Book Review: Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

A heartwrenching story of four teenagers and their darkest secrets that did a number on my emotions.

4/5 stars

cover salt to the sea

synopsis for reviews 2

Winter, 1945. Four teenagers. Four secrets.

Each one born of a different homeland; each one hunted, and haunted, by tragedy, lies…and war.

As thousands of desperate refugees flock to the coast in the midst of a Soviet advance, four paths converge, vying for passage aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship that promises safety and freedom.

Yet not all promises can be kept.

Add it on Goodreads

my thoughts for reviews 1

I rarely read historical fiction, but this book was everything I want from the genre rolled into one: strong characters, an emotional plot, and writing that brings the past to life.

Salt to the Sea is an incredibly character-driven book. Told from four different POVs, the book contains four separate stories that slowly weave together. The short chapters ensured that I never got bored with any of the POVs.

Emilia was my favorite character. She is simultaneously extremely young and battle-hardened. Her observation skills were realistic considering her backstory and helped make the rest of the characters more interesting because we got to see them through her inquisitive lens. When we finally discovered the entirety of her backstory, it ripped out my heart and made me love her even more.

Alfred was definitely my least favorite POV. He’s supposed to be annoying and unreliable—and he REALLY succeeds at it. I am both impressed at how well Sepetys was able to craft his character and annoyed by having to be in his head. Still, his character is definitely not what you normally see in YA fiction, and for that, I have to appreciate his character.

The interactions between the characters made this book special, especially because we got to see every interaction from both POVs. Joanna and Florian’s characters slowly develop feelings for each other; thankfully, though, their romance never overwhelms the rest of the plot.

Emilia’s hero-worship of Florian was interesting and refreshing. She does not fall in love with him, but she develops a strong bond with him nonetheless. I thought it was really interesting that even though all of the characters are young adults, there is a clear age divide between Emilia and Florian/Joanna. That age divide made their relationships more complex than they would have been if Sepetys had made them all “peers.”

For most of the book, Emilia, Florian, and Joanna travel together. Though they are working together to get to a port and to flee the Soviets, they never become an intensely loyal Team; they each have their own motivations and fears holding them back. Again, this added realism to the story and was a refreshing break from what I expected, which was them to become a tight-knit group instantaneously.

Though Salt to the Sea is set in WWII, it focuses on aspects of the war that most people do not know about. Each character is from a different area of Europe, bringing four different refugee stories to life. Also, historical events that do not get as much attention—like the Nazi art theft and the Wilhelm Gustloff tragedy—are major parts of the plot. Because of this, the book felt new and enlightening, even though I have read lots of WWII historical fiction.

The ending of this book freaked me out. It was terrifying. Knowing that it actually happened made it even worse. Somehow, I didn’t cry, which still confuses me. Maybe I was just too destroyed emotionally to cry.

My only problem with this book is the pacing. The plot does not have a clear arc; it is really just their journey to the ship, and then what happens on the ship. Because of this, there is no sense of build-up or anticipation dragging you through the plot. Salt to the Sea is almost entirely character-driven, which worked because the characters are so vividly portrayed, but that kept it from been perfectly paced.

I would recommend Salt to the Sea to fans of historical fiction or character-driven novels. It is a truly incredible story that brings the suffering of war to life.

Book Review: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Finally! A book that I bought because of hype…that actually lived up to the hype.

4/5 stars

cover ready player one

Goodreads Description

In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the virtual utopia known as the  OASIS. Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines, puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them. When Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade’s going to survive, he’ll have to win—and confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.

My Review

The Race for the Egg

The plot of Ready Player One is simple: OASIS (a massive virtual reality network) contains a complex treasure hunt for an egg which gives the winner the massive inheritance of one of OASIS’s founders. Gunters are people who have dedicated their lives to trying to solve the riddles of the treasure hunt to find the egg. Since the creator of the treasure hunt was obsessed with his time as a teenager in the ’80s, gunters have encyclopedic knowledge of ’80s pop culture.

In the world of gunters, there is a faction called the Sixers. Sixers work for a rival company that wants to win the egg to take over OASIS. Wade, the protagonist, is pitted against the Sixers when he becomes the first person ever to make progress on finding the egg. Since the Sixers are giant corporate cheaters, it was really easy for me to hate them. They made excellent villains and helped raise the stakes of the race.

I loved the way Cline built a captivating underdog-coming-from-behind story within the simple plot.

All the ’80s References

I bought RPO blindly, basically just because other people loved it. I have to admit, I didn’t really process the fact that it is based entirely around ’80s pop culture until I started reading it.

I know nothing about ’80s pop culture. I don’t even play modern video games or watch today’s movies. Despite all of that, I loved the way that Cline wove the references into his story. Even though I had no “real world” reference, I felt like I was able to understand everything that was going on and get caught up in the drama of each scene.

The World Building

I loved the world building, both inside and outside of OASIS (the virtual reality in which the contest is taking place). Throughout the book, Cline continued to explore the technology of the digital universe that he had created, making the story feel dynamic and realistic.

One thing that surprised me (though it maybe shouldn’t have) was the role that money played in OASIS. Moving from planet to planet, leveling up your avatar, and getting items to wear/use/fight with all required real-world money—something Wade didn’t have. The addition of economic disparities in the virtual reality helped ground the seemingly infinite possibilities of OASIS and add painful realism to the story.


Wade was a great protagonist. He could have so easily become the cliche, antisocial geek with a debilitating obsession with virtual reality—but he wasn’t.

Yes, he was a massive ’80s geek, but he was also smart, he took initiative, and he clearly had skills that set him apart from others—in short, he was exactly the protagonist that this story needed. I loved his slightly sarcastic voice; Wade is one of my favorite male MCs that I’ve read.

Everyone Else

RPO starts off with basically only Wade and slowly expands the focus of the book to include side characters. I liked the other members of the High Five (the five people who, including Wade, start dominating the race for the egg). Each of them had a clear voice and personality, and in their own ways, they added diversity to the book. 

Art3mis, the love interest, was one of my favorite characters. She was able to stand on her own (AKA she didn’t exist just for Wade to fall for) and her own inner conflicts surrounding the romance were believable and bittersweet. The romantic subplot also worked, never overpowering the story.

The Plot and Pacing

I expected RPO to be a quick read, but it actually took me two weeks to get through. Though it looks deceptively short (my paperback was only an inch thick), the writing style works more with paragraphs than dialogue, and the pacing is slower than I expected. There are lots of intense, get-your-blood-racing scenes, but in between, Cline dedicates a lot of time to world building and character development.

The beginning of RPO dragged a bit for me. On the first page, we are told that Wade is going to find the Copper Key and make history…but then the story focuses on exposition and world building for at least 50 pages before that actually happens. By the end of the book, I didn’t really care about the lag in the beginning—and I appreciated how fully I understood Wade’s character and the world building—so this didn’t dramatically lower my rating.

By the middle of the book, I got used to the contemplative pacing and really started to enjoy the story-telling style. Looking at the book as a whole, the slower pacing totally worked.

TL;DR Wrap-Up

RPO impressed me with its complex (but understandable) world building, its lovable characters, and its simplistic but perfectly executed plot. It’s hard to describe what genre RPO is, so I would recommend this book to basically everyone.

Just thinking about the ending makes me smile. Seriously, this one lived up to the hype.

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 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

cover the weight of feathers

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.

Book Review: The Walled City by Ryan Graudin

A dark and moving story of three independent characters coming together in a terrifying maze of drugs and crime.

4.5/5 stars

cover the walled city

Plot (via Goodreads)

730. That’s how many days I’ve been trapped.
18. That’s how many days I have left to find a way out.

DAI, trying to escape a haunting past, traffics drugs for the most ruthless kingpin in the Walled City. But in order to find the key to his freedom, he needs help from someone with the power to be invisible….

JIN hides under the radar, afraid the wild street gangs will discover her biggest secret: Jin passes as a boy to stay safe. Still, every chance she gets, she searches for her lost sister….

MEI YEE has been trapped in a brothel for the past two years, dreaming of getting out while watching the girls who try fail one by one. She’s about to give up, when one day she sees an unexpected face at her window…..

In this innovative and adrenaline-fueled novel, they all come together in a desperate attempt to escape a lawless labyrinth before the clock runs out.

My Review

This book was incredible. Dark, gritty, horrifying, and touching all at once.

From the first page, the setting fascinated me. Based on a real “walled city,” the Walled City is a labyrinth of slums and suffering, filled with gangs, prostitutes, runaways, and drugs.

The world-building perfectly set the tone of this book; it pulls no punches, and even though it is a YA book, The Walled City gets dark. There were moments when I was genuinely terrified, not because of any horror-movie tropes, but simple because of the intense pain that this book portrayed. And even with all of the darkness, the setting always felt realistic—which may have been the most horrifying part of all.

I also loved the prevalent Chinese influence. From the food that they ate to the metaphors that went through the characters’ minds, the story never let you forget that it took place in China. Having read mostly books set in America, or fantastical/dystopian spin-offs of America, I loved the way Ryan Graudin wove the Chinese culture into this story.

The thing that blew me away about The Walled City was the characters. TWC basically has three protagonists, each with their own distinct plot line and personality. I loved seeing all of the characters slowly bump into each other and form connections, all without realizing the significance of each other.

Jin was my favorite character; I loved her badass nature, and I understood her emotions. I seriously wanted to give the girl a hug, and I loved her dedication to her sister. I wish that the plot had spent more time with her, but Dai and Mei Yee were also great to read about. Watching each of the characters grow out of their shells and develop into new, stronger people—despite the horrors of the world they lived in—was honestly inspiring.

Though this could have weighed down the plot if it were written badly, Ryan Graudin totally pulled it off. The story was able to carry each character’s plot without losing its fast pacing.

I have to give this book a huge shout out for the way it handled the romance. There could have been a love triangle, but there wasn’t—and I was sooooo glad. Don’t get me wrong, I like love triangles when they fit in the plot, but one would have destroyed this book. Instead, I loved watching Dai and Mei Yee slowly falling for each other, while Dai formed a refreshingly platonic friendship with Jin. By the end of the book, all three characters are all tied together with strong emotional bonds, but they don’t all rely on romance, something that the YA genre often lacks.

I would recommend this book to anyone searching for a powerful story of courage and resistance even in hell on earth. Each of the characters is vividly portrayed and fascinatingly complex. The plot is gripping and perfectly paced—I couldn’t put it down. If you’re wondering what you should read next, just go buy this book. Seriously. You won’t regret it.

Book Review: The Accident Season by Moira Fowley-Doyle

Ugh…this book just didn’t work for me. I respect that this is the type of story that a lot of people would enjoy, but I honestly didn’t like it.

2/5 stars

cover accident season

Amazon Description

Every October Cara and her family become inexplicably and unavoidably accident-prone. Some years it’s bad, like the season when her father died, and some years it’s just a lot of cuts and scrapes. This accident season—when Cara, her ex-stepbrother, Sam, and her best friend, Bea, are 17—is going to be a bad one. But not for the reasons they think.

Cara is about to learn that not all the scars left by the accident season are physical: There’s a long-hidden family secret underneath the bumps and bruises. This is the year Cara will finally fall desperately in love, when she’ll start discovering the painful truth about the adults in her life, and when she’ll uncover the dark origins of the accident season—whether she’s ready or not.

My Review

I LOVED the premise of this book. I expected a whimsical contemporary-fantasy that would remind me of a Halloweeny Maggie Stiefvater.

I did not get what I expected.

And I know what you’re going to say–being surprised can be good. Stories, in fact, should surprise us.

But if I’m going to be surprised, I shouldn’t be disappointed. And I was pretty disappointed by what this book turned out to be.

I didn’t connect to the characters of this book, mainly because I feel like I never got to know them. The characters had presences but not personalities–though we learned more about their pasts as the book progressed, it wasn’t coupled by a deeper understanding of who they were.

I never got a sense of who Cara (the protagonist) was, and she was the character that had the least revealed about her over the course of the story. Bea, the best friend character, was interesting at first but never developed; Alice, the sister, ended up being the most interesting character, but I never liked her very much. And Sam, the ex-stepbrother, gave off cute love-interest vibes but little else.

Also, on a slightly petty note, all the characters are DGAF teenagers who spend the book either cheating on homework, not doing homework, or planning wild parties that will clearly go awry. That really doesn’t connect with me as a tight-ass responsible student, and it definitely kept me from connecting to the story.

My main issue with this book is that it is so freaking wishy-washy. I expected it to have clear fantasy elements, and if you look at the book one way, it did, but actually, it didn’t. Confused? Me too. I got really excited when the idea of each of the four main characters being a changling was introduced, but it never went anywhere beyond being a hallucination/metaphor, and it was frustrating. Instead of feeling like a fantasy novel, TAS ended up being a blurry, mystery-ladden story that relied far too much on reveals that weren’t what I wanted from the story.

Moira Fowley-Doyle’s writing didn’t work for me. Usually, I love the flowery type of writing that she used, but for some reason, I just could not pay attention to what was going on in the story. I would read a paragraph and then stop and realize that I hadn’t understood what was said, mainly because the writing style just did not grab me.

Also, since I picked up this book thinking it would be semi-light-hearted-with-a-hint-of-creepiness, I could used a trigger alert of some kind for the topics discussed. I appreciated that topics like domestic violence and sexual abuse were talked about so frankly, but since the book already wasn’t working for me by the time the secrets came out, the social commentary missed its mark.

All in all, I don’t think that this was a bad book. I’m sure that there are a lot of people out there who loved the uncertainty of this book; I’m just not one of them.

Book Review: P.S. I Still Love You (To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before #2) by Jenny Han

Continuing the lighthearted, playful story of Lara Jean’s tumultuous love life, P.S. I Still Love You is a complex  story of friendship and awkward budding romance, though there was something missing that kept the book from being a favorite.

3.5/5 stars

cover ps I still love you

Amazon Description

Lara Jean didn’t expect to really fall for Peter.

She and Peter were just pretending. Except suddenly they weren’t. Now Lara Jean is more confused than ever.

When another boy from her past returns to her life, Lara Jean’s feelings for him return too. Can a girl be in love with two boys at once?

My Review

Everything about this book feels real. It is the story of Lara Jean’s awkward life. Unfortunately, real life isn’t always breathtaking.

I love that this book has a complex plot. It deals with themes of friendship, family, and self-discovery–not just romance. I appreciated that there was less family drama in this book than in To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, especially that Margot was less bitchy. The family drama in book one were easily my least favorite part of the plot, and its being toned down in book two made PS I Still Love You a smoother read for me.

The family drama refocused on Lara Jean’s dad (instead of Margot) and his children trying to find him a date (their mom died when the Song girls were young). This subplot started out weird for me, but ended up being sweet; I was rooting for the ship to sail (I don’t want to use names because it is a bit of a reveal) along with the sisters.

I also had a realization about Lara Jean in this book: her being annoying at times actually makes her a unique protagonist. In the first book (and in the second book), Lara Jean annoyed me with her personality. She’s just not my kind of person; our reactions to certain situations are extremely different, she puts up with some stuff I wouldn’t, and flips out at some things that don’t really bother me.

But halfway into PS I Still Love You, I realized that her personality–while frustrating–was also endearing. And, at least, if I don’t like her, that is something new for me, since I usually like the protagonists of books I read. In the end, I think I kind of love Lara Jean, for the same reasons that I originally hated her. She’s really, really one-of-a-kind, and she has a crystal clear personality. I know who she is, and that is something that doesn’t happen often with contemporary leads. She feels like a person who could exist in real life–so props to Jenny Han for writing her.

The romance is less unique. I liked Lara Jean and Peter as a couple, even if they were kind of screwed up. This book has a love triangle, though it is less dominant than it was in the first book, and it involves a different guy (more on him later in the review). Once again, the love triangle worked as a part of the plot. I didn’t hate it, it provided lots of hilariously awkward scenes, and I liked its resolution.

There is nothing amazing about Lara Jean and Peter’s romance, except for the realism. They are not the kind of couple that gets together and instantly works. They both have baggage, and neither of them are “good” at being significant others. Peter does some things that end up being obnoxious, but I forgave him for it, because Lara Jean was messing up their relationship also, and because it was great to read a Chicklit book with a truly fallible (but lovable) love interest. Still, the romance fell flat in terms of dramatic moments or emotional scenes. The romance is light, funny, and in some ways doomed, but it never grabbed me.

That is a problem the entire book had. Did I like the plot? Yep. Did I think the story was cute and refreshingly realistic? Yes. But there were no heart-string-plucking moments, no scenes that brought tears or made me gasp. Looking back on the story, I don’t know what the plot’s arc was supposed to be; there was no clear rise or fall to the action. Stories don’t have to have the “exposition to rising action to climax to resolution” plot arc, but they have to have something that grabs me and keeps me reading. Instead of having a je ne sais pas, this book is missing one. I liked the premise, the characters, and all of the plot lines, but I never fell in love with the book.

I still recommend reading this book. It fixes a lot of issues I had with the first book, and it gives the reader a deeper understanding of the characters. PS I Still Love You maintains the light and playfully awkward tone of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, so if you loved that in the first book, I would definitely tell you to pick up the second one. I can’t tell if there will be a third book (honestly the series would be okay either way), but I would read it if it were released.

A quick thought on the love triangle (contains spoilers)

I liked John–he was an interesting character–but he was forever in the friendzone for me. Lara Jean needed a male friend, and she got one, but I never wanted him to (or believed he would) become her love interest. I also never believed Peter would actually cheat on Lara Jean, or that his relationship with Genevieve was anything other than platonic (on his part). Peter wasn’t trying to be malicious or hurt Lara Jean–he was just painfully clueless. For me, that came across as forgivable realism (though if it happened to me in real life I’d be unbelievably pissed) instead of a disqualification from the race to be Lara Jean’s boy friend.

Book Review: The Perilous Sea (Elemental Trilogy #2) by Sherry Thomas

I enjoyed this book so much more than the previous one. (My review for The Burning Sky, book 1, can be found here.)

4/5 stars

cover perilous sea

Amazon description

After spending the summer away from each other, Titus and Iolanthe (still disguised as Archer Fairfax) are eager to return to Eton College to resume their training to fight the Bane. Although no longer bound to Titus by blood oath, Iolanthe is more committed than ever to fulfilling her destiny—especially with the agents of Atlantis quickly closing in.

Soon after arriving at school, though, Titus makes a shocking discovery, one that throws into question everything he believed about their mission. Faced with this revelation, Iolanthe struggles to come to terms with her new role, while Titus must choose between following his mother’s prophecies—or forging a divergent path to an unknowable future.

My Review

I read this book in basically one day. I won’t say I was totally sucked in by the story or the writing–mainly I was really angry at one plot line and HAD to see it resolved. I still enjoyed reading the book, though, and the plot line I originally hated actually ended up adding to the story.

Chapters in this book alternate between two plot lines, one that runs sometime in the future after the other one. Okay, that’s kind of a confusing way to explain it. Basically, every other chapter is the plot line you expect: Iolanthe and Titus reunite at Eton and continue their quest to defeat the Bane. However, alternating between those chapters are chapters that take place sometime in the future that the original chapters are approaching as the book continues. This other plot line involves Iolanthe and Titus stranded in a desert–with no memory of who they are, except that they need to stay out of Atlantis’s grasp.

Though I didn’t expect to, I really enjoyed the “amnesia” plot line. I loved watching Iolanthe and Titus interact with each other (and fall in love, of course) when they had no idea who either of them were. Their banter remained, and the dramatic irony of the scenes made most of these chapters humorous in nature. Their flight from Atlantis made sure that the chapters were action-packed, and I loved seeing the two magicians figure out what they were capable of.

The Eton plot line was a lot more similar to the previous book’s plot. The dramatic reveal that the plot synopsis mentions pissed me off so much. I can’t believe the author did that. As I mentioned before, I basically hate read most of those chapters, just to see it resolved. The resolution added to the story: Iolanthe’s character faced an identity crisis that forced her to reevaluate her priorities, and Titus’s faith in his mother’s visions caused him strife. The “truth” of the plot line ended up being appropriately shocking. I guess I forgive Thomas for the plot line’s beginnings.

I loved the themes of paradox and memory loss that ran through the story. Seeing Iolanthe and Titus research and learn about memory spells in the Eton plot line added a sense of foreboding to the story, because of course that would be involved in the mysterious scene that connected the Eton plot to the amnesia/desert plot. We also got to learn more about Iolanthe and her past; unfortunately, this reveal was very convoluted and I was left confused even when all of the truth had come out.

The paradoxes created by visions of the future also presented conflict in The Perilous Sea. I love paradoxes, and I appreciate that Thomas addressed some of the issues Titus’s mother’s visions had in regards to reality. Without that portion of the plot, it would have felt like too much of the book was illogical; as it stands now, the illogical portions of the book add to the book with their acknowledged paradoxical nature.

I didn’t find there to be anything amazing about the writing of The Perilous Sea. It isn’t badly written, but there were no sentences or descriptions that really grabbed me and made me focus on their construction. The action scenes were dramatic and got my heart racing, and I liked the magical and fantasy elements in this book as much as I did in The Burning Sky. Some of the setting or fight scene descriptions got confusing, but for the most part I could understand what was going on. None of the background characters are exceedingly complex, but they added to the story enough that I didn’t care. There were a lot of reveals and plot twists, all of which surprised me at least a little. The ending of the book got me really excited for the next one, The Immortal Heights (I have to wait until October?!).

I would recommend this series to fans of YA fantasy who love action scenes and like dramatic plot twists (that they might hate at first).

Book Review: Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas

I held off from reading this book during the school year because I knew I would want to read it all in one sitting–and that’s exactly what happened when I picked it up this summer.

4/5 stars

cover dangerous girls 1

Amazon Description

It’s Spring Break of senior year. Anna, her boyfriend Tate, her best friend Elise, and a few other close friends are off to a debaucherous trip to Aruba that promises to be the time of their lives.

But when Elise is found brutally murdered, Anna finds herself trapped in a country not her own, fighting against vile and contemptuous accusations. As Anna sets out to find her friend’s killer, she discovers harsh revelations about her friendships, the slippery nature of truth, and the ache of young love.

Awaiting the judge’s decree, it becomes clear to Anna that everyone around her thinks she is not only guilty, but also dangerous. And when the whole story comes out, reality is more shocking than anyone could ever imagine…

My Review

Let’s start off with this: this book is crazy. It is crazy and it takes you hostage and it doesn’t let you go. I read this book in one sitting, only taking breaks for meals. I couldn’t put it down, because I had this ever-present and mounting sense of dread and I just had to get to the ending because I knew I wouldn’t know the truth until basically the last page. In that regard, this book was everything a thriller/mystery is supposed to be.

The book is a massive series of flashbacks and flash-forewards, telling the story of how Anna and Elise became friends all the way through their fateful vacation and up until the trial for Elise’s murder. Some of the scenes were long and clearly explained what was going on, others were shorter and more vague, while others were told in alternative formats, like interview transcripts. I was amazed at that fact that I never got lost; usually with books like this, you start to lose track of where you are and what has happened, but even though this book’s chronology had basically been put in a food processor, it was easy to follow as a reader. I loved how the scenes flowed together across the timeline and how throughout the book we just kept learning more about Anna’s life, even the parts we thought we understood from the beginning.

Character-wise, this book is a mixed bag. I had a strong sense of Anna as a protagonist and I felt like I understood the things inside of her that drove her to party as wildly as she did with Elise and the rest of them. Elise, likewise, was clearly portrayed in my mind–she was as alive and vibrant as any character I’ve read about. I can’t say that I really liked or trusted Elise, but I appreciated that I didn’t like her–it fit with the story’s mood. The same goes for the rest of Anna’s friends. They were simplistically characterized but they all added an important voice to the story, and under the stress of the murder case they showed that they were not flawless humans (really they were what you would expect from the spoiled kids of uber-rich parents). During the flashback scenes, I liked watching them party and grow close, but I didn’t want to be them, and throughout the story there was always the threat that one of them could be a killer and the rest of them we’re loyal enough to tell the truth.

The characters involved in the trial were more interesting for me. There are not words for the helpless anger and frustration I felt against the prosecuting police officer, Dekker. He was the ultimate evil figure in power, and I loved/hated the way he painted Anna’s life to make her look like a murderer. The judge was a tiny beam of hope throughout the book. I trusted that she would be fair, but I also knew that Dekker was doing his job so well that fair would probably still condemn Anna. The news media’s take on the case fit perfectly with what I would expect if this happened in real life, and it was another voice of distrust that I ended up hating for Anna’s sake. Anna’s lawyers were equally kind and despicable, and I liked that we got to see doubt about her innocence even from the people who were supposed to be fighting for her. It was little details like that that ensured that the book had a feeling of realism and that I kept believing that this book could actually happen in real life.

As a cautionary tale, this book works wonders. Wow, let’s just say: trust issues. With friends, with foreign law enforcement, with lawyers, with news media. I doubt I will ever spend spring break in Aruba–it would just be too weird after reading this book.

The ending was crazy. The ending was exactly what it had to be and exactly what I never saw coming. And that’s basically all I can say without spoiling it…

But I need to rant about the ending, so from this point on, THE REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS. Do not read on if you haven’t read the book!

The ending really angered me. At first. The more I think about it, the more little pieces of the plot click into place and I see everything in a new light. But still, the ending was too sudden for me–it came out of the blue, and it had to do that, but at the same time, I wish I had had more of a sense of foreboding leading up to it.

I had spent the entire book, while everyone calls her a psychopath, countering it with the knowledge that I, as the reader, had the unique awareness that I was in her head. I had the truth, and she was feeling broken up and destroyed by the things happening to her, she was just the kind of person who could shut it down in the name of being “strong.” Having all of that turned on its head in the last five pages left me distinctly unsatisfied. As I’ve said, it was the only ending the book could have. Looking back on the story, Anna had to be the killer, or the entire plot would have been waste. None of that makes me less annoyed at the ending.

Half of me loves the ending. Finding out that you’ve been inside the head of a psychopath for the last 350+ pages is crazy and hair-raising in just the right ways. I want to reread the book and see if I pick up on clues, if I can tell that she is faking it.

But half of me wants more from the ending, so this book gets 4 stars instead of 5 stars. However, it still goes down as an incredibly impressive book, one that I will recommend to basically everyone.

Book Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

This book is probably the best book I’ve read this year. It was a gripping story that read almost like a thriller without ever losing its fairytale roots.

5/5 stars

cover uprooted

Amazon description:

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.

My review:

This book grabbed me from page one. It sounds cliche, but it’s true–I could not stop reading. I seriously considered pulling an all-nighter to read it. The next morning (after I got some sleep, because I really can’t stay up that late) I started reading it again, and I didn’t stop until the afternoon when I absolutely had to for social obligations. I finished it the next morning (and I want MORE). From the first page there was something addictive about the writing, the voice, the promise of the story. The story then just built and built, dragging me along, getting darker and more intense until I could not imagine putting it down. I haven’t been so completely at the mercy of a book in a long time.

I liked that the story didn’t spend a lot of time before the Dragon took Agnieszka to his tower. There was just enough backstory for me to get a sense Agnieszka’s roots and then the story focused on what really mattered: her life in the Dragon’s tower.

Agnieszka was the right protagonist for the story. She started out timid and prone to sobbing, but even from the beginning she had a powerful moral compass and just enough bravery to keep her to it, as well as a fiery temper that she couldn’t always control. Her growth was clear throughout the tale, but she never changed so much that I didn’t recognize the girl who began the story. Her interactions with the Dragon helped her develop her character; I loved that even though on the surface she was acting like a damsel in distress, she never really gave up or earned my pity. Agnieszka is one of those protagonists who is strong without knowing how to fight or even having social skills–and I loved her for it.

The Dragon was never truly a villain, and I don’t think he was supposed to be one. It was clear that he was detached from humanity and that he had a temper, but in his interactions with Agnieszka, I was always aware that there was more to the story. I found myself laughing at his callousness, even when it wasn’t a funny scene. As the story progressed, his character grew on me and transformed away from the towering figure he had been in my mind in the beginning. (I literally have different mental images of him depending on if it is the beginning of the story or the end.)

Both the Dragon and Agnieszka have magic. The Dragon takes Agnieszka instead of Kasia (who everyone assumed he would take) to his tower in order to teach her how to use her magic, which she hadn’t even known she possessed. It was a slow and grueling process, but the magical dynamic that developed from her training was my favorite part of the book. Agnieszka’s magic is unique in the world of magicians. The way she harnessed it perfectly worked with her country roots and added a uniqueness to the story that it would have lacked if the author hadn’t expanded the magic into something that could be harnessed multiple different ways. The conflicts between Agnieszka and the Dragon from their different magical styles added depth to their relationship and started to pull at my heartstrings.

The plot of the book centers around the menacing forest called the Wood that looms near Agnieszka’s village. It is the Dragon’s task to keep it from encroaching forward and to fight off its harmful magic that drives people insane and turns them into monster. I loved how at the beginning of the book the Wood was this simple, static evil, but by the end it was an omnipresent horror that was always one step ahead of the protagonists. Scenes in the Wood or involving its evil powers were honestly scary and gave the book the feel of a sort of fantasy thriller. The “fight” scenes in Uprooted were graphic and horrifying, and Novik did not spare the reader an understanding of the body count. The Wood’s menace propelled the plot along as the full scope of its powers and reach were made clear.

Uprooted is so beautifully written. The writing style is effortless–you don’t realize how well-written it is until you realize you’ve been reading for hours and you didn’t even feel the time pass. All of the background characters were interesting and developed through the story. They came across as deeply human, and their flaws were always understandable because they were framed around human emotions and desires. I was glad that there were never so many characters that I lost track of who was who, even though the book is very long and the plot takes place across multiple settings.

The romantic element of the book was subtle but powerful: though only a few scenes were directly related to the romance, I was seriously emotionally tied to seeing it play out. Part of the thrall of the romance was that throughout the entire story, it was such a small part of the plot that I never felt that it was guaranteed to end the way I wanted it to. Up til the last page, I was doubting that the couple would end up together, and it was breaking my heart.

I was very satisfied by the ending of Uprooted. It could have been cheesy, but somehow it wasn’t. The character growth Agnieszka experienced was clear and the “solution” they finally found for the Wood fit the overall theme of the book. My only complaint is that this book needed an epilogue. I literally reread the last page five times trying to glean more emotional satisfaction out of it. It is a happy ending, but I wanted to bask in the happiness a little while longer.

*I recieved a copy of Uprooted from KT Communications in exchange for an honest review.