but Hawthorne kept contradicting himself. He hates the Puritan society, but ends up endorsing their morality (at least partially). As a transcenentalist, he’s supposed to champion nature, but nature is shown as a corrupting force (in some scenes). While this makes the book more complex, as a student, it was frustrating.

I would recommend this book to fans of classics, people who can derive pleasure and not headaches from Old-Timey sentences. TSL would appeal to fans of subtle plots and vivid characters. People who long for dialogue or rapidly paced plots will probably be disappointed, but everyone can relate to or be affected by some part of the books’s numerous themes.

Book Review: The Burning Sky (Elemental Trilogy #1) by Sherry Thomas

This book was unique and exciting, but there was something missing that kept it from being all-out amazing.

4/5 stars

cover the burning sku

Amazon Description

Iolanthe Seabourne is the greatest elemental mage of her generation—or so she’s been told. The one prophesied for years to be the savior of the Realm. It is her duty and destiny to face and defeat the Bane, the most powerful tyrant and mage the world has ever known. This would be a suicide task for anyone, let alone a reluctant sixteen-year-old girl with no training.

Guided by his mother’s visions and committed to avenging his family, Prince Titus has sworn to protect Iolanthe even as he prepares her for their battle with the Bane. But he makes the terrifying mistake of falling in love with the girl who should have been only a means to an end. Now, with the servants of the tyrant closing in, Titus must choose between his mission—and her life.

My Review

Let me just say off the bat that the plot summary does a horrible job of explaining what happens in this book, mainly because it is a really complex book with lots of subplots and even more world-building and it is hard to decide where spoilers begin for a story like this. I’m trying to give you guys a sense of the book and its strengths and weaknesses without spoilers, but I have to gloss over big parts of the plot.

This book surprised me. The fantasy elements were done well and with a unique fairytale spin. Both Titus and Iolanthe could work magic, but their powers were different in what they could do with their powers. I liked this part of the plot–Titus ended up actually seeming like he was a better magician than the great mage Iolanthe, which complicated their relationship, giving Titus some power and testing Iolanthe’s character. However, the reason behind the differences–though it was explained–never made sense to me. The explanations happened too early on in the book, before we had been introduced to either type of magic, and when the types of magic actually tried to fight each other, I was left confused, trying to remember vague explanations that I had glossed over, assuming they would be explained better when I actually needed the information. It wasn’t bad world-building, but it was somewhat sloppy, and if it had been explained at a more opportune time, I could have spent less of the book being confused and more of it loving the world Thomas had created.

The setting–though it is more fair to say the settings, because the book takes place across three “realms”–is believable, complex, and overall bolsters the story’s strengths. Some of the book takes place in the magical part of Earth, and some of it takes place in non-magical England. I liked the power dynamic of the magical world: Titus is technically the ruler of the Domain (though he has a regent), but a foreign group of manipulators (Atlantis) has basically taken over the country, robbing Titus of any real power. Titus’s frustration and righteous need to take back his kingdom was understandable and characterized him well. With the addition of failed uprisings connected to his mother (who then died for the cause), and his duty to keep Iolanthe safe, Titus ended up with a complex and interesting character. He was more than a love interest, which I really appreciated, especially when the romance of the book was a little cliche.

The plot line that takes place in non-magical England bothered me. It involves an all-boys school and struck me as unrealistic, to say the least. (I am being purposefully vague to avoid spoilers, by the way.) I liked the friendships Iolanthe developed and how it strained her relationship with Titus, but overall it was too disconnected from the rest of the book and from the strong sense of believability that dominated the other two settings and their plotlines.

The rest of the book takes place in a fairytale realm called the Crucible, which is not actually reality and that Titus uses to train Iolanthe for her confrontation with the land’s magical tyrant, the Bane. This was an amazing idea, and the execution was overall great, but sometimes the descriptions of the setting would be confusingly worded. Also, the physics of the Crucible seemed a little far-fetched (especially near the end when the author changed all the rules), and it felt like Thomas was just coming up with rules that suited what he wanted to happen in the plot, whether or not those fit with the rules he had outlined at the beginning. Still, the scenes in the Crucible were by far my favorites to read; they made the rest of the plot lines almost feel like they were getting in the way of the story I wanted to read, when really the Crucible plot should have been the least important plot line.

Iolanthe (why does her name have to be so complicated to type???) was a strong protagonist. She had a simple life before Titus crashed into it, claiming she is destined to be the greatest mage of the time and to take down the invincible Bane. She wanted to hold onto her simple life; she refused to sacrifice her life on a suicide mission against a tyrant who she didn’t actually hate. Her character had just enough ego and doubt–they played off each other to keep her honest and opened her up to the reader.

The plot of this book is fast-paced and dramatic. The beginning was slow for me–there was a lot of world-building a little to early–but once the plot really started, I was hooked. I can’t say that the plot was anything super unique or complex, but with the world and the magic it was based in, it still ended up feeling special.

From the romance I draw my one clear complaint with the book: there is Instalove. Or, not really instalove, more like insta-attraction. They aren’t in love with each other from page one, but as soon as they meet, large portions of each scene are focused on the characters thinking about each other in romantically interested ways. It came off as heavy-handed for me, which was a shame, because once the plot developed further and their relationship grew more complex, the romance that they shared ended up being really sweet and realistic. However, the insta-attraction at the beginning lessened the quality of the writing and almost made me put it down.

I would recommend this book to fans of YA fantasy who want a well-done, unique novel that strays off the beaten path with complex characters and interesting power struggles. I would also say that being a forgiving reader would help, so that you can see past the technical issues I had with The Burning Sky to enjoy the amazing story it contains.

Book Review: All-American Girl by Meg Cabot

This was my third time reading this book, but my first time reading it since I was much younger. I saw the book in a different light, but I still enjoyed it.

3.5/5 stars

cover all american girl

Amazon description

Top ten reasons Samantha Madison is in deep trouble

10. Her big sister is the most popular girl in school

9. Her little sister is a certified genius

8. She’s in love with her big sister’s boyfriend

7. She got caught selling celebrity portraits in school

6. And now she’s being forced to take art classes

5. She’s just saved the president of the United States from an assassination attempt

4. So the whole world thinks she is a hero

3. Even though Sam knows she is far, far from being a hero

2. And now she’s been appointed teen ambassador to the UN

And the number-one reason Sam’s life is over?

1.The president’s son just might be in love with her

My Review

I’m on a contemporary romance binge right now, and lacking new books to read, I went back to a book that I used to love, All-American Girl. I noticed right away that it is written for a younger audience, but reading it as a slightly older person, I was able to get more of the message Meg Cabot was saying.

Sam is a good protagonist, full of voice and easy to connect to. Her personality is slightly obsessive, which leads her to see people as either idols (Gwen Stefani), soul mates (her sister’s boyfriend Jack), or the devil incarnate (her art teacher Susan Boone). While this emphasizes her youth, it also makes her voice entertaining to read.

The plot of his book is very simple: Sam saves the president’s life and instantly becomes a national hero. And craziness ensues. It’s well paced and appropriately hilarious. It’s a light read, but it will keep you reading.

The larger plot of the book deals with Sam’s budding “frission” with David (the first son) and her obsession with Jack (her sister’s BF). Sam’s personality makes it so that even as the reader can see David and her falling in love, she’s still focused on Jack. As the book progresses, it also turns out that Jack is pretty obnoxious to Sam. It’s frustrating to watch as a reader, but it conveys a powerful message about crushes blinding people to the truth.

The other characters, including Sam’s sister, her best friend, and Jack, were somewhat flat. They added to the story in a one-dimensional way. I would have liked more depth from them, because I think it could have made this book a lot more unique.

My favorite part of this book is all the lists Meg Cabot puts throughout. They are funny and help to move the plot through more boring moments, but most of all they add a well-needed dose of humor and levity to the story. I love that Meg Cabot does things like this is all of her books–things that make them just a little more unique.

There is a sequel to this book, but I’ve never read it. I like the ending of the book as it stands, and I don’t want to change the picture I have in my mind of the couple. Adding another book to the series seems kind of unnecessary.

I would recommend this book to anyone who wants a younger-oriented chicklit with a lot of humor, if not a lot of depth.