The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight: Jennifer E. Smith

Right off the bat, I will tell you that I rated this book 3 stars not because it was written badly (I really enjoyed the writing), but because I do not agree with the message, and the message that the book sends is an integral part of any novel. So there’s that. But otherwise, I read it in one day, so it kept my attention! Haha.
Ms. Smith is also author of Windfall, which I really adored. I believe this is one of her more popular books, and the interesting thing is that the first quarter entirely takes place within an airplane. It follows the story of Hadley, a young woman whose family is torn apart, and Oliver, a young man whose family is torn apart. Both of them are headed to London, the land of torn-apart families.

Hadley’s struggle is based on the contentious relationship she has with her father, a professor who spent four months in London only to fall in love with a woman there, have an affair, and abandon their family. Hadley is on her way to her father’s wedding to his second wife, all at the encouragement of her mother (who is the strongest woman in this book). She’s clearly struggling from both having to watch her father form a new life and also due to her claustrophobia, and the tiny space of the airplane.

Luckily, she bumps into a young man named Oliver, who’s on the same plane and her seat partner. Oliver is a native Britisher and returning home for some ~mysterious~ event. He and Hadley quickly hit it off and the book cycles through both Hadley’s past and her present, with Oliver. She and Oliver discuss their screwed up families, their hopes for the future, the animated duck movie that’s playing on the flight. Lots of things.

So there were a lot of things I enjoyed about the book. It’s written in third person omniscient, which is always a good perspective.  Oliver is a well-developed character rather than a meaningless plot device. Hadley’s rumination over the breaking of her family and her emotions are written very poignantly, so you can really empathize with her. Ms. Smith manages to craft an engaging narrative that takes place entirely within the tiny confines of a plane, and not only that, but she also manages to weave a love story that takes place over 24 hours and doesn’t seem ridiculous or contrived.

The message of this book, as I interpreted it, is “You can’t help who you fall in love with.” 
At least, that is the philosophy that Hadley’s father lives by, and excuse my language but it’s complete bullshit. You can absolutely help who you fall in love with. The trick is to – it’s crazy, I know – remain faithful. If you really love someone and want to make them happy forever, the first step is to take yourself off the market. Don’t return flirtations. Don’t engage in romantic tomfoolery with someone other than your partner. You can still check people out and find people other than your partner attractive – that’s only human nature – but there is a distinct line between admiring someone from afar and engaging in an affair. Hadley’s father, “The Professor” (whose name I didn’t even bother to remember because he and people like him disgust me) has the impulse control of a three year old. For all of his intelligence and worldliness, he is a selfish, spoiled, and utterly unapologetic asshole. He ruins their family by falling in love and having an affair with a woman he’s known for four months. That’s twenty years of marriage down the drain. He excuses himself with “you can’t help who you fall in love with.”
Really, man? Because I think that’s just a half-assed excuse from someone who checked out of their marriage as soon as he could put some distance between himself and his family. He didn’t have to deal with the consequences of his actions immediately and so, like the miserable excuse for a father and a husband that he is, he feels fine pursuing a relationship with this British woman.

And Charlotte. 😡
Charlotte made no sense to me. There’s no sense of apology about her, like, oh sorry Hadley, I know I took part in breaking your family to pieces and I hate that this is how it happened but I’ll give you time to come to terms with it on your own. No. Charlotte immediately tries to drag Hadley into her new, fucked up family. Excuse me again. I have no patience or sympathy for cheaters or “other” people. Other women, other men, whatever.
Obviously, it’s not Charlotte’s fault that Hadley’s father cheated on her. But I’m assuming she found out at some point that the dude was married and decided, anyways, that hey! This is fine. It’s okay if you completely tear a family apart because they’re all the way across the ocean! One phone call and it’s over. These guys piss me off to no end.

Also everyone treats Hadley like a kid but expects her to take this tragic news like an adult. She’s not allowed to choose for herself whether to go to the wedding or not, nor is she allowed to make her own decisions regarding how she feels about her father abandoning their family, but at the same time her mother forces her to attend the ceremony and encourages her to act cordial because “suck it up”??

I’m kind of tired of talking about this, so moving on.

Overall, I actually did enjoy the plot and the characters. The only thing that annoyed me was the take on love and forgiveness. I think Hadley was absolutely justified in her reaction to the shattering of her parents’ marriage and the invitation to her father’s wedding. I think it was a pretty realistic, though depressing, take on marriage and infidelity within a family. And on a last note, I fully expect Hadley’s father to get tired of Charlotte in a few years. If they’ll cheat with you, they’ll cheat on you.

If you like fluffy romance and introspection, and maybe a hint of misery, I would encourage you to check this book out.

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How to Break a Boy: Laurie Devore

I recently wrapped up How to Break a Boy by Laurie Devore, author of Winner Take All (which I have not read but plan on doing eventually); I have so many books to read. :’-)

Our story follows Olivia, the secondary Queen Bee at Buckley High, and her miserable, dysfunctional life. As she tries to separate herself from Adrienne, Mean Girl #1 and a possessive, manipulative, unforgiving narcissist, she finds herself slowly digging her own grave and pulling resident Good Boy™ Whit DuRant along for the ride.

Edit: 4/19/2018. I started writing this post a long time ago and was having issues with the WordPress system, plus just school stuff was keeping me away from this website, so I’m going to try to write as much as I can about How to Break a Boy as I remember. Sorry, guys.

I thought that the way Olivia and Adrienne’s relationship was written was really interesting. While it wasn’t the most poignant example of a toxic relationship that I’ve ever seen, it had its moments. Adrienne is definitely a neurotic girl and she needs some sort of psychological intervention. I mean, Olivia does too. Most of the characters do. I can’t remember if Whit was the catalyst for Olivia’s decision to become a better person, but I hope that’s not the case. It would be more meaningful for Olivia’s realization to come from reflection on her own actions – that’s not to say that it would be totally unacceptable for Whit to have had a hand in the betterment of her person. Sometimes you meet people who help you change. That’s not a bad thing.

I remember there being a secondary character (Bethany??) who was a mutual friend of Olivia and Adrienne’s; the third Musketeer. Her big secret is that she’s gay, and a lot of issues crop up in the second part of the book after her sexuality is unwillingly outed to the widely conservative small town they live in. I think this girl, who I’m calling Bethany because I’m pretty sure that was her real name, was a very realistically-written highschooler. In the end, she doesn’t side with Olivia because she’s afraid of retribution on Adrienne’s part. But she doesn’t abandon Olivia either.

I don’t remember much about this book 😦 but I would say to give it a go. I remember my favorite thing about it being that you get to read a villain’s perspective, basically. Also, Olivia is not a conventional bad guy turned good guy. She’s mean, she knows she’s mean, there’s no underlying “heroic goal” that justifies her being mean. She’s just a generally terrible person. So watching her turn better is very satisfying.

A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares: Krystal Sutherland

A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares is author Krystal Sutherland’s second book. I read this a while ago, actually, over Christmas break, but I was too lazy to write it up. That’s been getting to me lately – being lazy. I’m also trying to write independently and working on artwork on top of preparing for graduate school and finishing up my bachelor’s, but those aren’t excuses haha. I have had plenty of time to write up a book review– I just haven’t been able to muster up the motivation. But here we go!

I’ll admit that, reading the summary, I was totally unimpressed. After first being introduced to Esther Solar, I readied myself for an arduous journey with the epitome of the manic pixie dream girl trope, and a crew of characters straight out of a Tumblr user’s greatest fantasy.
I was also entirely wrong.
(Also I was being pretty judgmental).

Instead, I was met with an engrossing tale about a broken family, a decades-old curse, and the girl who’s going to fix it. Esther Solar’ s grandfather befriended Death, and from that friendship bloomed a tragedy; each Solar is cursed with one great phobia that will be their undoing. Mama Solar fears bad luck and Papa Solar has been confined to the basement for years due to agoraphobia; Esther’s twin brother, Eugene, is terrified of the dark. Esther hasn’t discovered her great phobia and mitigates the damage it will cause by avoiding anything that makes her uneasy, which might unfurl into life-destroying fear: this means avoiding things like lobsters, moths, geese, and other tools of the Devil. Each of these things to be avoided is printed into the titular “list of semi-definitive nightmares.”

Then she meets Jonah.

Jonah is a conman. He swindles Esther and so begins a beautiful friendship in which Jonah challenges Esther to face one fear from the list every week. Each Sunday of Esther’s proceeding life consists of marking a fear off of her list, and Jonah records their escapades using a stolen Go-Pro, with a promise to show Esther the complete product at the end of their journey, when she defeats fear fifty of fifty – the one which will be her undoing.

My favorite part of this book was the characterization of the relationships between each character – Esther, Eugene, Jonah, and Hepzibah (Esther’s childhood friend, selectively mute). The interactions that they engage in and the “nothing” scenes – scenes in which there is not really any action, but you see a lot of character development, are beautifully written. It’s hard to make “nothing” scenes interesting, but Ms. Sutherland manages to map out the intricacies of the four in casual dialogue, setting and mood.

Esther is a force to be reckoned with. Undeniably weird, and from an undeniably weird family, she’s got a lot to deal with: the curse of Death, her family’s fears, the enigma of Jonah, her dying grandfather… Esther carries a lot of weight on her shoulders and deals with it in a decidedly avoidant manner. This book delves into mental health from the point of view of someone in denial of their own psychological problems, and the psychological problems rife within her family. Esther creates complex stories around her underlying issues, marketing herself as the hero in a story, battling a decades-long evil, rather than facing the reality of the situation, and all of this leads to a central theme in the story: coping. Esther finds a way to cope with the unconventional habits of her family, though it’s not the most healthy manner of coping. She’s obsessed with finding “Death” and getting him to remove the “curse” on the Solars.

Mental health, of course, is a sensitive topic. You can’t force someone to “face their reality” or spring a reality-check on them. That’s unethical. They have to want to change for the better on their own. And another thing is that if the way that they are living is not harming anyone else, and is maybe beneficial to them, then why force them to change? If they’re happy the way they are and not being a detriment to themselves, then it’s not anyone’s place to step in and say “you’re wrong and you need to be different.”

Esther, however, is not living in a healthy household. Her family is crumbling, as is her life. Her brother, as we see later in the book, is suffering deeply and takes drastic measures to escape his life. Her father won’t leave the basement. Her mother’s gambling issues and obsession with luck are tearing the family apart. So there needs to be a change, Esther needs to make a change, and change comes through the course of the story.

One issue that I had with this book (that I can remember – I might be forgetting others, haha, but I did read this a while ago), is this whole thing about Eugene and his therapists. Apparently, he can’t stick to a therapist because the things that he tells them are so scary that they are too terrified to treat him or something. Basically, he scares them with his dark thoughts. And I thought that was kind of ridiculous. A professional therapist has probably seen a lot of things and knows that they’re dealing with someone who is not entirely emotionally stable. So I personally will choose to believe that they refused to treat him because the treatment wouldn’t work without his wanting to be treated. It needs to be a mutual relationship between a patient who wants to get better and a therapist who wants to help them.

Anyways, overall, I would recommend this book! It’s more about a journey of self-discovery and friendship than it is an adventure tale, and it’s not what I’d usually read, but variety is always good. And I’m going to try to get back to writing reviews more consistently!

The Cruel Prince: Holly Black

I’ve been waiting for The Cruel Prince by Holly Black to come out for such a long time, and I finally got my hands on an ebook from our local library! If you haven’t checked out your library’s ebook collection, I would highly recommend it! There’s always such a vast ocean of books to choose from – and you get them immediately! Magic.

So I liked this book a lot! We read about Jude, the daughter of two mortals, who finds herself being raised in Faerieland after an unfortunate incident with her real parents. Jude is raised alongside her twin sister and their elder half-sister, who shares their mother but whose father is fey. Jude and the other girls are treated well; their father, Madoc, is kind and just and not at all the evil-stepparent stereotype. But not everything is as it seems in Faerieland.

Jude struggles in this place because she’s mortal, and mortals are looked down upon. Most of her trouble stems from Cardan – the wickedly beautiful and just plain wicked youngest prince of Faerieland. Cardan has several elder brothers and sisters, all in line for the throne, so he’s not getting his hands on it anytime soon. In the meantime, he entertains himself by tormenting Jude and her sister and hanging out with his crew of fairies, all of whom treat the mortal girls with either indifference or disgust.

I made a lot of guesses as to where the book was going and I’m pleased to say that most of them were wrong. A lot of the plot twists really did surprise me, which is always nice. Jude’s suffering is neatly detailed – it never feels overwhelming or ridiculous – although she has an infuriating penchant for being totally ignorant to very obvious things. Like the whole situation with Locke. He hangs out with Cardan, people have warned you about him, and you still think he’s some sort of misunderstood Prince Charming? And I wish Taryn wasn’t such a pushover. She was probably my least favorite character, especially due to her actions towards the end of the book.

I hope we find out more about Vi. She was present as the rebellious daughter, the one who doesn’t fall for her father’s kindness and holds the murder of her mother and stepfather against him (a totally justified grudge). And I want to see more of Vi raising Oak in the mortal realm! That’s super cute. I also really enjoyed Oak’s presence – he’s a good comic relief although, like most things in Faerieland, his loveliness is tinged with malevolence.

This book reminds me a lot of Creature of Moonlight by author Rebecca Hahn; like ACoM, The Cruel Prince doesn’t have any totally good or totally evil characters. I mean, obviously a lot of books don’t polarize their constituents but ACoM and TCP make good use of ambiguity, where you can’t really tell which side of the spectrum any person lies on. Jude’s not completely innocent and Cardan isn’t completely evil. There are other characters who present this similarity but I don’t want to write in too many spoilers.

Overall, I give The Cruel Prince 5 stars. I really enjoyed how fleshed out the world was and I liked the relationship between Jude and Cardan. Hatred is a fun emotion to play with, and both characters possess a lot of it. I enjoyed the fact that I can’t get behind any one character for the aforementioned reasons. For a long while, in fact, I wasn’t sure that Jude and Cardan were going to have their romance. I figured, from the summary, that they would – and they did, although I’m still not sure where it’s going. The whole situation with them is complicated, but I love that by the end of the book, there’s still animosity between the two. Jude isn’t so willing to forgive him for everything he’s done to her and Cardan is furious with her for tricking him.

One thing to remember, I think, while reading this book, is that the creatures here are not mortal. They aren’t constrained by our morals. Kindness and goodness are not intrinsic to them, nor are they held in high regard. Everyone is all about laughing and partying and having a good time. I’m saying this because I can easily understand readers hating Cardan and the other fairies, and sure, they’re weird, but that’s because we’re human. We have different ideas about life than immortal creatures. Of course they feel superior to the humans – they’re infinitely more powerful, they can enchant them, and they can live forever. They’re always young and beautiful. It’s not right, but Jude and Taryn are a serious minority in Faerieland; they don’t really have the option of making a stand.

So, kind of to summarize: the fairies are pretty abusive but they’re also very emotionally stunted people. I think living for that long, without limitations on their luxury and with all the power of the world at their hands, has affected them adversely. That’s why Gods in literature are also messed up. They don’t have boundaries or limitations.

I would absolutely recommend this book to anyone who enjoys intricately detailed stories! A warning, though: you might get anxious and have to take breaks, like I did. There’s a lot of humiliation of the mortal characters and I cannot stand reading people being humiliated, but that’s all a part of the perversity of Faerieland. This is a very well-written, well-planned novel, and Ms. Black is clearly passionate about the world she’s created. I’ll definitely be sticking around for the rest of the series. Happy reading!

Daughter of the Pirate King: Tricia Levenseller

I’ve been waiting to read Daughter of the Pirate King for a while now. I’ve always loved pirate-themed books (although the villains themselves were, well, villains), but the world-building around pirates, their folklore and legends, and their culture, is generally an intriguing one. Plus, I love high-sea adventures. So I was really excited for this book, but unfortunately, it didn’t meet my expectations.

It wasn’t a bad read, and this is Ms. Levenseller’s debut novel, but after reading debuts like An Ember in the Ashes and Song of the Current, I have high standards. DOTPK had a fun story outlined – a tough and fiery heroine – but it lacked the literary finesse of the aforementioned novels. That sounds really pretentious, but what I mean is that it read like a middle-grade book. Everything was told to you in flat, blunt terms; the dialogue between characters sounded contrived, and the body paragraphs were uninspired. I expected Alosa, our titular “daughter of the pirate king”, to have more organic introspection. Instead, her character was presented in a really flat manner. Here are some lines in the book to show you what I mean, because I feel like I can’t adequately describe it:

“I pat my pockets, as though I realize I’ve just forgotten something. I spin around in the wet grass, making a light squeaking noise with my boots. This emphasizes my casualness. I’m not trying to be quiet. My followers won’t think I’ve found them out.”

Lots of lines in the book are written like this – Alosa performs some rudimentary action, and then there’s a good half a paragraph explaining why she performed the action to an excruciating detail. The reader isn’t allowed to make any assumptions.

And the dialogue always runs like this:

“Did you hear the part where I said she’s my assassin? Don’t mess with her. She’ll kill you before you have time to blink.”

So a lot of the conversations are Alosa saying things very awkwardly. Just imagine this girl telling you, “Don’t mess with her. She’ll kill you before you have time to blink.” It just comes off as #IAmVeryBadass to me, which sort of is Alosa in a nutshell. During the entirety of the story, either she is telling you how badass she is, or Riden is sucking up to her with all these comments of wow, you’re not like other girls, you’re a tough girl. And sure, that’s deserved – she is really tough and she does have skills that other girls shouldn’t have. But I need to be able to derive how strong Alosa is on my own; I don’t need to be told that, repeatedly, through every single chapter.

Riden is one of the worst offenders in dialogue. He’s constantly spouting out sappy and gratuitous stuff around Alosa:

  • “All I can do is take but give nothing in return.”
    • He sounds like the Generic Romance Hero™.
  • “Oh please. We both know you are hiding more than your intentions to get the map. You are skilled, Alosa… No one man could get the better of you.”
    • Again, Riden brown-nosing.
  • “Easy? Do you think it was easy for me to watch you? Seeing you up there, knowing the pain you must be in, it… it made me feel – it would have hurt less if I had been the one hanging.” [PS: he has not known her for very long, like, maybe a week??] “I hated myself for what happened. And the only way I could punish myself was to force myself to watch you in pain. That was my punishment.”
    • Cry me a river, Riden, you self-pitying sad sack.

He wasn’t my favorite. It’s not that he didn’t have a character – after all, he’s our notorious reluctant pirate – but he’s not at all multidimensional. At least Alosa is constantly struggling with the question of whether her father really loves her or whether he’s just using her. She’s suffered a lot at his hands, and getting the pieces to the map is as much proving herself to him as it is proving her worth to herself. But Riden’s only plot point is that he doesn’t actually want to be a pirate.

There’s a whole thing about how Riden’s the only one who can make Alosa the Siren chill out, and how he seems to treat her like a normal human being even after finding out that she’s part Siren, but is the latter really a big deal in the first place?? I mean, no one seems to antagonize her because of her bloodline, so I dunno why his friendliness is even mentioned.

I’m being pretty harsh, so let me lighten up: there were parts of this book that genuinely made me laugh. I did enjoy some of Alosa’s monologuing, especially when she was manipulating Draxen and Rider – saying one thing and thinking another. And her dry remarks on how sappy Rider can be. I also really love the names: Alosa’s is certainly my favorite, but there are some other gems in there, like Draxon and [some of Alosa’s crew, whose names I can’t remember lol].

I also want to recognize that this is Ms. Levenseller’s debut novel. She’s done very well for herself in that aspect; this book is highly rated on Goodreads. So, of course, all of this is my personal opinion, but by objective standards it seems like most people enjoyed the book. I don’t want to deter anyone from reading it, but I’m hoping to see something more like Song of the Current in the next book; more flowing description, less stilted dialogue. Also, the one piece of advice that I would give to the author is to let readers make assumptions for themselves. Not every one of Alosa’s actions has to be explained.

Overall, I don’t know if I’ll be sticking to the series. I want to give Ms. Levenseller a fair chance, so I’ll probably get around to reading Daughter of the Siren Queen whenever my library has it in stock. There aren’t many good books about pirates anyways, so I’m happy that we have at least one YA novel that features them.

Windfall: Jennifer E. Smith

Wow.
I just finished Windfall by author Jennifer E. Smith, who’s also written books like The Statistical Probability of Love and This is What Happy Looks Like. I haven’t actually read either of these books but if they’re anything like Windfall, I’ll be getting my hands on them soon enough.

So the plot of the novel is that Alice buys her friend Teddy a lottery ticket, and Teddy ends up winning an inordinate amount of money. Ridiculous amounts. So much that he would never have to work a day in his life, nor would his children or his great-grandchildren. But, of course, everything changes with the introduction of hundreds of millions of dollars into their relationship.

Just a few days ago I’d heard of a twenty-year old who won the Powerball, so it was funny that this book would come up in my repertoire (as if I hadn’t chose it, what are you talking about Pratyu?) but anyways – the lottery winner’s curse is something that I’ve preached to anyone who will listen. When you come into huge amounts of money, as the Powerball winners do, the universe seems to hand you a slab of bad karma to go along with all the good luck you seem to have stumbled upon. But that’s not exactly true, either. The reality of the situation is that money can bring out the very worst in people; people who never knew that they would do with all the wealth and fame that comes of being a lottery winner, a mega-winner, might let their desires run unchecked. When you soar high and far, you come crashing down just as quickly. There must be some kind of law of physics that coordinates this.

Teddy’s a really kind guy. That much is certain. He’s messed up by his father, an addict who leaves them penniless and heartbroken in his childhood, but he doesn’t let his tragedy get the best of him. Teddy’s fairly poor at the beginning of the book but even when he comes into wealth, he doesn’t forget about his oldest, closest friends: Alice, and her cousin Leo. Usually, when you see this sort of trope happen in literature, the first thing that the now-wealthy character ends up inadvertently dropping are his childhood friends; Teddy subverts this. Rather, he is simply overwhelmed by the money and spends carelessly, needlessly, but with good intentions.
When Teddy first reveals his good fortunes to his mother and explains that it comes from a lottery ticket Alice bought for his birthday, his mother suggests setting up a college fund for Alice. Teddy is mortified that he didn’t think of the idea first and insists not only that he will set up a college fund for her, but he will give her half of the money. Alice refuses both offers. He pleads that she at least take ten million. Nope. One million? Nah.

Alice is steadfast in her refusal because her gift was just that – a gift. The fact that it brought Teddy such fortune is an unimaginably lucky thing, but it was a gift. The money is his and his alone to do whatever he pleases with. She wants no part in the funds because Alice has experienced enough big changes for several lifetimes and she doesn’t need another bombshell upending her entire existence.

When Alice was nine years old, her parents died thirteen months apart. That’s how she comes to live in Chicago with her cousin, Leo, Aunt Sofia and Uncle Jake. Her parents continue to haunt her through the following nine years and she lives in memory of them; doing the things that she expects they would have wanted her to, choosing to go to the college she expects they would have sent her to, that sort of thing. Alice’s entire life is defined by the expectations of her dead parents, and this is a fact well-known among her family and Teddy.

But growing up under these expectations has pushed Alice to bloom into a kind, conscientious young woman. She spends most of her time volunteering at the library and soup kitchen, following in the footsteps of her parents, both of whom worked at nonprofits. She’s quiet and, while soft-spoken isn’t the right word, she prefers staying on the edge of things rather than fully immersing herself in them.
Alice gives off the impression of holding off on expectations so that she won’t be inevitably disappointed. As she explains later in the book, she doesn’t believe in luck or fate or destiny; rather, she thinks that the world has no order. She believes in randomness, an argument she uses to denounce Leo’s suggestion that the money Teddy is offering her might be the universe’s attempt at making up for her parents’ deaths.

Alice has been in love with Teddy for three years, but she doesn’t believe that their relationship will ever move beyond friendship. She never plans on telling him because – as she is with most things – her assumption is that the inevitable outcome is mountains of disappointment and an indivisible gap between the two of them, which she would never be able to bear. Teddy shows no romantic interest in her until the morning that they discover that he won the lottery; that morning, he sweeps her up in a kiss that isn’t mentioned again on his part until the middle of the book during which he apologizes. He was swept up in the excitement of it all and… “it’s fine,” Alice says, but it’s not really fine. Her assumptions are confirmed with the ease by which Teddy dismisses their kiss. It was everything for her, but a simple celebration for him.

So… here’s the thing: he could have hugged her. Right? If you got a magnificent gift from a friend, your first instinct wouldn’t be to kiss them. But Alice takes things at face value, so she believes him and drops it. Alice is really unassuming, so this is an appropriate, although saddening reaction from her. I’ve noticed that she generally takes time to have tough conversations (like talking to her uncle about her parents, or this whole situation with Teddy, or talking to Leo about his boyfriend, Max). The good thing is that despite her reservations, everything works out in the end.

I really enjoyed seeing Alice and Teddy mature over the course of the book. Not only do we see the trials and tribulations that they face in their relationship, but also the ones they face regarding their families, friends, and futures. Alice has always juggled her Pre-Parental-Deaths and Post-Parental-Death lives; they are two separate realities and constantly at odds with each other. She feels like a burden on her aunt and uncle; she’s starting to forget the sounds of her parents’ voices; every decision she makes is a reflection of her lineage. Teddy’s father makes an unsurprising return after his big lotto win, but has he really come back out of love for his son, or did his nose just catch the scent of dollar bills?

So I really enjoyed the characterization of both Teddy and Alice; the relationship between these two is the relationship that I would have expected from Hayden and Elsie in The Best Friend. This is what best friends are supposed to be like; not possessive, not manipulative. Friendships aren’t meant to constantly break your heart. I think that’s why I couldn’t get behind Elsie and Hayden’s relationship – it felt very contrived. There was no good reason for Elsie to stay in such a detrimental place when Hayden provided absolutely no benefits for her staying; he doesn’t listen to her, he doesn’t spend time with her, he doesn’t consider her in their friendship. It’s simple economic theories of relationships. But I already ranted about that book, so let’s return to this one.

Not only were Teddy and Alice characterized well; so was the rest of the cast. Aunt Sofia is an angel and I aspire to be like her one day; she’s the driving force of Alice’s change for the better. She keeps Alice grounded, reminds her that she is separate from her parents and shouldn’t live, feeling like she has to measure up to impossible standards set by their falsely remembered perfection, a consequence of time and loss. Leo is the pragmatic one who keeps her grounded; his problems are less intense than hers but he provides a breath of fresh air in her otherwise depressing history. Leo pulls her up when she is down, whether intentionally or not.

And finally, what I liked about Sawyer was that he never felt extraneous to the story. Rather than being the typical romantic counter-interest – completely opposite to the expected love interest – he was his own person. He never felt like a plot device.

Well, that’s really all I want to say about this book. I enjoyed it very much and I’m putting Ms. Smith on my list of authors to look out for. I really recommend it if you like love stories or slice-of-life ones; it’s a great in-between book to read if you’re on a particularly intense streak, as well. I hope you give it a go! Happy reading!

The Best Friend / I Miss Him So Much: Ally Williams

Sorry for the long hiatus, but I’m finally back.

Over the winter break, I had some time to read The Best Friend and its prequel (which was released separately, but it’s so short that I’m just gonna add it to this review), I Miss Him So Much, by Ally Williams. Both books center around the relationship between Elsie and Hayden, our aforementioned “best friends”. Elsie, however, is and has been desperately in love with Hayden since very early on in their relationship. Obviously, Hayden does not know about this – he happens to fall in love quickly and constantly, so Elsie’s heart is repeatedly broken.

Our story (TBF) starts off during their senior year. Elsie’s just about had it with this relationship: Hayden continuously ignores her in favor of his girlfriend of the week, as exemplified by his dropping their plans together and absconding from their hang-outs at the buzz of a text. Elsie is stood up by him twice, I think? In that first chapter alone. And she’s miserable. Ms. Williams is great at describing emotions and really tugs at your heart, but also… there was a part of me going “really Elsie? You’re going to keep crying but then run back to him at the drop of a hat? smh dude” And that pattern continues for the rest of the story. Elsie puts her faith in Hayden. Hayden messes up really badly. Elsie cries. Hayden continuously texts her and begs for forgiveness. Elsie reluctantly forgives him. He coddles her for a month or so and then the cycle begins again.

So I’m not sure what this book means to be about, but I construed it as being about a toxic relationship. A really toxic relationship, because Elsie is fully invested in Hayden, who is flaky, narcissistic, and demonstrates very manipulative and possessive behavior. He doesn’t seem like a predator or an abuser, but he definitely has some deep-set issues and he’s dragging her down with him.

Elsie is… not my favorite. While she’s self-aware, she doesn’t do anything about her situation. She wallows in her misery and literally is at Hayden’s beck and call, despite all the stuff he’s pulled on her. She recognizes his pattern of manipulation, yet does nothing to break free from it. And this is the pattern of someone who is being abused, but… also, aside from that, she has no personality or character outside of her devotion to Hayden. She’s just a sad girl.

But maybe I’m being too harsh. There was definitely character development and I enjoyed reading her perspective on the issue. Elsie brings a human element to the table; she’s the star of her own tragedy. Hayden is just the perpetrator.

I guess that my main problem with this story is that the main character’s spinelessness is kind of unbelievable. She doesn’t buckle down and move on from the toxicity until the very end of the book; but I recognize that my judgement is extremely subjective and biased. I’m looking at the book and thinking about how I would have reacted – I’m quick to anger, so if I were in the same situation, the novel would have been about two chapters long. Elsie is extremely forgiving, so of course, she reacts differently. Still, I can’t help but think that she’s not setting a great example for young female readers.

Overall, the book was a bit slow and I did end up skipping some of the passages. While Elsie’s self-pitying was understandable, intriguing, even, at the beginning, it got very repetitive towards the end. And before I forget, I want to add that while I liked Elsie’s character development – she does stand up for herself in the end, although after the very worst has happened – Hayden is two-dimensional. He’s the archetype of a romance-novel love interest, and has no depth beyond that. I Miss Him So Much contains one chapter in his point of view, where he sort of justifies why he doesn’t go after Elsie but it’s… a very weak argument. And he recognizes that he hurts her consistently, and that he treats her badly, but… he doesn’t really do much beyond talking about how much he hates himself? Hayden has issues he needs to resolve. They do sort of skim over his anger problems – he punches a mirror and that doesn’t bode well for his fists – but Ms. Williams doesn’t expand on that at all. Ultimately, I was rooting for Elsie, which is what I expect she wanted, but it was only because Hayden had no personality beyond being a sappy playboy.

I Miss Him So Much is a prequel, which recounts the events of a short vacation Ally’s remaining family takes with Hayden’s family follow the death of Ally’s father. I loved that we got to read more about Ally dealing with her grief and trying to come to terms with the realization that her father will no longer be around for her, and will miss all these experiences that she’ll partake in, in the future. Unfortunately, Hayden is part of that mix. He’s just his usual jerk self, so I won’t bother listing all the ways in which he’s a grade-A douchebag, but as I mentioned before, we do get to read one chapter in his perspective. So that’s interesting, I guess.

I did enjoy reading both books, and they were easy reads. There weren’t any complicated plot devices and ultimately, what made me give The Best Friend two, rather than one star on Goodreads, was the ending – which I don’t want to spoil. But it’s a good wrap-up and really resolves the matter of Elsie’s lack of grit. I don’t know if I’d recommend these books, but have a go if you’re interested in tragedies and love stories.

 

Frostblood: Elly Blake

Frostblood follows the story of a young woman named Ruby, blessed with the power of flame. Unfortunately, she can’t control it very well.
Ruby lives a relatively simple life, alongside her mother, in her village… until someone turns her into the guard for being a Fireblood. She is then imprisoned, rescued, and decides to aid a revolution by eliminating the reigning king.

So I enjoyed Frostblood; I thought Ruby was an pretty multidimensional character. She goes through a lot of physical development after training hard and basically becoming a soldier of this revolution. She also goes through emotional and mental maturation, which is good since, you know, she’s planning to kill a king.

Arcus is her love interest and mentor, a sullen, solemn man who guards the revolution’s base with a sword, and his heart with a wall. What a cheesy sentence. I can’t believe I wrote that but I’m leaving it here bc it’s funny. Anyways, Arcus dislikes Ruby intensely in the beginning, and the feeling is very much reciprocated. He thinks she’s childish and weak, and in no shape or way ready to kill a king. And he’s right. Ruby’s still offended, though.  We find out a lot more about him; his big twist isn’t all that big a twist. Once you start reading, you’ll know what I mean. But I thought his character was still compelling. And I did feel bad for him. You find out a lot more about Arcus that makes him more personable than I’m making him out to be, also.

I think that the one thing I resent is not learning more about the current king, Rasmus. He was the really interesting character in this book; also, I don’t remember her name, but there’s a woman in his court who basically acts as an ally to Ruby for her own ulterior motives. It turns out that she’s been in love with Rasmus since they were young, though he basically ignores her existence. She’s watched him morph from the boy she loved into a tyrant, but she believes that he can be redeemed. Their story would have been more interesting than that of Ruby and Arcus; I think so, anyways.

So all in all, Frostblood was a good book. I enjoyed the character arcs and the villain had an interesting origin story; the only downside is that it’s not really anything new for the high-fantasy YA genre. Girl finds out that she is special. Girl meets brooding boyfriend-to-be.  Girl hones her skills with the help of an old and powerful rando. Girl has weird chemistry with the antagonist. Girl topples dictatorial empire by herself. Sound like any book you’ve read?

I might keep going with this series but the next book touts a love triangle so… probably not. Still, if you enjoy elemental powers and rebel factions, crazy kings and a weird, shadowy entity that’s (who’s?) hellbent on taking over the world, give this book a go.

 

 

Minor update: I’m trying to make my tags more descriptive so that you can look through my books to see tropes you might enjoy. 🙂

The Diabolic: S.J. Kincaid

I recently finished reading The Diabolic, a science fiction adventure by S.J. Kincaid. Diabolic follows the story of Nemesis, a genetically-engineered humanoid creature who has bonded for eternity to the daughter of a powerful senator: Sidonia. When the senator displeases the emperor and his family, Sidonia is summoned to be held hostage in their Chrysanthemum Court, where all of the imperial family and their most ardent supporters live. Nemesis goes in her stead, only to find herself delving deeper and deeper into a web of politics and lies.

I really enjoyed this book! It was fantastically planned– writing out a plot can be very difficult, but Ms. Kincaid managed to wrap up all loose ends and weave a story that flowed from point A to point Z, without any trouble. The universe she created was fascinating, with the strange aristocracy, the abandoned Excess, and the manufactured creatures such as Diabolics, Servitors, the fighting beasts, and the Exalted. And the characters were very likable: each had their individual story, which came to a climax during the events of the book. Neveni, Nemesis, Sidonia, Tyrus, Cygna, the Emperor, and everyone else involved, had a resolution to their tale.

Speaking of Tyrus: he was like a breath of fresh air in the realm of YA. Maybe I’m not well-read, but I don’t think I’ve encountered a character like him in any book that I’ve ever read. Tyrus is the nephew of the current emperor, well-informed of his grandmother’s scheming, and fully aware of his mortality. In order to protect himself in a court of vipers, he plays the part of a madman—and successfully fools everyone. He only drops the act when he discovers that Nemesis might be the most useful ally he could have ever found, and she quickly discovers that not only is he a good actor; he’s also fathomlessly clever, and ten steps ahead of everyone else in the game.

Another thing I appreciate deeply is the hint of unease at the very end of the story. Can Nemesis really trust Tyrus? After all of her misgivings during the latter half of the story, can she really believe that he had no hand in Sidonia’s death, nor that he would sacrifice far too much for her, or that he really loves her at all? Their union is bittersweet and fraught with tension on Nemesis’s side, but she has to find a way to reconcile her love for Tyrus and her distrust towards him. It’s a precarious position to be in and sets up a fascinating relationship to be featured in the next book.

Nemesis is also a really wonderful character. After being told that her only purpose is to serve, and that she’s a monster through and through, she holds herself in very low regard. Nemesis is convinced that she’s brutal, heartless, merciless, some kind of killing machine—and she is—but massively discounts her own humanity. It was sweet to read about Nemesis discovering the beauty of laughter, of love and of pain, through the pages of this book. She reminds me a little bit of an android—perhaps similar to the one in This, My Soul.

All in all, I found he Diabolic to be a really good read, and I’m looking forward to reading the sequel– The Empress, and discovering what horrors await Tyrus and Nemesis. And the friction in their relationship. If you like a good sci-fi story and were intrigued by the likes of Illuminae and Gemina, definitely give this book a try!

Song of the Current: Sarah Tolcser

Song of the Current is a debut novel by Sarah Tolcser, and follows the adventures of Caro Oresteia and her wherry crew, consisting of frogman Fee; joined this time by an “arrogant young courier with a secret”. When Caro’s father is imprisoned for refusing to transport a package down the river, Caro takes it upon herself to deliver the item– but instead falls into an adventure with hired guns and pirates and all sorts of shady types trying to kill her. Caro needs to keep herself, Fee, the courier, and the wherry in one piece, but that proves to be easier said than done.

For a debut novel, this was a fantastic read. Most of the time, authors haven’t really found their voice by their first book– I think so, anyways. It takes a few tries to settle into something that can resonate with the audience, or maybe that it’s by the third time around, you’ve kind of honed in on your audience. Anyways, it was really good for being her first try at publishing a novel, and I laud her for that success. The characters are fully fleshed and the world is fascinating, meticulously detailed, and you can tell that Ms. Tolcser knows her stuff about ships.

I really appreciate our arrogant courier. He’s charming in a newborn sort of sense– he doesn’t know the first thing about sailing or wherrymen or what life is like outside of his red carpet and silver spoons. But the character development is wonderful; he really matures over the events in the story, and proves to be a formidable enemy and a trustworthy ally. Also, his arrogance is really funny.

Caro is a headstrong, ferocious young sailor, and she really holds her own when seemingly the whole world is against her. And the choices she makes are emotional, but she acknowledges the dangers that come with each option and chooses the best course of action regarding what they’re going to do. An interesting quirk of Caro’s is that, while her whole family can speak to the river-god, he’s unbearably silent when it comes to her. It’s the language of little things, is what she says over and over again– the way the light flickers off the water, the birds and the bugs in the air, but Caro can’t decipher a word he is saying– that is, if he’s saying anything at all. She comes into her own power eventually, and it’s a relief. Caro deserves the best.

A last aspect I enjoyed is the relationship between Caro’s parents. Her mother is a calculating Bollard, a merchant’s daughter and a branch of the massive Bollard network. She works for her family: shipping, trading, smuggling. Caro is unsure if she can trust the Bollards due to their proclivity towards whichever side can pay the most; is her precious cargo safe in their hands? Unlikely. So another relationship tested by rough waters (haha) is the one between Caro and her mother.
Oh, but mom and dad: so they live separately, but there doesn’t seem to be animosity between them. In fact, the opposite: they do love each other, to some extent. They’re just two fundamentally different people. It’s an interesting romantic relationship, because there’s no indication that either has someone on the side, so I think that they’re still invested in each other but their lives branch in different directions, and both are fine with this setup. When they are together, there’s chemistry between the two and they make use of that chemistry; but when they’re apart, it’s fine, and they don’t pine for one another.

Overall, I enjoyed this book a lot! It was lovely to explore the vast ocean, and it gave me very pirate-y vibes, so that was awesome because I’ve been looking for a sea-faring novel to read soon (my eye’s on Daughter of the Pirate King).  So give it a go if you’re into the sea, rough-and-tumble adventures, headstrong protagonists and over-confident couriers.