MORE HAPPY THAN NOT by Adam Silvera

More Happy Than Not is the book that tried to kill me.

It was exceptional – incredible! And it just walks you right off the edge and leaves you a devastated puddle at the end. 100% worth it, though.

It’s the story of a young guy growing up in the Bronx, in poverty, all the games he and his friends play, their favorite comic shop, their quest for tail and a free beer and even a flicker of hope in their lives. I don’t even know how to talk about this book… it’s so good! It’s completely unexpected and emotionally gut wrenching and romantic and raw and remarkable for a first novel (well done Adam Silvera). It’s written with the authenticity of someone who grew up the same way… so I can’t help but suspect there are many mirrors of Adam’s own story in the text.

Anyways, nothing you think is going to happens. I think anyone who reads a lot or even watches a lot of television gets used to following certain plotlines – and this book destroyed them all. Repeatedly. Gah. I cried. And then I kind of gaped in horror as the narration drew to a close because… gah. For the brave readers, I highly recommend jumping off this cliff.

RATING: FOUR STARS

Title: More Happy Than Not
Author: Adam Silvera
Originally published: June 2, 2015
Genre: Fiction

I’LL GIVE YOU THE SUN by Jandy Nelson

“I’ll Give You The Sun” is a story about fraternal twins, both resoundingly artistic with jealousies and rages that compete with mythological gods. This story is told in alternating voice, between the siblings, and in alternating times… before and after. Before what and after what are the mystery of the novel – and there are several befores and several afters hidden in the pages. In the end, it’s a heartbreakingly beautiful story about family, unconditional love and conditional love, first loves and deep seeded regrets. The plot in itself is outstanding – a very richly layered story with fully realized characters, both young and old. I feel in love with everyone in this story, and saw a little bit of myself reflected in each of them.

But the story is not what makes this book great – it would have been pretty good if anyone wrote this plot, probably – but what makes this book shine is revealed in the cover: huge implications in small words, “I’ll give you the sun” indeed – the title surrounded by a radial explosion of colors. That’s what this book is – words crafted so unusually, so cleverly, so astoundingly that they paint in your head. It’s overwhelming at first, all that language, all those images, but it tames down a bit after a while. Or maybe I just grew accustomed to it after a while, I’m not sure. I’ll have to re-read it for closer inspection. And I’m sure I will re-read it.

Though I loved all the love stories in this book (there is more than one), the one that hit me hardest was Noah’s. Torment, fascination, recognition… and always that burning question “Are they?” I cried on and off repeatedly while reading it – sometimes with joy, too. The only problem I had with the book was the character of Zephyr… and the bag of mixed messages there, but it’s only a side plot so I’ll happily put it aside for now and just bask in the contentment of finishing an excellent book. Anyways, it was a remarkable novel and I highly recommend it.

RATING: FIVE STARS

Title: I’ll Give You The Sun
Author: Jandy Nelson
Originally published: September 16, 2014
Genre: Young adult fiction

THE WINNER’S TRILOGY by Marie Rutkoski

Finished this trilogy last night… some random thoughts:

The Winner’s Curse – Book One: The best of the lot – angsty romance (I love a romance where there are very extreme situations keeping the lovers apart, think “Your dad killed my parents!” or “Our love is forbidden and we could both be killed for it!” In this series, her people have just conquered his, she buys him as a slave, he’s plotting the revolution (ie killing of her people) while they’re slowly falling for each other… that’s some quality angst) – pristine and lush writing – great world building, mystery, and strong unique characters. Overall / a good book. 4/5 stars.

The Winner’s Crime – Book Two: Hm… espionage. Politics. More angsty and less engaging. Introduces new (best) character, Roshar, a mutilated prince – and the emperor, a great baddie. Surprising plot twists. 3/5 stars.

The Winner’s Kiss – Book Three: Should have been combined with book 2, as the majority of this book is flashbacks and long stretches of sorting through feelings. Battle sequences. Plot twists. More of Roshar being Roshar. And happy endings. 2/5 stars.

Final Thoughts. The covers did nothing for this series, in my opinion. Neither the hardbacks nor the paperbacks capture the mood of this story.

TRILOGY RATING: THREE STARS

Title: The Winner’s Curse, The Winner’s Crime, & The Winner’s Kiss
Author: Marie Rutkoski
Originally published: 2014, 2015, 2016
Genre: Fantasy Fiction

THE TESTING by Joelle Charbonneau

“All leaders have to live with disappointment at some point or another. If I have to learn that lesson early, I won’t enjoy it, but I will do my best not to let you down.” 
― Joelle Charbonneau, The Testing

I’m over halfway through The Testing; They have finally gotten to the 4th Test (where they are thrown 700 miles outside of town and asked to find their way back) and suddenly I just couldn’t care less what happens.

I enjoyed the beginning… the farming colony, the family, and the first three tests (sort of SAT tests with violent shenanigans) but now that we are down to the two main characters out in the wild… ugh… they are so boring, I can barely stand it. Cia and Tomas. Gag. They have zero personality… they don’t flirt, they don’t joke, they don’t ponder serious things (or anything) or have mental hysterics about being locked in metal boxes or having their legs nearly blown off at fake-watering holes. And this story apparently goes on through three more books.

The society structure makes no sense – it doesn’t seem evil at all, in fact it seems to be benefiting most people… so the “Let’s gather the smartest kids together and kill off most of them” plotline defies reason. Some books start bad, while others wait to turn on you halfway through… oh well. I glanced over a few reviews to make sure I wasn’t just hitting a slow spot… giggled over this review “If you like constantly being told where you are, who is saying what, and the internal conflict of being in love with a lifeless pillow while trying not to get killed for no apparent reason, than this is the book for you” and thought… yeah… I think I’ve had enough.

Next! (unless one of you has read it and convinces me it gets better, that is… anyone? anyone?)

RATING: DNF

Title: The Testing
Author: Joelle Charbonneau
Originally published: June 4, 2013
Genre: Fiction, Dystopian

HALF BAD by Sally Green

“Later I remember what I could do. It’s easy. I could kill them all.” 
― Sally Green, Half Lost

Just finished Half Bad, by Sally Green. Hm… well, it was pretty good for a YA novel with a male protagonist. Very gritty – lots of violence and push ups and such. I’m not entirely sold on the entire set up: White Witches and Black Witches are at war for various reasons? Why again? Whatever… most YA novels don’t worry too much about plotholes, they are largely character driven. And the characters are pretty good.

Our hero, Nathan, is a half breed (white and black witch). Raised by White Witches who hate and fear him, (cause of his baddie daddy) and, uh, keep him in a cage – he eventually comes into his own and is currently deciding which team to play for, if any. Ironically (or not), he is also caught in a love triangle between his childhood sweetheart Annalise and his new roommate, Gabriel. Huh. I’ll probably read the next book since I brought it home… kinda curious now. I’m a sucker for the queerbaiting.

UPDATE: I finished this series today – the first book was decent, the second book was tolerable and the third, officially, was garbage that basically destroys my mild enjoyment of the first two books. I literally threw it. The ending sucked! It was absurd! I hated it. And honestly, I usually don’t bother reviewing books at all if I don’t like them… but whatever. I’m sticking to my guns and taking this series out.

RATING (Books 1-3 average): TWO STARS

Title: Half Bad, Half Wild, Half Lost
Author: Sally Green
Originally published: March 3, 2014
Series: The Half Bad trilogy
Genre: Young adult fiction, Fantasy, Horror

 

 

 

SKY WITHOUT STARS by Jessica Brody and Joanne Rendell

Sky Without Stars (System Divine Book 1) – an amazing science fiction reimaging of the famous class struggle epic Les Miserables, cowritten by Jessica Brody and Joanne Rendell. Who would have thought, eh? But it works.

This is book one in what I hope will be at least a three book series. Humans have populated a new star system with twelve habitable planets. All of the action of book one takes place on Laterre, a rain-soaked planet where the ruling class keeps the vast majority of the people in dire poverty. The three main characters are modeled after Cosette (Aloutte, raised protected in a secret library), Marius (Marcellous, grandson of the highest ranking military officer), and Eponine (Chatine/Theo, a street rat who understands the system better than anyone – and has lost all hope). The planet is on the verge of revolution as the tension between the classes rise. There are secret societies and spies and prisons on the moon. And bringing it all together, outstanding prose… “The rich traded goods and extravagances. While the poor traded dreams and ideas.”

It’s vastly different from the origin story – but the basic plot points are woven in with clever sci fi twists and if you’re a fan of the original story, you’ll find yourself smiling when you run into them, thinking, “Oh, nice touch! Bravo, mademoiselle authors!”

Just… wow. Definitely a solid four star book – though I would recommend maybe waiting until the sequel comes out to read it, cause the end leaves you dangling and tense.

RATING: FOUR STARS

Title: Sky Without Stars (System Divine Book 1)
Authors: Jessica Brody, Joanne Rendell
Originally published: March 26, 2019
Genres: Science Fiction, Young adult fiction

CALL DOWN THE HAWK by Maggie Stiefvater

Call Down the Hawk by Maggie Stiefvater – the first book in the new trilogy about Ronan Lynch, the boy who could bring his dreams to life in The Raven Boys.

My thoughts: Ronan remains super cool though I did feel the author told us how cool he was more than was necessary (we know, Maggie). His relationship with Adam, now king of the gay nerds at Harvard, was realistically strained as their lives move in different directions. Declan Lynch, the uptight oldest brother who constantly cleans up after his younger siblings, finally got a story line and it was deeply satisfying. We meet a new dreamer who is half crazed from trying to keep herself awake, fighting off a repeating nightmare. And we meet some Visionaries – time travelers, of a sort, whose shifts through the time line are as destructive as the messages they carry. Throw in a secret black market, a global assassins guild hunting down paranormals, a shit ton of references to artists (art majors will be delighted by the name dropping in this), a painting that makes you dream of the sea, a forest filled with trees that speak in Latin, and one very very chatty ethereal voice who likes to give cryptic speeches while our hero dreams and you’ve got yourself a pretty cool book.

It wasn’t as good as The Raven Boys. Could anything ever be as good as that piece of perfection? I loved all four of those boys and Blue and her entire family by the end of the first book in that series. I felt deeply connected to their stories. This is not to say that Call Down the Hawk isn’t good – cause it’s good. But I am really only invested in one of the new characters and mildly curious about the rest. Thankfully it’s got the solid foundation of the Lynch boys to carry it’s narrative and it’s more than enough to provide readers with a fun, wonky, dangerous and romantic (I am so on board with Declan’s slowly melting icy heart) adventure.

Rating: Four Stars.

Now… if you want to get into spoiler territory… we can further discuss….

 

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SAWKILL GIRLS by Claire Legrand

“Why do the monsters eat girls?” she asked at last.

“Because,” Marion answered, looking beyond Zoey to the sea, “when a predator hunts, it seeks out the vulnerable. The desperate.”

Zoey’s laugh was bitter, “Oh, and we poor delicate girls are vulnerable and desperate, is that what you’re saying?”

“What I’m saying,” Marion said, now looking right at Zoey, her gray eyes bright, “is that girls hunger. And we’re taught, from the moment our brains can take it, that there isn’t enough food for us all.”

I finished Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand yesterday – and it’s a great spooky YA book. A monster lives on a small island populated by the wealthy elite – and it feeds on the innards of teenage girls. There’s a lot going on in this book – but at its heart its about girls and how disposable they are in society. It’s about female anger and how girls fight back.

I loved this book – but I confess I wanted more from it (which I’ll dive into below in the spoilers section). Overall, it was an enjoyable, spooky book and I definitely recommend it to those who seeking a good, bloody story featuring a diverse (in color and sexuality) cast.

I desperately want there to be more books in this series. All my fingers and toes are crossed for further exploration into the pocket dimensions, powers, cults, and monsters lurking in new books. Even if it’s different characters each time, she’s opened a window into a very unique world and I want to go there again and see more.

Rating: 4 Stars.

So… SPOILER DISCUSSION TIME…

 

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SERPENT & DOVE by Shelby Mahurin

“There are some things that can’t be changed with words. Some things have to be seen. They have to be felt.”

Decided to read a fun fantasy romance novel today – about a renegade witch who finds herself married to a witch hunter. The novel is told from alternating points of view – between our mismatched lovers – and overall it was a highly enjoyable tale of medieval lore, mystery, and (most of all) love.

I am a sucker for a wild girl paired with a prudish guy, what can I say? And I especially enjoy cohabitation stories where the couple is either married but not “together” or pretending to be married but not “together.” All that “oh my, wherever shall I sleep? On the floor? The couch? Should we share a bed and put pillows between us? Decisions, decisions…” it never gets old to me. There was a surprisingly detailed sex scene too (I believe the expression ‘to the hilt’ was used, as cringe worthy as ever).

Serpent & Dove has a nice dusting of French throughout, adding a little foreign flavor to our fantasy world.  There’s loads of fun characters coming in and out of the scenes, from apprentices to courtesans, witches to royals, and bakers to scorned aristocracy. And we’re also given a nice dose of feminism as well as plea for deeper understanding between all people we’ve labeled as “other” for various reasons. It was nicely done. For a debut novel, it was rich in detail and showed clear evidence of expert writing and editing, keeping the flow steady and enjoyable throughout.

I really liked it.

My only complaint was the tale was set in this historical world with corsets and daggers and metal bath tubs… but it kept throwing in modern language stylings, with our female witch in particular. I don’t mind cursing or vulgarity, those are not particular to any time period, but the turn of phrases, the expressions, the slang… it was 21st Century. And it always, always threw me out of the story setting. If she was going to write this way, the author should have just made our witch a time traveler. Everyone else is all proper and our witch is slinging punchy jokes and contemporary witticisms.

I don’t know if it will bother others as much as it bothered me… and honestly, that’s my only complaint for an otherwise enjoyable rompish fantasy-romance. Oh, and it’s set up for a sequel… with a nice twist or two at the end to leave us wanting more. There were several sets of magical creatures referred to that I would love to see explored in more detail in future books.

I’ll definitely be buying the next installment.

Rating: Four Stars

Originally published: September 3, 2019
Author: Shelby Mahurin
Title: Serpent & Dove
Genre: Fantasy Fiction

BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY by Ruta Sepetys

“Whether love of friend, love of country, love of God, or even love of enemy—love reveals to us the truly miraculous nature of the human spirit.” 
― Ruta Sepetys, Between Shades of Gray

Just finished “Between Shades of Gray” by Ruta Sepetys… it was horrible. And by horrible, I mean it was wonderful. It’s an excellent book about a terrible thing.

Here’s the basic plot: Russian troops round up all the teachers, the artists, the military leaders, the politicians and theologians and stuff them on train cars and ship them off to Siberia to work in the freezing cold and the polar night during WWII. Almost everyone died. On the trains, in the labor camps, in the cold, of starvation, in the snow dropping from starvation, of disease or NKVD cruelty… it’s rough.

There’s one scene where a little girl won’t get on the train and the soldiers shoot her doll in the head… I don’t know why, but I found that small act of cruelty just too much… the little girl then goes slightly mad and talks to the ghost of her doll for the duration of the book.

Anyways, back to the plot: The main character is Lina, an artist, who uses her art to send messages, win favors, record history and escape the world. Her mother and younger brother are also with her – while her father is segregated to another train and never seen again. The struggle for survival is brutal – and the slow progression of days is very well captured in the narrative. The flashbacks interspersed a needed reminder that once these people lived comfortable lives.

This book won tons of awards… I mean, the award list is long and international… and I must say, well deserved. But I’m grateful to be done with this book – as I hate the cold and have no desire to ever venture towards the earth’s poles, be it north or south, and if I never see snow again in my lifetime, I would not miss it. What can I say? As good as it was, I just can’t love it. I’d loved other books about miserable, cold, war experiences (City of Thieves, for example), but this one…

Going to read fantasy next… need to escape!

P.S. The movie is out now – it has been renamed “Ashes in the Snow”… to avoid confusion with 50 Shades of Gray, no doubt

RATING: 3.5 STARS

Title: Between Shades of Gray
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Originally published: March 22, 2011
Genre: Historical Fiction