Hunted by Meagan Spooner

Hunted by Meagan Spooner


Goodreads: Hunted
Series: None
Source: Purchased
Published: 2017

Official Summary

Beauty knows the Beast’s forest in her bones—and in her blood. Though she grew up with the city’s highest aristocrats, far from her father’s old lodge, she knows that the forest holds secrets and that her father is the only hunter who’s ever come close to discovering them.

So when her father loses his fortune and moves Yeva and her sisters back to the outskirts of town, Yeva is secretly relieved. Out in the wilderness, there’s no pressure to make idle chatter with vapid baronessas…or to submit to marrying a wealthy gentleman. But Yeva’s father’s misfortune may have cost him his mind, and when he goes missing in the woods, Yeva sets her sights on one prey: the creature he’d been obsessively tracking just before his disappearance.

Deaf to her sisters’ protests, Yeva hunts this strange Beast back into his own territory—a cursed valley, a ruined castle, and a world of creatures that Yeva’s only heard about in fairy tales. A world that can bring her ruin or salvation. Who will survive: the Beauty, or the Beast? 

Star Divider


Hunted by Meagan Spooner is a quick and satisfying retelling of “Beauty and the Beast.” If you want a take on the classic fairy tale that mixes things up a little but is more comforting than completely novel, this is the book for you.

I’ve been sitting on writing this review for several days after I finished reading Hunted because, frankly, I can’t think of must to say about it. The story is different from the versions of “Beauty and the Beast” most readers are familiar with; for instance, the main character is a hunter more than an avid reader (though she does enjoy books), and her bonds with her sisters are emphasized over her relationship with her father. The story is set in Russia instead of France, and there are other fairy tales and bits of folklore woven in.

And yet…in spite of all these obvious differences…the book doesn’t actually come across as original.

But while the book didn’t wow me, I enjoyed it, and I appreciate it for what it is: a fun take on an old tale, perfect for readers who want a cozy fairy tale retelling and to watch Beauty come into her own and then find her true love. I enjoy YA books immensely and have for years, but there has been a definite shift towards books that are trying to make points rather than tell stories, books that are incredibly dark, and books that are rather convoluted (with varying degrees of success). All this is fine, depending on what you’re in the mood to read. Hunted reminded me less of recent YA books and more of the ones I read when I was actually a teen: it’s really just a fun spin on “Beauty and the Beast.”

If you like fairy tale retellings and “Beauty and the Beast,” check it out. If you want really original take on the story or a YA fantasy that’s epic and complex, this might not be for you.

3 Stars

Thorn by by Intisar Khanani

Thorn book cover


Goodreads: Thorn
Series: Dauntless Path #1
Source: Library
Published: March 24, 2020

Official Summary

A princess with two futures. A destiny all her own

Between her cruel family and the contempt she faces at court, Princess Alyrra has always longed to escape the confines of her royal life. But when she’s betrothed to the powerful prince Kestrin, Alyrra embarks on a journey to his land with little hope for a better future.

When a mysterious and terrifying sorceress robs Alyrra of both her identity and her role as princess, Alyrra seizes the opportunity to start a new life for herself as a goose girl.

But Alyrra soon finds that Kestrin is not what she expected. The more Alyrra learns of this new kingdom, the pain and suffering its people endure, as well as the danger facing Kestrin from the sorceress herself, the more she knows she can’t remain the goose girl forever.

With the fate of the kingdom at stake, Alyrra is caught between two worlds and ultimately must decide who she is, and what she stands for.

Star Divider


A thoughtful fairy tale retelling with complex characters and world building, Thorn is one of the first books I’ve read in a while that kept me turning the pages and reading late into the night to find out what happens next.

When I think about what really made me enjoy this book, it’s hard to pick out a single thing. Its beauty is that nearly everything works together to create a highly compelling and memorable story, from the protagonist–a kind girl who doesn’t know her own moral strength–to the plot that weaves together magic and mystery and some harsh realities to the beautiful prose. I wanted to know what happened next because I was invested in Thorn as a character but also because the plot was interesting and because the book touches on important questions about duty and social justice. If any of this things had stood alone, the book probably would have been good but not great.

I also love that some things are not entirely as one might expect in the novel, including the romance. I wouldn’t necessarily say this book is “swoonworthy” or that I practically fell in love with the love interest myself, but that’s because he, too, is complex. He makes decisions I (and Thorn) don’t always agree with. But he also seems to be trying his best and to genuinely care. YA gets some (generally good natured) mockery for unrealistic love interests, teen boys who smell like pine and always know the right thing to say. That isn’t the case in Thorn. Sometimes Kestrin says and does completely the wrong thing, and I appreciated that.

I did struggle slightly with Thorn’s motivations for not caring about trying to win back her rightful place as a princess. I can see what the author was trying to convey in terms of Thorn having suffered abuse at the hands of her family and, therefore, having no interest in power and not having the self-esteem to think she would rule well, but “Oh, well, I’d rather be a poor goose girl and let people torture me and not live as a princess and help improve the kingdom” was still, at times, a hard sell for me.

I also thought the plot took a bit of a sudden turn halfway through the book when it went from being “just” a retelling of “The Goose Girl” to having what came close to being an entirely separate plot (but which was actually woven into the story pretty well, in spite of my initial misgivings). I do think there are some loose ends (like, no one is going to address the mass kidnappings? or the weird references to memory loss in relation to them?), but perhaps that is realistic, as well. Thorn does reference the fact there’s a lot to be done in the kingdom, so perhaps I can just accept that “address kidnappers and unexplained magic” is on the list of “things that need to be looked into that the characters just haven’t gotten around to yet.”

Truly, however, Thorn is a gem of a book, and I cannot convey how excited I am to read the forthcoming companion novel and, really, anything else by this author.

4 stars

Long May She Reign by Rhiannon Thomas

Long May She ReignInformation

Goodreads: Long May She Reign
Series: None
Source: Gift
Published: February 21, 2017

Official Summary

Freya was never meant be queen. Twenty third in line to the throne, she never dreamed of a life in the palace, and would much rather research in her laboratory than participate in the intrigues of court. However, when an extravagant banquet turns deadly and the king and those closest to him are poisoned, Freya suddenly finds herself on the throne.

Freya may have escaped the massacre, but she is far from safe. The nobles don’t respect her, her councillors want to control her, and with the mystery of who killed the king still unsolved, Freya knows that a single mistake could cost her the kingdom – and her life.

Freya is determined to survive, and that means uncovering the murderers herself. Until then, she can’t trust anyone. Not her advisors. Not the king’s dashing and enigmatic illegitimate son. Not even her own father, who always wanted the best for her, but also wanted more power for himself.

As Freya’s enemies close in and her loyalties are tested, she must decide if she is ready to rule and, if so, how far she is willing to go to keep the crown.


Long May She Reign is standalone fantasy nearly at its finest.*  Thomas creates a captivating world with high stakes, where a girl who never wanted to be queen must find a way to hold her country together in a time of uncertainty and danger.  A fine mix of romance, adventure, intrigue, and science make the fresh enough to stand out in a crowd of fantasy novels.

“Strong female character” has been a buzz phrase probably since readers were introduced to Katniss Everdeen, but the term fits Freya like a glove–all the more because Freya herself probably would not think so.  As twenty-third in line to inherit the throne, Freya never considered herself important.  She never paid attention to the rules of etiquette and the gossip of the court; she focused on her friendship and pursuing her passion of scientific research.  So when she’s thrust upon the throne without warning, she’s uncertain.  But watching her rise to the occasion and figure out how to use her personal strengths to succeed, instead of trying to emulate other people, is a great pleasure.

The plot is well-placed, and it wonderfully combines mystery with intrigue and looming war.  There is also a dash of romance, though it’s not the focus of the story, and Freya’s personal growth arc.  Something is always happening, but not too much, and I felt events were only rushed with one of the scenes near the end.  And while I had some guesses who was responsible for the massacre that opens the novel, I was pleased that Thomas kept me unsure and altering my hunch.

Additionally, the book is smart, and not just because Freya is an accomplished scientist.  Thomas delves into the intricacies of managing a kingdom, from taxes to people management to battle strategies.  It felt as though a lot of research went into the book but it all came out naturally on the page.  I like books where I feel like I have learned new things or where I can tell that the author knows a lot about their own genre and topic; this is one of them.

At some point while reading, I considered giving the novel five stars but decided not to because there are a couple well-worn YA cliches thrown in that I could have done without.  Yet for the most part, the plot kept me on my toes and a much of it was unique.  This may end up being one of my favorite reads of the year.

*I know some readers have been disappointed because it’s not necessarily flashy high fantasy with hand waving powers and magical creatures.  The fantasy element is that it happens in an invented world that, like much fantasy, is set in some time that’s somewhere between medieval and Regency in inspiration.  Personally, I don’t think “fantasy” necessitates magic, so as long as you’re not expecting any, you should be fine on that count.

4 stars Briana

Ash and Bramble by Sarah Prineas

Ash and BrambleInformation

Goodreads: Ash and Bramble
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: September 15, 2015

Official Summary

No one has ever broken free of the Godmother’s terrible stone prison until a girl named Pin attempts a breathless, daring escape. But she discovers that what seems to be freedom is a prison of another kind, one that entangles her in a story that leads to a prince, a kiss, and a clock striking midnight. To unravel herself from this new life, Pin must choose between a prince and another—the one who helped her before and who would give his life for her. Torn, the only thing for her to do is trade in the glass slipper for a sword and find her own destiny.


I can envision the birth of Ash and Bramble.  Prineas sat down and thought, What if you don’t want to be in a fairy tale?  What if it’s more exciting to write your own story instead of following the pattern of everyone else’s?  The result: a gutsy YA novel that capitalizes on the popularity of fairy tale retellings even as it tries to argue they’re boring and overrated.

I kind of loved it.

The prose, I admit, is a huge turn-off and something I actively strove to ignore throughout the novel.  All of the book is in present tense, which I hate, and uses short, choppy sentences, which I despise.  Worse, however, is the lack of consistency in points of view.  Protagonist Pin’s chapters are all in first-person, while love interest Shoe’s chapters are in third person.  I never understood the reason for the switch; I don’t know if there was an artistic reasons.  I only know it drove me mad.

If one can tolerate the writing style, however, there is a very interesting story buried beneath.  Large swaths of it will be predictable—like which man is going to win in the love triangle—but others are quite unexpected.  The whole point is that Pin wants to break away from a perfect, contrived life as a Cinderella with a happily-ever-after, so she tries to do the unpredictable.

The multiple layers of the story mean that sometimes the pacing is off.  The book starts in media res, except the readers don’t actually know what happened before the action started because none of the characters really know either.  From there it’s a quick sprint to get from the opening scenes to the part where the Cinderella story is supposed to play out to the part where Pin has to decide if she even wants her Cinderella story.  The result is a bit chunk-like, even though the book tries to head this off by dividing itself into parts and signaling something new is about to start.  However, the plot and the characters are interesting enough that I tried to ignore my discomfort with this, as well.

Though Pin is supposedly the star of the novel, and the other characters spend a lot of time observing how unique, how unexpected, how like a flame in darkness she is, I was more captivated by the side characters.  Shoe is definitely a fascinating, complex character, and I was glad he got his own sort-of POV chapters.  I also enjoyed reading about all the other characters who had been caught up in the dangers of their world, who were kind of broken but persevered.  Even the last character in the love triangle was multi-faceted.  Pin just feels contrived compared to them, especially when she goes stereotypical YA protagonist and suddenly discovers she possesses a bunch of kickass skills that will help her in her fight.

In many ways, I fought with Ash and Bramble more than I really enjoyed it.  Half of it pulled me to liking it while the other half pushed me away.  However, I found it interesting, and I think it will appeal to anyone who normally enjoys new takes on fairy tales.

3 stars Briana

Kissing in America by Margo Rabb

kissing in americaInformation

Goodreads: Kissing in America
Series: None
Source: Goodreads First Reads ARC
Published: May 26, 2015

Official Summary

In the years following her father’s death, sixteen-year-old Eva has sought the comfort of poetry and romance novels to assuage her grief.  Then he meets Will, and through their connection, Eva is able to escape the pain of her dad’s death and her difficult relationship with her mom.  But then Will suddenly picks up and moves to California—and just like that, Eva is right back where she started.

With the help of her best friend Annie, Eva concocts a plan to leave New York City for the first time in her life and travel across the country to see Will.  From cowboys to kudzu, and the endless roads in between, Eva and Annie learn the truth about love and all of its complexities.


Kissing in America is an insightful look at different kinds of love.  Sixteen-year-old Eva believes she is truly, romantically in love with schoolmate Will—after all, she’s read enough romance novels to know—but by the end of her story Eva realizes there are all kinds of love in the world and she is blessed by them all.

In many ways, Kissing in America is a novel about balancing these loves.  On one hand, it is about the hope, the excitement, the possibilities of romantic love.  As long as Eva and Will are separated, the story is about the magic that will happen when they are finally together again.  One the other hand, Rabb doesn’t want either Eva or readers to be fixated only on the future.  As Eva crosses the country, she is thrown into a variety of wild adventures and learns there is much more to her world than the city where she grew up.  She realizes that, even as she looks forward to meeting up with Will, she has to learn to live in the present and appreciate what she already has.

What Eva already has is best friend Annie: superstar student who is going to be the Smartest Girl in America (once she wins the TV completion).  The girls’ friendship is the cornerstone of the novel, what holds Eva together as she pines for Will and struggles with the death of her father and her resulting distance from her grieving mother.  The title might lead one to believe the book is all about guys, when in so many ways it is about the strong relationships between women.  Besides Annie, other notable influences in Eva’s life include her mother, her aunt, family friend Lulu, and her potential step-grandmother.

Kissing in America basically says love can be hard, no matter form it takes.  But all loves are worth whatever pain and effort comes with them.  As Eva concludes, “No one wrote romances about mothers and daughters.  There were no epic cowboy and jungle tales about mother and daughter love.”  That doesn’t mean it isn’t worth writing about, so Margo Rabb has.

4 stars Briana

A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray

A Thousand Pieces of You by  Claudia Gray book coverInformation

Goodreads: A Thousand Pieces of You
Series: Firebird #1
Source: Library
Published: November 4, 2014

Official Summary

Marguerite Caine’s physicist parents are known for their radical scientific achievements. Their most astonishing invention: the Firebird, which allows users to jump into parallel universes, some vastly altered from our own. But when Marguerite’s father is murdered, the killer—her parent’s handsome and enigmatic assistant Paul—escapes into another dimension before the law can touch him.

Marguerite can’t let the man who destroyed her family go free, and she races after Paul through different universes, where their lives entangle in increasingly familiar ways. With each encounter she begins to question Paul’s guilt—and her own heart. Soon she discovers the truth behind her father’s death is more sinister than she ever could have imagined.

A Thousand Pieces of You explores a reality where we witness the countless other lives we might lead in an amazingly intricate multiverse, and ask whether, amid infinite possibilities, one love can endure.


When I picked up A Thousand Pieces of You, I wasn’t really expecting a hardcore science fiction novel.  The cover alone (which is absolutely gorgeous, by the way) tipped me off immediately that this book is being marketed primarily to romance/fantasy fans.  However, I also wasn’t expecting it to skirt around quite as many of its own issues as it does, or to have such a poor idea of how most PhD programs work.  So, while the “real” focus of the book, the romance, is undoubtedly its best characteristic, I cannot help being frustrated with its fundamental premise.

These two things—science and romance—do overlap badly in the love triangle, however.  We’ll move past the fact that there is a love triangle at all, and that Marguerite has wild flights of fancy switching between loving and hating her parents’ two hunky research assistants, which often seem to be based on Marguerite’s poor ability to interpret the English language and thus choosing to be offended by things that were clearly never meant as insults.

The real problem is the age difference between Marguerite (apparently a high school senior, so about eighteen years old) and these two men.  Fine, Paul is a science genius and started a physics PhD program at the young age of seventeen.  He’s a little older than Marguerite.  But what about Theo?  The book claims he’s about three years older than Marguerite, which is impossible, since he is explicitly not also a science genius.  The (normal) youngest age to enter a PhD program is twenty-two.  However, even if Theo had entered at that age, directly after earning his BA (which is certainly not always the case in PhD programs these days), Theo is not a first-year student.  He is working on his dissertation, which means he’s a few years into the program.  At the youngest, I’d guess he has to be twenty-five.  And, frankly, I have no idea why someone that age would be hitting on a high schooler.

On a few other technical levels, the book doesn’t take much time to note that Marguerite’s parents, theoretical physicists, would probably not be the type of people to build a machine that jumps dimensions.  Gray notes that theoretical physics “usually” involves mathematical equations, which is true, but never offers a particular explanation for why Marguerite’s parents are building the machines they have theorized by themselves—instead of teaming up with an engineer, who would actually have the training to do something like this.  Maybe the readers are just supposed to go with it, under the assumption the two are brilliant and can work in multiple fields of science by themselves.

However, it is difficult for me to believe that Marguerite’s parents are so intelligent when the book skims over anything that would require too much of a scientific explanation.  Someone throws out the world “correlate” once and Marguerite flips out about how complex and jargon-y the conversation has become.  When something really hard to explain comes up (because this is science fiction and no one has actually made a way to jump through dimensions and track other people’s subatomic particle traces through those dimensions), the characters just say something about how it’s too complicated to elucidate and move on with the plot.  I do understand that this is a young adult novel, so the target audience, on average, isn’t coming to it with a background in higher physics—but it’s still depressing to see the idea of correlation presented as the most complex scientific concept in this book.  I can take more rigor from my science fiction, I promise.

There are also a few things about the imagined science that fail to make sense.  The general idea is that Marguerite can jump to any dimension where that version of her parents have met and had kids.  The general rule seems to be that the family structure is the same: Marguerite’s older sister Josie, Marguerite, and maybe some extra siblings that do not exist in the original dimension.  …Until Marguerite jumps to a dimension where she exists but Josie does not.  I really thought it wasn’t possible to “skip” a child in that way, but maybe it is?

Disgruntlement with the science aside, I did find it incredibly fun to jump through worlds with Marguerite and experience different ways of life.  She generally seemed to enjoy the dimensions that were most similar to her own, but the more exotic locations will probably be the favorites of readers.  I also enjoyed the hints of a discussion about whether her jumping into and “taking over” other versions of herself is ethical, though it was never discussed at length.

The romance, once it (mostly) gets over being an awkwardly constructed love triangle, is also quite sweet.  Things get more complicated if you’re not sure which version of you is falling in love with which version of another person, but Gray adds in enough optimistic lines about destiny and falling in love with the same person no matter where they are that things seem pretty romantic fate-filled.  I would have loved to see more sweet moments, since Gray writes them so well, but those may be coming in the following books.

I gave A Thousand Pieces of You three stars on Goodreads.  The book, basically, is okay.  The romantic elements are often beautiful and Gray does bring readers on an imaginative multi-dimensional ride.  These positive aspects are counterbalanced by the wishy-washy science and unrealistic portrayal of grad school.  I admit my frustration may arise from the fact I am very close friends with a group of physics PhD students and have picked up enough to share some of their frustration with ill-designed fictional science.  Others readers will probably not share my frustration.  However, I do, in general, enjoy harder science fiction more than light science fiction, which is really what this is.

The Boyfriend App by Katie Sise

The Boyfriend AppInformation

Goodreads: The Boyfriend App
Series: None
Source: Purchased
Published: April 30, 2013

Official Summary

In The Boyfriend App by Katie Sise, super-smart, somewhat geeky Audrey McCarthy can’t wait to get out of high school. Her father’s death and the transformation of her one-time BFF, Blake Dawkins, into her worst nightmare have her longing for the new start college will bring.

But college takes money. So Audrey decides she has to win the competition for the best app designed by a high schooler—and the $200,000 that comes with it. She develops something she calls the Boyfriend App, and suddenly she’s the talk of the school and getting kissed by the hottest boys around. But can the Boyfriend App bring Audrey true love?


This review includes SPOILERS.  If, because of this, you would like to pass on reading it, please know that I cannot recommend this book because I believe it sheds a positive light on rape.


When I first heard of The Boyfriend App, I thought “techy chick lit,” and I was interested in seeing how that played out, to see if someone could write a YA book that was smart but also modern and sassy.  In short, the concept has a world of potential.

The product did not live up to it.  I actually have a few complaints about The Boyfriend App. First, the writing is choppy and sporadic.  Sise will often be describing a scene, only to take a break to make a random observation, usually about a character’s appearance.  Nothing is more anticlimactic than reading about an interesting conversation or exploit, only for it be interrupted for a completely irrelevant notice that some character is wearing glasses or has a tattoo.

Second, the technological aspects are not handled well. Audrey is apparently a computer science genius and hacker extraordinaire, but I got that sense mostly from the narrative voice hammering it into my brain, not from the story itself.  Sure, Audrey does some pretty techy stuff (like designing an app!), but the actual actions come so easily and quickly to her that they seem more like magic than real accomplishments.  On the other end of the spectrum, Sise throws in some technological explanations for the enlightenment of her readers, but they are incredibly basic.  I do not code at all.  I cannot make a computer program or an app, and I could not hack into a completely unprotected program—yet almost nothing that was explained to me in this book was new to me.  Sise’s intended audience, teenagers, has grown up on technology unlike any other generation.  I imagine many of them will find Sise’s explanations rather basic, as well, and I wish she would have delved a little deeper.

Third, I was disoriented by The Boyfriend App because, going into it, I assumed it was supposed to be a realistic contemporary novel.  Reading it, I found it to be closer to some type of contemporary daydream.  This is fine, except I have no idea whether Sise intended it to smack a bit of fantasy, or if she is just very disconnected from how high schools work. For instance, once the Boyfriend App starts gaining national popularity, Audrey becomes an instant celebrity.  When she goes to school the next morning, dozens of students are waiting outside for her arrival, chanting her name, maybe even waving signs (I don’t remember).  The point is…the other students are acting as if Audrey is Jennifer Lawrence or something, which would never happen in a real high school.  Halfway through the book, I sincerely suspected that Audrey was going to wake up at the end and realize she had dreamed the entire thing.

However, all these faults pale in comparison with the fact that book shines a positive light on rape.  I can only assume it does so unintentionally, but this book got through a lot of people—the author, test readers, an agent, editors and a publisher—and no one found it problematic.  That in itself is problematic to me.

Audrey creates two versions of the Boyfriend App in the book.  The first bears similarities to a mobile dating site.  Users fill out a personality questionnaire, and then the app finds potential romantic matches.  When a girl is within 100 yards of a match, she gets a notification from her phone telling her the name and location of her match.  She can then decide to approach him, or pass.  (The app is also supposed to work for girls seeking girls and guys seeking guys, and who gets the notification in these cases is never explained.)  This is slightly stalkerish, in my opinion, but both parties signed up for the app knowing how it works, so power to them.

The real problem is the Boyfriend App 2.0.  Audrey hacks into the app contest’s host company’s system and discovers they are using inaudible sound waves to persuade their products’ users to buy even more of their products.  Audrey modifies this technology and creates an app with which girls can point their phones at an intended target and force them to lust after them—then act on their lust.  That’s right; girls can use their phones to force guys to hug them, kiss them, grope them, and presumably go farther (though the book is kept PG-13 and no intercourse is mentioned).

No one in the book has a problem with this.  Not Audrey, or her friends, or the male victims, or any news sources or government agencies who release articles about Audrey and her app.  In fact, the moral issue of the story is framed to be Audrey’s hacking and theft of the sound wave technology.  People are more concerned that Audrey stole the technology that enables rape, than they are that she is enabling rape.  (Incidentally, no one seems overly concerned that the same technology is being used by a large corporation to force people to buy their products either.)

I do not dismiss many books on moral grounds.  I enjoy a number of stories that include or even encourage actions I object to, and I like a lot of books that go so far as to directly attack my personal beliefs.  However, I found the attitude towards rape in The Boyfriend App absolutely appalling, and I am frankly surprised that so few other readers/reviewers have objected to it.  I am disgusted and offended, and I am sure public reaction to this story would be entirely different if it included a “Girlfriend App” that allowed guys to force girls to hook up with them.  I would not in good conscience recommend this book to anyone.

Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis

Not a Drop to DrinkInformation

Goodreads: Not a Drop to Drink
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: September 24, 2013

Official Summary

Lynn knows every threat to her pond: drought, a snowless winter, coyotes, and, most importantly, people looking for a drink. She makes sure anyone who comes near the pond leaves thirsty, or doesn’t leave at all.

Confident in her own abilities, Lynn has no use for the world beyond the nearby fields and forest. Having a life means dedicating it to survival, and the constant work of gathering wood and water. Having a pond requires the fortitude to protect it, something Mother taught her well during their quiet hours on the rooftop, rifles in hand.

But wisps of smoke on the horizon mean one thing: strangers. The mysterious footprints by the pond, nighttime threats, and gunshots make it all too clear Lynn has exactly what they want, and they won’t stop until they get it….


Mindy McGinnis builds a harsh, barren world in her post-apocalyptic novel Not a Drop to Drink.  Lynn and her mother live alone, guarding their pond with their guns.  They have nothing but each other—no other family, no friends, and no purpose besides protecting the water so they can live another day.  Somewhat unusually for a book of this genre, they appear to have no hope for the future either.  They never think that somewhere there are people who are living better, or that one day they, or their grandchildren, will know a world where water is anything but scarce.  These characters are not fighting for any far-reaching cause.  They live on autopilot, surviving just to survive.  That makes them dangerous to trespassers, and incredibly intriguing to readers.

Lynn is not particularly emotional.  In part, she is flat because of her lifestyle.  For most of her life, she has known one person.  Her only education is the bits of poetry her mother, an English major in her past life, likes to quote.  She knows little besides lying on her roof with her rifle, shooting anyone who comes close enough for her to see.  Her only other tasks all focus on survival: gardening, hunting, chopping wood.  In some respects, Lynn and her mother are machines, looking only a few steps ahead, doing only what they must to live.  They have no time or need for sentiment.

Yet Lynn’s apparent callousness can make her almost immediately appealing as a character.  Perhaps she will not be likeable or relatable to many readers—but she is undeniably different.  She is a character readers will want to watch, just to see what she does next, just to see someone do things they can never imagine doing themselves.

Her emotional isolation also becomes thematically interesting, once some plot events lead her to begin experiencing character growth.  Lynn’s transformation from an unquestioning sniper to someone with a conscience suggests that a sense of morality is something innate to humans, not something socially constructed and taught.  This could be a great discussion topic for readers.

Lynn’s emotional barriers are a small downfall in regards to the novel’s romance, however.  While the romantic scenes are well-written, touching with a hint of swoon, the actual relationship Lynn experiences could have been more moving.  She meets a nice guy, no mistake—someone who is kind, hard-working, and apparently good-looking.  Unfortunately, readers are not given much a sense why the two characters are attracted to each other.  If given a guess, I would they bond simply because they are not acquainted with anyone else.

In contrast, the setting of the story is richly imagined—bleak with reminders of a ruined past.  It is incredibly effective.  The world-building is also generally well-done.  McGinnis offers a fairly complete timeline explaining how Lynn’s world came to be.  The only fact missing might be the most important: How, exactly, did the world come to lack fresh water?  Readers will never know.

Often, the mark of a great dystopian or post-apocalyptic world is its believability, the sense that something in our current world could lead it to become like the world in the book (ex. Obsession with  physical appearance could lead us to a world like Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies).  Personally, I am not aware of any worries over the Earth’s water supply, and Not a Drop to Drink does not introduce me to any, so the novel fails that test.  The execution of McGinnis’s idea seems plausible, but its cause is nowhere to be found.  I am not afraid of my future looking like Lynn’s reality.

The plot may not be exciting (this is no war novel, no epic dystopian battle against a corrupt government), but it is very satisfying, and it tends to move along at a nice pace.  Readers are unlikely to feel stuck, even though the action occurs within a very limited area.  Ironically, however, the weakest part of the novel may be the climax.  Things get crazier—but the feel does not match the rest of the book.  Also, the wrong characters die; other characters would have been a greater loss, from a literary standpoint.  The epilogue is worse, as it is unintentionally bland.  I did not feel that anything had concluded, or changed much even though it was clear things had.  On Goodreads, I docked a star from my rating primarily because of the ending.

Yet overall Not a Drop to Drink is a good read—tightly written, carefully planned, and just incredibly interesting.  In a world beginning to fill with post-apocalyptic literature, it feels original.  Recommended to fans of the genre and those looking for stark, realistic settings.

Content Note: Implied rape.

The Selection by Kiera Cass

The SelectionInformation

Goodreads: The Selection
Series: The Selection #1
Source: Library
Published: 2012


America Singer has her life planned out: she will marry her first love, Aspen, and the two will work together as Sixes, servants, to raise their family. But then America is chosen for the Selection, the television competition in which Prince Maxon will pick his future bride.  Now she must decide between two men and two castes.  If she chooses to compete again thirty-four other women, she has the chance of a lifetime, to become a One and change the corrupted politics of her war-torn nation.


My feelings about The Selection are pretty mixed and fluctuated rapidly during my reading of the novel.  Until about page 100, I was tempted to DNF and understood why many readers have.  The writing, to put it not so politely, is painful.  The sentences are short and choppy and an inordinate amount of them being with “and.”  Their content does not fare much better, as they contain protagonist America’s flighty and often selfish thoughts.  In my notes, I pegged America in the first several chapters as “whiny” and “prone to panicking over nothing.” Although my assessment of her character does not change completely now that I have finished the book (and also the sequel The Elite), she does improve.  After page 100, she begins to mature a little and even the prose reflects that.  I was ultimately able to enjoy the novel as something of a guilty pleasure, crooning as America does over the luxurious lifestyles of the Ones and swooning a bit over guys.

And make no mistake: the dresses and the guys are what these books are all about.  Marketing has pegged the series as a mix of romance and dystopia, but unless one is willing to call a society dystopian based primarily on the existence of a caste system, there is not much to panic about in The Selection.  Yes, things are bad: people are poorly paid and often starving, social mobility is close to impossible, rebels keep attacking the palace, and a war has been raging internationally forever.  The thing is, however, no one seems too worried.  If the characters themselves seem to accept this all as a fact of life, are not too concerned about the draft or the rebels or their chances of dying, I find no reason I, outside the world entirely, should be.  America and all her friends (enemies?  frenemies?) in the Selection are all having catfights over who has the best dress and who most often makes out with the prince.  The focus on them and their  shallow concerns makes it difficult to believe the country has real problems. (It is possible this is intentional, that the Ones are attempting to distract the masses from their problems by offering bread and circuses, but this possibility does not get played up.)

America’s biggest problem, of course, is supposedly which guy to choose.  Her options are friend and longtime boyfriend Aspen, whom she was prepared to marry just days before being chosen for the Selection, and Prince Maxon, whom of course she has never met before the competition.  A reader might suspect Aspen has the advantage in this little love triangle, but the reader would be wrong.  Aspen barely makes an appearance after the beginning of the book and America spends her days fighting thirty-four other women for Maxon’s affections.  This does not, however, stop America from believing Aspen is a factor, and apparently she is going to spend three books changing her mind every few chapters about which boy she loves, with no apparent provocation swaying her one way or the other.  America is nothing if not a bit flighty.  While I found her antics and concerns amusing and even bordering on interesting in The Selection, I began to tire of them in The Elite.

Is it even worth America agonizing over the decision?  It is difficult to say.  Aspen seems like a solid guy and America spends a lot of time outlining how much he cares for his family, how dependable he is, how smart he is.  The reader, however, might also take note that he is proud and potentially sexist.  He is ready to break up with America at the first sign she is providing for him, instead of letting him provide for her.  Maxon is more of an enigma, unfolding as the book progresses.  He creepily refers to everyone as “dear” and, of course, sees no problem in dating dozens of girls at the same time, but he does have some good qualities, including kindness and honesty.  At the end of The Selection, I am Team Neither of Them But Leaning Towards Aspen, but that could change as the series progresses.

Despite the negative tone of this review, I am continuing the series.  As mentioned above, I have already read The Elite at the time I am writing this.  The Selection has a number of faults, which become more obvious the more I think about the book.  It turns out it is remarkably easy to make fun of the writing, the plot, the characters…everything.  However, if a reader is in the right mood, looking to settle down to a bit of fluffy reading about girls in ball gowns gossiping about guys, The Selection can be a lot of fun.  I would not actually recommend this to anyone I know to read because I have a large mental list of better books to recommend, but I will not refrain from admitting I got a bit of enjoyment out of it.

Content Note: Minor swearing.  Oblique references to sex.

Hallowed by Cynthia Hand

HallowedGoodreads: Hallowed
Series: Unearthly #2
Source: Purchased

Official Summary: For months Clara Gardner trained to face the fire from her visions, but she wasn’t prepared for the choice she had to make that day. And in the aftermath, she discovered that nothing about being part angel is as straightforward as she thought

Now, torn between her love for Tucker and her complicated feelings about the roles she and Christian seem destined to play in a world that is both dangerous and beautiful, Clara struggles with a shocking revelation: Someone she loves will die in a matter of months. With her future uncertain, the only thing Clara knows for sure is that the fire was just the beginning.

In this compelling sequel to Unearthly, Cynthia Hand captures the joy of first love, the anguish of loss, and the confusion of becoming who you are.


[Spoilers for the first book in the series, Unearthly]

Unearthly captivated me with its strong plot, real romance, and beautiful depiction of angels.  At the time I wrote my review, I called it “the best paranormal romance I have read.”  Unfortunately, Hallowed floundered and failed to live up to the expectations Hand had built for me.  In the acknowledgements she writes that “This book was like riding a bucking bronco to write,” and I am unconvinced that she managed to get it completely under control.

At the beginning, the writing itself is somewhat rocky—and this was the first aspect of the novel I thought of when I read Hand’s statement.  She appears to have had some difficulty getting back into the swing of writing. Clara’s voice does not sound real to me here, and she seems painfully awkward even interacting with close friends, making a number of flat jokes that I do not remember being part of her personality from Unearthly.  Things eventually get smoothed out, but I had to power through several hundred pages to see it happen.

There is also something of a dearth of plot.  At the end of Unearthly, Clara believes she has been unsuccessful in fulfilling her purpose.  In Hallowed, she mopes about it.  This is a very contemplative and explanatory novel, rather than an action-filled one.  Clara essentially walks around pondering whether she did fail in her purpose, what that means, what she should do about it, etc.  These are all important questions, but the exploration could be a little more interesting.  The book seems to be in as much of a rut as Clara.  If she did miss her purpose, well what?  Is that just it?  Life goes on?  Ok.

The romance is almost worse. The love triangle is taken to such an extreme that Clara has few romantic moments with either Tucker or Christian.  Mostly, she agonizes.  She wonders whether she should be with one or the other, who she is supposed to love.  This feels very author-contrived to me, a ploy to make the “suspense” last throughout the trilogy.  Personally, I would have loved to see more of why Clara likes either boy.  Christian does get a few more chances to prove his worth here, but there is still the idea of his being Clara’s purpose that makes the romance ring a little false, at least to me.  If Clara does end up with Christian, she needs to fall in love with him a little more in Boundless, and not just with the idea of him.

Essentially, I found Hallowed very slow.  In many places, it was just filling in necessary information about the world of angels or being actual filler to tide readers over until the third book.  I was dying to read Hallowed after I finished Unearthly.  Right now, I feel I can wait for the paperback of Boundless.  A fine book, but not a gripping one.

Has the series changed?  Or have my personal reading tastes changed?  Let me know what you thought of Hallowed in the comments!

Published:  January 2012