Roxy by Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman (ARC Review)

Information

Goodreads: Roxy
Series: None
Age Category: Young Adult
Source: Giveaway – Goodreads
Publication Date: November 9, 2021

Official Summary

The freeway is coming.

It will cut the neighborhood in two. Construction has already started, pushing toward this corridor of condemned houses and cracked concrete with the momentum of the inevitable. Yet there you are, in the fifth house on the left, fighting for your life.

Ramey, I.

The victim of the bet between two manufactured gods: the seductive and lethal Roxy (Oxycontin), who is at the top of her game, and the smart, high-achieving Addison (Adderall), who is tired of being the helpful one, and longs for a more dangerous, less wholesome image. The wager—a contest to see who can bring their mark to “the Party” first—is a race to the bottom of a rave that has raged since the beginning of time. And you are only human, dazzled by the lights and music. Drawn by what the drugs offer—tempted to take that step past helpful to harmful…and the troubled places that lie beyond.

But there are two I. Rameys—Isaac, a soccer player thrown into Roxy’s orbit by a bad fall and a bad doctor and Ivy, his older sister, whose increasing frustration with her untreated ADHD leads her to renew her acquaintance with Addy.

Which one are you?

Star Divider

Review

Roxy, being an exploration of the opioid crisis, is one of those books where the reviews are going to be dominated by discussion of the message of the book, rather than discussion of the story. Already on Goodreads, before the book’s release, one can see reviews ranging from “It’s against drug abuse, so 5 stars!” to “It doesn’t mirror my experience with drugs, so 1 star!” I thought long and hard about whether the book even is trying to tell a story, or just send teen readers a message, and I ultimately I had to conclude that the story just isn’t quite there. The book is interesting and experimental in some ways, but the plot and characters are completely secondary to the commentary on drugs, which is disappointing.

The choice to personify drugs is interesting. There are the main ones, Roxy and Addison, but Shusterman and Shusterman add references to nearly every drug you can think of and even gives some of them their own “interludes” in the book so you can see them as “people.” On one hand, this is extremely allegorical. And allegory is something today’s readers often make fun of, like, “Ha ha, look as those ridiculous medieval writers personifying Fortitude and Charity.” But maybe it’s cool to readers when the allegorical is about drugs.

Personifying them, however, means the drugs aren’t necessarily represented as all bad because they’re “people” with strengths, weaknesses, flaws, hopes, dreams, doubts. I’m sure that makes sense in terms of representing why people do drugs (they seem appealing for whatever reasons), but I imagine readers wanting a very, very strong “these drugs are bad and you certainly should not do them and become addicted” message might think it’s undermined by making the drugs seem occasionally like kind of nice people who make good points about things.

Now, ostensibly, the main characters of the book aren’t just the drugs; there’s also siblings Isaac and Ivy. Isaac is a smart, well-behaved kid who gets his hands on Roxy after busting his ankle, while Ivy is a party girl with a drug dealing boyfriend who can only get back on track once she starts hanging with Addison again. Part of the “hook” of the story is supposed to be having the readers guess which of the two becomes a complete victim of their drug of choice, but there was never any mystery for me, and I felt no suspense in the book. I also just wasn’t too invested in either of their lives, since it all just seemed like a vehicle to pontificate on drugs.

Some of the most interesting commentary in the book, simply because it’s subtle and not spelled out like everything else, is what on earth’s going on with Isaac and Ivy’s parents, letting both their kids get addicted to drugs. The parents are in a weird space where they’re sort of present in their kids’ lives but seem bad at actually . . . parenting. Like they yell at Ivy for sneaking out and having a terrible sketchy boyfriend, but their “parenting” is just arguing with her and not actually solving anything. There’s possibly some cautionary tale for parents in here.

So, Roxy has an interesting premise. I’m not sure it does what readers will want it to do which is BOTH tell a good story and suggest to teens that while drugs might seem alluring and it’s possible for anyone, not just “bad” kids, to become addicted, they should really avoid drugs. However, the story itself is just really buried under the message, and the fact that the personified drugs don’t really seem that bad means any anti-drug message is not necessarily as strong as it could be.

Briana
3 Stars

Take Me Home Tonight by Morgan Matson

Take Me Home Tonight

Information

Goodreads: Take Me Home Tonight
Series: None
Source: Purchased
Published: May 4, 2021

Official Summary

Two girls. One night. Zero phones.

Kat and Stevie—best friends, theater kids, polar opposites—have snuck away from the suburbs to spend a night in New York City. They have it all planned out. They’ll see a play, eat at the city’s hottest restaurant, and have the best. Night. Ever. What could go wrong?

Well. Kind of a lot?

They’re barely off the train before they’re dealing with destroyed phones, family drama, and unexpected Pomeranians. Over the next few hours, they’ll have to grapple with old flames, terrible theater, and unhelpful cab drivers. But there are also cute boys to kiss, parties to crash, dry cleaning to deliver (don’t ask), and the world’s best museum to explore.

Over the course of a wild night in the city that never sleeps, both Kat and Stevie will get a wake-up call about their friendship, their choices…and finally discover what they really want for their future.

That is, assuming they can make it to Grand Central before the clock strikes midnight.

Review

I’ve loved all of Morgan Matson’s novels since I read Save the Date and then went on to read most of her backlist, so of course I was thrilled to see she released a new book this year: this one set mostly in NYC, though the characters are still from Matson’s fictional town of Stanwich, CT. I was pleased to find another quick and fun read that features sharply drawn characters with both good features and flaws who need to navigate their relationships with each other and with themselves while, incidentally, having the time of their lives.

While most of Matson’s work blends realism with a bit of fantasy/daydream, in the sense that her characters tend to be privileged rich kids who have wild things happen to them that would be unlikely in real life, Take Me Home Tonight leans into that fantasy a bit more than her past books. The fact that the entire story takes place in only one night and there are three characters who have unexpected adventures means that A LOT happens, and of course most of it is quite absurd, ranging from runaway dogs to invitations to glamorous parties. Personally, I prefer Matson’s stories that are a bit more grounded, but going all in on the crazy adventures and ridiculous happenstances for just one novel was pretty fun. The characters certainly seem to accomplish more in one night in NYC than I ever have in one day!

Behind the adventures, there’s the framework that Kat and Stevie are best friends, and they are both in the Stanwich High theatre program, which apparently is incredibly intense and requires that you spend every day at practice and audition to be involved with every show; if you don’t, you’re cut. So the story delves into both characters’ relationship with acting and the intensive of the program, as well as into their friendship with each other and their relationships with their families. So even while the plot is going wild and bizarre thing after thing is happening to them, readers get to know Kat and Stevie, what their hopes and dreams are, what makes them tick, what makes them friends, what makes them annoyed with each other even though they are friends. And, of course, in many ways these are the truly magical parts of the book.

There’s also a completely separate narrative about what happens to their other friend Teri, who is back in CT. (Which explains the inside of the book jacket for the hardcover, which is basically designed like the jacket for a completely different novel and was very confusing to me before I figured out there was a narrative about Teri.) I have to admit I think this one jumps off the deep end a bit, though. It was entertaining, and while of course everything in the book is over-the-top this is just . . . more so. I don’t hate it, but I think the novel could have done without it.

In general, however, this is a great book. If you like Matson’s books, it’s a no brainer to pick this one up, as well. If you haven’t read any of her books yet but like contemporary novels with fast-paced plots, complex characters, great girl friendships, and family relationships, check this out.

Briana
4 stars

The Infinity Courts by Akemi Dawn Bowman (ARC Review)

The Inifity Courts

Information

Goodreads: The Infinity Courts
Series: The Infinity Courts #1
Source: ARC from the publisher
Publication Date: April 6, 2021

Official Summary

Eighteen-year-old Nami Miyamoto is certain her life is just beginning. She has a great family, just graduated high school, and is on her way to a party where her entire class is waiting for her—including, most importantly, the boy she’s been in love with for years.

The only problem? She’s murdered before she gets there.

When Nami wakes up, she learns she’s in a place called Infinity, where human consciousness goes when physical bodies die. She quickly discovers that Ophelia, a virtual assistant widely used by humans on Earth, has taken over the afterlife and is now posing as a queen, forcing humans into servitude the way she’d been forced to serve in the real world. Even worse, Ophelia is inching closer and closer to accomplishing her grand plans of eradicating human existence once and for all.

As Nami works with a team of rebels to bring down Ophelia and save the humans under her imprisonment, she is forced to reckon with her past, her future, and what it is that truly makes us human.
From award-winning author Akemi Dawn Bowman comes an incisive, action-packed tale that explores big questions about technology, grief, love, and humanity.

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Review

Spoiler-free.

The Infinity Courts is a spellbinding story about death, family, and fighting for what you believe it is right. While books about artificial intelligence and questions about what it means to be “real” and whether it’s wrong to hurt or kill an AI have obviously been done before, Bowman brings heart and creativity to the questions and lets readers seem them through the eyes of protagonist Nami. Readers will be as torn as she is, wondering if humans and an out-of-control AI can learn to coexist and what it means ethically to decide they cannot. The result is a captivating book that will have readers glued to the pages for the plot even as they ponder some of the big questions of life. (Or, er, of death?)

Personally, I tend to struggle with books that depict some version of the afterlife because I never quite connect with the author’s vision of it, but the fact that Bowman’s version (Infinity) is so far outside the bounds of how I’d ever imagine an afterlife was an advantage here. Seeing the afterlife portrayed almost like a fantasy dystopia (rather than a religious or philosophical place where one needs to come to term with one’s actions on Earth) allowed me to focus on the points Bowman – and Nami – make about human nature and our desires. For instance, upon finding that Infinity isn’t quite what she would have imagined either, Nami becomes invested in making the afterlife a better place, somewhere she hopes her younger sister can one day come to and be happy, rather than a place she should fear. It also forces Nami to ask tough questions about what it means if there is no heaven and hell, if the “good” are not separated from the “bad.”

The plot and world building all also excellent. Bowman hints at, well, an infinity world with myriad landscapes and tons of residents while focusing the story on Nami and her found family and their efforts to save humans from the evil schemes of the AI. She paints vivid scenes of both opulence and pain and walks readers, along with Nami, through all of them. I couldn’t wait to wait out what Nami would do or where she would go next, and I know there’s still so much to discover about this world and everyone’s powers in it.

This is all grounded in Nami, who chafes at the idea of being a hero, or someone strong, even though her death – the very reason she is in Infinity – can be characterized as heroic. Even as she seeks to become physically and mentally stronger, I appreciated that her biggest strengths were always her kindness and her ability to imagine a better world. While the other humans have been in Infinity long enough to become tired and disillusioned, Nami always hopes she can find a different way to bring happiness to everyone.

The Infinity Courts is a standout YA novel. I can’t wait to finish reading the series, and I would unreservedly recommend this to anyone.

Briana
5 stars

The Polar Bear Explorers Club: The Forbidden Expedition by Alex Bell

Information

Goodreads: The Forbidden Expedition
Series: The Polar Bear Explorers Club #2
Source: Library
Published: November 1 2019 (USA)

Official Summary

Stella and the gang travel to Witch Mountain to save Felix and what they find along the way could change the course of their adventures forever in this second novel in the whimsical Polar Bear Explorers’ Club series.

Stella Starflake Pearl has been eagerly awaiting her next adventure, ever since she and Felix returned from the Snowy Icelands. She fears, however, that she might never be sent on another expedition, especially since the president of the Polar Bear Explorers’ Club himself is afraid of her ice princess powers. But when disaster strikes and Felix is snatched by a fearsome witch, Stella and the rest of the junior explorers—including a reluctant new ally from the Jungle Cat Explorers’ Club—must set off into the unknown on a forbidden journey to the top of Witch Mountain.

What awaits them there is a mystery. The only thing they know is this: No one ever returns from Witch Mountain.

In the second installment of Alex Bell’s magical The Polar Bear Explorers’ Club series, Stella and the gang face villainous vultures, terrifying witch wolves, flying sharks, and eerie picnicking teddy bears on their daring quest to save one of their own. 

Star Divider

Review

The Forbidden Expedition is a worthy sequel to the first Polar Bear Explorers Club book, featuring favorite characters, quirky adventures with a hint of danger, and entertaining plot twists.  If you’re looking for a good middle grade fantasy series with fun quests and lots of imagination, these might be the books for you.

I enjoyed the first installment immensely (Krysta did not, and you can read her review here), and my assessment of The Forbidden Expedition is nearly the same. The premises are actually somewhat similar, in that protagonist Stella and company go on a journey in icy unexplored territory that many people think they should not go on because it’s too dangerous.  This book, however, introduces witches, which were not prominent in book one.

Spoilers for Book One in This Paragraph: The theme of discrimination is also still present, though the focus has shifted.  In book one, Stella faces pushback for being a girl who wants to join the Polar Bear Explorers Club—which is simply not allowed.  In this book, she is somewhat begrudgingly accepted, and most of the explorers’ clubs are now allowing female members, but she begins facing bigotry because it has been revealed she is actually a snow princess—and all snow princesses are supposed to be evil and grow into cruel ice queens.  Facing discrimination does help Stella confront some of her own biases, and of course this is an important theme, but part of me also hope that every single book in the series won’t be about some newly revealed reason that other characters unfairly hate Stella.

Overall, however, this is a fun, imaginative adventure.  I love seeing more of the world Alex Bel has created, though part of me also hopes that other parts of it will be explored in future.  (I get it. The character explore the Icelands because the series is the “Polar Bear Explorers Club,” but there are such tantalizing hints about the other clubs and climates that I want to know more.  Spin-off series, anyone?)  There are clichés in the books, and they aren’t perfect, but I am definitely going to keep reading.

Briana
4 stars

Songs from the Deep by Kelly Powell (ARC Review)

Songs from the Deep

Information

Goodreads: Songs from the Deep
Series: None
Source: BookCon
Publication Date: November 5, 2019

Official Summary

A girl searches for a killer on an island where deadly sirens lurk just beneath the waves in this gripping, atmospheric debut novel.

The sea holds many secrets.

Moira Alexander has always been fascinated by the deadly sirens who lurk along the shores of her island town. Even though their haunting songs can lure anyone to a swift and watery grave, she gets as close to them as she can, playing her violin on the edge of the enchanted sea. When a young boy is found dead on the beach, the islanders assume that he’s one of the sirens’ victims. Moira isn’t so sure.

Certain that someone has framed the boy’s death as a siren attack, Moira convinces her childhood friend, the lighthouse keeper Jude Osric, to help her find the real killer, rekindling their friendship in the process. With townspeople itching to hunt the sirens down, and their own secrets threatening to unravel their fragile new alliance, Moira and Jude must race against time to stop the killer before it’s too late—for humans and sirens alike.

Star Divider

Review

I was tempted to DNF Songs from the Deep for a large portion of the book, and in fact only finished reading it because it was still in my bag at a point in time I needed something to read and had nothing else with me.  The book is, frankly, nothing exemplary, and from the prose to the characters to the general plot sounded exactly like dozens of mid-list YA novels I might have pulled off the shelf in 2012.  In a YA market that is so robust and has recently released incredible books like Six of Crows and Stepsister and Echo NorthSongs from the Deep is surprisingly generic.

The book starts out predictably: a girl whose father has died and who has a distant relationship with her mother rekindles her friendship with the handsome lighthouse keeper, whose parents are, of course, also dead.  The two used to be friends but are no longer (for reasons the protagonist/character refuse to reveal in a poor attempt to maintain some suspense), but they are thrown together by a mysterious death.  The town blames sirens. The protagonist, of course, loves sirens, is the daughter of a local expert on sirens, and sees the beauty in these dangerous creatures when few others do.  She knows the sirens didn’t do it.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, but so many of the big picture plot pieces and the details are simply not new elements in YA.  The book’s only grip on me was, once I had made it about 50% of the way through the book, I sort of wanted to finish to wrap up the mystery of the murder.  The problem is: I had predicted the murderer from the start, and I ended up being right.  There’s foreshadowing and clues and there’s just…a very obvious mystery.

The book also suffers from lack of logic, one of my biggest pet peeves.  I don’t expect characters to act 100% rationally 100% of the time, but I can’t stand when they do obviously stupid things that I can’t imagine making sense to anyone…and the author/narrative voice gives the sense that it’s normal and they’re not behaving illogically at all.  My biggest example of this would be a spoiler for the book, but overall it’s surprising that the main characters themselves weren’t murdered for the way they handled their amateur investigation.

Sirens are cool.  Stories in small towns by the sea always have a niche audience.  I just didn’t enjoy this one at all.

2 star reviewBriana

The Lady Rogue by Jenn Bennett (ARC Review)

The Lady Rogue

Information

Goodreads: The Lady Rogue
Series: None
Source: BookCon
Publication Date: September 3, 2019

Official Summary

The Last Magician meets A Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue in this thrilling tale filled with magic and set in the mysterious Carpathian Mountains where a girl must hunt down Vlad the Impaler’s cursed ring in order to save her father.

Some legends never die…

Traveling with her treasure-hunting father has always been a dream for Theodora. She’s read every book in his library, has an impressive knowledge of the world’s most sought-after relics, and has all the ambition in the world. What she doesn’t have is her father’s permission. That honor goes to her father’s nineteen-year-old protégé—and once-upon-a-time love of Theodora’s life—Huck Gallagher, while Theodora is left to sit alone in her hotel in Istanbul.

Until Huck arrives from an expedition without her father and enlists Theodora’s help in rescuing him. Armed with her father’s travel journal, the reluctant duo learns that her father had been digging up information on a legendary and magical ring that once belonged to Vlad the Impaler—more widely known as Dracula—and that it just might be the key to finding him.

Journeying into Romania, Theodora and Huck embark on a captivating adventure through Gothic villages and dark castles in the misty Carpathian Mountains to recover the notorious ring. But they aren’t the only ones who are searching for it. A secretive and dangerous occult society with a powerful link to Vlad the Impaler himself is hunting for it, too. And they will go to any lengths—including murder—to possess it.

Star Divider

Review

The Lady Rogue takes readers racing headlong on an adventure through Romania as the protagonist attempts to find her missing adventurer father and to figure out the mystery of a ring that was supposed to have belonged to Vlad the Impaler.  While I read this book breathlessly over a couple of days, dying to know what would happen next, I do think “excitement” is its biggest selling point.  Indeed, the book was often almost overly dramatic, a tactic that kept me interested but also tempts to me to classify the novel as fun pulp rather than particularly insightful or thought-provoking writing.

The book absolutely hinges on the atmosphere of Romania (though I frequently wonder whether the inhabitants appreciate its reputation for being a creepy place) and on the protagonist’s interest in the occult.  Bennett really manages to make the book dark, even as the characters engage in banter and some levity, as she explores various spells, dark magic, enchanted animals, etc.  If you’re not a fan of the occult, this really is not the book for you.

I wish the time of the setting had been approached with similar care, however.  I have a bad habit of skipping headers (place, date, etc.) in journal entries in books, which means that I spent a quarter of the novel desperately wondering when The Lady Rogue was supposed to be taking place.  I figured it was not modern day, despite the protagonist’s bad habit of using language that would fit right into 2019, but besides the general idea it was “old timey…ish,” I had absolutely no idea.  I only figured out the book is set in the 1930’s when I remembered the journal entries and checked.  Literally nothing about this book says 1930’s to me, and I think it’s a huge flaw.  In fact, I’m not sure why Bennett did not just make it modern, besides wanting to take advantage of train travel instead of cars or Uber or whatever.

Still, I was interested.  The book is certainly a page turner.  I do think it was rather over-the-top and would have benefited from more subtlety.  Frankly, there were times I wasn’t certain whether I was excited or just wanted to roll my eyes at all the wild turns of events and all the overwrought prose to describe them.  There is definitely a dramatic tumble down a cliff complete with paragraphs full of “artistic” fragments to give the reader the experience of the protagonist’s descent.  (Though any drama in the scene is ultimately ruined when the protagonist declares she is “discombobulated” instead of “disoriented,” and this is unfortunately not the only place where odd word choice took me out of the story.)

If you want a fast-paced, crazy adventure focused on the occult, this is definitely the book for you.  It’s generally well-constructed (though this is a case where I can see the “seams,” the places where the author obviously thought things like “I’m going to give the character a characteristic thing they say” or whatever), and it’s gripping.  I see it as mainly entertainment, however, rather than a book with a lot of substance.

4 stars Briana

Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson

Since You've Been Gone

Information

Goodreads: Since You’ve Been Gone
Series: None
Source: Gift
Published: May 6, 2014

Official Summary

It was Sloane who yanked Emily out of her shell and made life 100% interesting. But right before what should have been the most epic summer, Sloane just…disappears. All she leaves behind is a to-do list.

On it, thirteen Sloane-inspired tasks that Emily would normally never try. But what if they could bring her best friend back?

Apple picking at night? Okay, easy enough.

Dance until dawn? Sure. Why not?

Kiss a stranger? Um…

Emily now has this unexpected summer, and the help of Frank Porter (totally unexpected), to check things off Sloane’s list. Who knows what she’ll find?

Go skinny-dipping? Wait…what?

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Review

Morgan Matson has a gift for writing books with wild premises but relatable characters that bring readers the best of two worlds: a story that’s both unattainable for many readers but will also make them feel right at home.  Since You’ve Been Gone, for instance, is the story of a teenage girl whose parents are famous playwrights whose best friend has mysteriously disappeared and leaves her a list of crazy things to do.  She makes more friends in the meantime, who are generally as rich and well-connected as she is (one friend’s parents are well-known architects).  Yet Morgan’s focusing of the story on friendship and her talent of simply making the characters human grounds it.  You forget you’re reading about privileged rich kids who have a life you’ll never have and who are having improbably adventures, and instead you just see their troubles with life, love, parents, etc., and it’s a glorious ride.

Protagonist Emily’s character arc is truly compelling, as she must learn to go from being known mainly as “Sloan’s best friend” to a person more in her own right who can envision having a larger friend group.  Matson is extremely thoughtful navigating this, showing Emily’s shyness and growth into more confidence without any judgement (too many books equate introversion with a character failing that must be overcome, and Matson avoids this.)  She also portrays her friendship with Sloan as something that is both beautiful and good, while still being something that allowed Emily to hide behind Sloan’s more outgoing nature.  And the characterization is all accomplished with small details that add up, such as Emily’s tendency to respond “Oh” when someone asks her something she wasn’t expecting or prepared to answer, as she’s used to Sloan taking the lead in conversations.

Emily is not perfect, however, but I love that the book doesn’t really tackle some of her more obvious moral failings.  The list Sloan gives her, for instance, includes instructions to break something and to steal something.  I know there’s a movement in YA right now to make sure YA books have good messages and that these are all explicitly stated within the narrative to make sure no one misses it…but I think teens are capable of dealing with more subtle writing, or even writing that presents characters doing something wrong and having not much come of it–because sometimes life works that way. So when Emily sets out to steal something, it’s part of her journey, and she knows it’s wrong and presumably readers know it’s wrong.  But there’s no moralizing and no scene where she gets her just desserts.  It’s something she does and gets away with.  And maybe years from now, off the pages of the book, she’ll think back on what she’s done, but I like that in Since You’ve Been Gone, she’s just living in moments as they happen.

I’ve only read Since You’ve Been Gone and Save the Date so far, but both are so well-written and thoughtful that I am a confirmed Matson fan, and I think she ought to be getting more recognition in the blog community.

5 stars Briana

Save the Date by Morgan Matson

Save the DateInformation

Goodreads: Save the Date
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: June 5, 2018

Official Summary

Charlie Grant’s older sister is getting married this weekend at their family home, and Charlie can’t wait for the first time in years, all four of her older siblings will be under one roof. Charlie is desperate for one last perfect weekend, before the house is sold and everything changes. The house will be filled with jokes and games and laughs again. Making decisions about things like what college to attend and reuniting with longstanding crush Jesse Foster all that can wait. She wants to focus on making the weekend perfect.

The only problem? The weekend is shaping up to be an absolute disaster. There’s the unexpected dog with a penchant for howling, house alarm that won’t stop going off, and a papergirl with a grudge.

There are the relatives who aren’t speaking, the (awful) girl her favorite brother brought home unannounced, and a missing tuxedo. Not to mention the neighbor who seems to be bent on sabotage and a storm that is bent on drenching everything. The justice of the peace is missing. The band will only play covers. The guests are all crazy. And the wedding planner’s nephew is unexpectedly, distractedly cute.

Over the course of three ridiculously chaotic days, Charlie will learn more than she ever expected about the family she thought she knew by heart. And she’ll realize that sometimes, trying to keep everything like it was in the past means missing out on the future.

Star Divider

Review

I picked up Save the Date because I saw it nominated for a bunch of end of the year book awards, and the idea of a wedding planning gone crazy sounded fun and cute.  The book was light and fully entertaining as catastrophe after catastrophe comes close to ruining Charlie’s older sister’s wedding, but the book also touches on  themes of family, friendship, and finding your way.

A wedding-themed book seems primed to be a romance, but Save the Date is actually mainly focused on Charlie’s relationship with her family. She’s the youngest of five siblings, and she’s the only one currently living at home (she’s just about to graduate from high school), so she’s excited to have everyone come together again for her sister’s Big Day, for everything to be just like it used to be.  I loved seeing the siblings interact with each other, and I think the family dynamics were just right.  Matson nails the fights that come with love and the idea that some siblings will be closer to each other than others, even though they’re all family.

The wedding-gone-wrong plot is fantastic, and it means there’s never a dull moment.  It also means things can be slightly predictable, as the reader can basically predict that anything that can go wrong will go wrong, but watching how it all plays out is the fun part.  (Especially because, you know, it’s not my wedding or a wedding I’m in any way responsible for that’s going all wrong.)

However, I also really enjoyed the subplot that Charlie’s mother writes a comic “loosely” based on their family, which has run for 25 years and is now coming to an end.  This raises a lot of interesting questions about how much art can mimic life, whether the mother is trying to “turn her children into the people she wishes they were” in the comic, etc.  I actually found I really sympathized with the brother who hates the comic and sees it as a total invasion of his privacy.  Charlie gets a pass for not seeing this mainly because she notes that the comic has been ongoing for basically her entire life, and she doesn’t have any conception of what life would be without it.  (She loves it, though.)

All this means there’s also a bit of glamour to the story, which is fun, too.  The mother is a famous comic strip creator.  The father is a respected professor.  Basically all the older kids have prestigious jobs.  One’s a venture capitalist, for instance.  These people are definitively rich.  It’s a world I’m not really familiar with, but it’s one of those things that’s fun to read about.

I really enjoyed this book, both the silly, over-the-top drama and the more serious questions it asks, and I am definitely interested in reading more from Matson.

4 stars Briana

Starglass by Phoebe North

Starglass by Phoebe North

Information

Goodreads: Starglass
Series: Starglass #1
Source: Library
Published: July 23, 2013

Official Summary

Terra has never known anything but life aboard the Asherah, a city-within-a-spaceship that left Earth five hundred years ago in search of refuge. At sixteen, working a boring job and living with a grieving father who only notices her enough to yell, Terra is sure that there has to be more to life than what she’s got.

But when she inadvertently witnesses the captain’s guard murdering an innocent man Terra is suddenly thrust into the dark world beneath the Asherah’s idyllic surface. As she’s drawn into a secret rebellion that aims to restore power to the people, Terra discovers that her choices may determine life or death for the people she cares about most. With mere months to go before landing on the long-promised planet, Terra has to make the choice of a lifetime—one that will shape the fate of her people.

Review

Liberty on Earth. Liberty on Zehava.

Starglass combines space adventure with a dystopian narrative to bring readers the story of a girl who discovers she is unsatisfied with the government and the only life she has ever known aboard the spaceship Asherah. Terra is a unique protagonist, a bit “every teen” as she questions what she wants out of life and whether she’s pretty enough, but also bold and smart enough to earn admiration from readers. It is immensely interesting to follow her on her journey to questioning what her future should look like.

Normally I find space novels a bit claustrophobic, particularly when they take place entirely within the confines of a spaceship, as Starglass does. However, the summary is correct in calling the ship essentially a city, and Terra has room to roam, explore, and grown. It always feels as if there’s something new to discover in the setting, even as the characters look wistfully forward to reaching their new planet and having new spaces to explore. North does a great job imagining what a spaceship would have to look like, and have to provide, in order to sustain a five hundred year journey.

The plot vacillates between originality and common YA novel trends. I though the opening of the novel more unique than the second half, partially because so many dystopian stories have the plot arc. Apparently there are only so many ways to discover your government is corrupt and then plan to overthrow them. However, the latter half does have enough small twists and unique touches that I remained engaged.

Finally, the Asherah was chartered by a group of secular Jews who wished to keep their culture alive in the wake of Earth’s destruction, bringing a diversity aspect of the novel. The Jewish religion is not much practiced or mentioned (they did specify secular Jews, after all), but there is Yiddish scattered throughout the novel, as well as an emphasis on mitzvot, and some traces of the religion remain—such as one character’s insistence on putting electric lights on the table once a week for dinner. Terra herself, however, does not seem much interested in or attached to her own culture.

Starglass is a solid read for fans of science fiction and for those who are not yet tired of reading dystopian fare. I’m not sure I’m personally engaged enough to really care about reading the sequel, but I did enjoy this installment and think it’s worth recommending.

3 Stars Briana

An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson

Enchantment of Ravens

Information

Goodreads: An Enchantment of Ravens
Series: None
Source: City Book Review
Published: September 26, 2017

Summary

Isobel is renowned for her portrait painting, and the beautiful, deadly fair folk are her most prestigious patrons, being unable to engage in any creative Craft themselves without losing their immortality. She has perfected her dealing with them and their tricksy wish-granting to an art itself—until the day she paints human emotion into the Autumn Prince’s eyes—a weakness—and must stand trial for her treachery.

Review

I wasn’t sure what to expect going into An Enchantment of Ravens, but I think I anticipated that this would be more of a fantasy adventure novel and less of a paranormal romance. I like romance in books but not when the romance is the entire book of the book, which was one of the primary reasons An Enchantment of Ravens did not quite work for me. The other issue is that the book is fairly generic and just doesn’t stand out from the YA crowd or even from other human/Fae romances I’ve read.

The book starts intriguingly, with a description of a town called Whimsy and a fairy folk who have zero ability to perform Craft (which apparently includes “making” literally anything, from clothing to art to writing to food; don’t ask what these people eat since they can’t cook). However, as the book progresses, the world building gets more and more muddled, as Rogerson springs an increasing number of magic rules, customs, and creatures onto the readers. And, frankly, I still don’t understand how the world works at large, such as how one gets into the Fae lands or how one gets into the World Beyond (which seems to be the rest of the human world besides the single town of Whimsy?)

The romance is equally baffling at the beginning, since it’s not really clear how or when the protagonists fall in love.  In theory, they have days of interaction; in reality, Rogerson fails to actually describe their conversations or what might have led to their romantic feelings. It’s not necessarily instalove because there is some build-up; it’s more that the build-up is bafflingly off-page.  As the book progresses, the romance gets better, and I do think Rogerson has some talent in writing romantic tension and declarations of love. I simply wish she had used more of that talent at the start of the story.

Plot-wise, it seems as though things happen primarily because they are obstacles to the protagonists’ love.  There’s not really a larger story here, even though there are hints about the transformative power of Isobel’s Craft that I would have loved to see further explored.  I have seen some readers complain about the episodic nature of the beginning of the book.  Episodic quests don’t inherently bother me, but it does seem here as if there’s no real purpose to a lot of the challenges that Isobel and the prince face.

Overall, the book is fine but not remarkable. If you’re normally a fan of Fae/human romances, like the Iron Fey series by Julie Kagawa, An Enchantment of Ravens could be something to look into.  If, like me, you want more adventure than romance, this might not be for you.

2 star review Briana