Old-School Mystery in Quirky YA Packaging: Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson

And we’re back with another episode in Ashley’s quest to find a satisfying and great YA mystery. My latest victim (ha, murder mystery joke) is Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson. This review is not at all behind on the times. I mean, it’s not like the sequel was just released right? Oh, wait…

Who, What, Where?

Sixteen-year-old Stevie has an obsession with all things crime. Podcasts, mystery fiction, cold cases, you name it – Stevie is the expert and she dreams of one day becoming a great detective like her literary heroes. When she’s accepted into the exclusive, and extravagantly funded, Ellingham Academy, Stevie is surprised but also excited. Founded in the 1930s by business tycoon, Albert Ellingham, the school is famous for its troubled past involving two murders and the kidnapping of Ellingham’s family, all still unsolved. The only clue in the case: a morbid poem sent by someone known only as ‘Truly Devious’.  When given the opportunity to choose a personal project, Steve’s choice is simple – solve the Ellingham murders. But when one of the students in her class dies mysteriously, Stevie begins to realise that perhaps real-life detective work is different from what she’d expected.

Weird but Fun

Although Truly Devious is a murder mystery and it’s obviously dealing with the darker side of human nature, Johnson’s style has this wonderfully quirky tone which I find really refreshing. It’s in the plot, the setting, the characters, everything really. It’s almost as though I recognise the fact that everything about the book is a little bit too odd to ever happen in real life – a school with a dark past, full of secret passageways, hidden in the mountains and inhabited by bizarrely talented teenagers. Yet, at the same time, because it’s so fun and eccentric, almost a tongue-in-cheek look at famous mystery books, I’m more than willing to invest in the idea of all of this happening for the purposes of a good story.

Kooky Characters

Truly Devious is full of distinct and interesting characters. Because Ellingham Academy accepts such a wide range of students, similar only in the fact that they’re unique and talented, this creates a great cast for Johnson’s mystery. Aside from Stevie, there’s Ellie, the fruity artist, Nate, a moody & writers’ blocked author, David, the shifty and scruffily attractive video game designer, Hayes, the charming YouTube star, and Janelle, the genius metal sculptor, just to name a few. Seeing them all interact is rarely boring, sometimes even funny, and I look forward to spending more time with them in the sequels.

I found Stevie, herself, to be a likeable protagonist. She’s just so enthusiastic and determined. The girl has gumption, and I can’t help but admire that. I also love the fact that she has this deep vulnerable side to her in terms of her difficulties with people and anxiety attacks, but at the same time, she still maintains this great degree of sass and confidence.

Slow Start

The opening chapter of TD was great and grabbed me right away, but once we were introduced to Stevie, I found that it took a while for me to really get into the story. As I was reading I couldn’t help feeling like there was a lot of introductory stuff – Stevie coming to school, dealing with her parents, getting the tour, introducing Stevie’s classmates, etc. Some of this info is necessary but I do wish it had been condensed somewhat. What didn’t help is that the modern mystery doesn’t start until a fair way into the book and we’re fed info about the Ellingham affair very slowly throughout the story.

No Resolution

One of the things traditionally expected from a good ‘who dunnit?’ is an exciting but logical resolution to the big mystery. Truly Devious, yeah…it doesn’t have that. There are two overarching mysteries in this book – the Ellingham affair and the death of Hayes. With this being the first in a series of three books, I went into it knowing we wouldn’t get closure on the 30s mystery this early. However, what I didn’t expect was that we’d only get a partial solution to Hayes’ death. I. am. Offended. Agatha Christie would never have pulled this crap. Still, I have to give Johnson credit for quite a good character based twist in the last few lines of the book which should create some great tension in the sequel.


Despite the slow warm up and somewhat unsatisfying conclusion, I had a lot of fun with Truly Devious and greatly enjoyed its interesting blend of vintage mystery with contemporary YA fiction. I’ll definitely be reading the sequel to find out what happens next.

3.5 Stars

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Let the Backstabbing Recommence: The Wicked King by Holly Black

Spends a year waiting for it, finishes it in less than 24 hours. I only have myself to blame here. Well, myself and Holly Black. Basically, if the book hangover from this one doesn’t kill me, it’ll be the wait for The Queen of Nothing cause, good lord. How do I even review this book? My brain is mush. MUSH I TELL YOU.

Who, What, Where?

The Wicked King takes up five months after the end of The Cruel Prince. Cardan is High King and Jude is running things behind the scenes as his second in command with the help of the rest of the Court of Shadows. However, just as before, everyone in faerie is playing their own game in their quest for power. Jude’s just got to worry about keeping it. But with the sea queen plotting against them, a vengeful prince keen on finding his way out of prison, a dangerous high general to watch, and Cardan himself to manage, it’s easier said than done.

More Momentum & Just as Many Twists

“Power is much easier to acquire than it is to hold on to.

When I first read The Cruel Prince, I found it took a little while for it to reach the main gist of the story (and hit peak political warfare and stabby-ness). TWK is a little similar in the fact that not a lot happens for the first part of the book but at the same time, because the base tension level is so much higher than in book one it never gets boring. Now that Jude holds so much power, and is desperate to keep it until she can safely pass it on to Oak, she has to be on her game constantly or risk losing everything. For this reason, she’s got a lot on her plate – controlling Cardan, Madoc’s future plans, the council, Balekin, the Sea Queen, handling Locke… Even though there isn’t major progress on a lot of these things for a while, because there’s so many of them it always feels like the story is chugging along and it’s entertaining enough to keep you engaged. You’re just waiting for the other shoe to drop. And, of course, in spectacularly, twisty, Holly Black fashion, drop it does.

I don’t want to spoil any of the big moments, of which there are several (gotta love a good betrayal, or two, or three), but I will say, that ending. My god. You’d think that after the climax of The Cruel Prince anything else would fall short but noooooppe. This stands right up there with it. I did not see it coming and I have no idea where things are headed going into book three, but it’s NOT GOOD.

However, if there were two things that bugged me about TWK’s plot they would be: first, Locke’s role feels unnecessarily distracting and pointless (hopefully there’s a reason in book 3), and second, the drama queen within wishes there had been a more dramatic pay off to a misapprehension Balekin & the Sea Queen have about Jude late in the book.

A Better, Bigger Picture

Something I felt was lacking and difficult to visualise in book one was the world building. TWK improves on this a fair amount and having read it, I feel I have a much better idea of how many of the pieces of Faerieland fit together. I’m still lost on some of the geography and court hierarchies/relationships but as they aren’t necessary for the story, it’s not a big deal. The minor courts play a greater role this time around and we learn about how the world is generally governed. We’re also given more info about the King’s role and powers. What’s also very interesting is the addition of immensely powerful magical objects, aside from the crown, which will surely play a big role in The Queen of Nothing.

Jude x Cardan

“I hate you,” I breathed into his mouth. “I hate you so much that sometimes I can’t think of anything else.”

Why, hello there, enemies-to-lovers trope, and in the best possible way. I love and am crazy addicted to this twisted, tension-filled relationship. Cardan and Jude go through a lot in this book and do make some great progress, even though where they stand with each other is always a confusing mess. Still, whether they’re sniping at each other, working in sync, or being surprisingly tender, I enjoy every minute that they’re together because they’re honestly just so equally matched. I love that over the course of the novel both Cardan and Jude begin to understand and appreciate each other in a way that no one else does, to the point that they’re willing to give up tactical advantages to save the other. It’s not easy or linear, but it’s worth it. If these two were ever able to fully trust one another, and perhaps sort through their complicated romantic feelings, Faerie would tremble at their feet. It’s just going to take a while to get there.

The Shadow Queen

“His mouth curls into a smile. His eyes shine with wicked intent. “Look at them all, your subjects. A shame not a one knows who their true ruler is.”

On my first read of The Cruel Prince, I wasn’t a fan of Jude but on my recent re-read, I gained a new appreciation for her. Stick a sword in her hand and she kicks serious ass despite being physically inferior to her opponents. She’s smart, cunning, able to redirect her fear into productivity, and goes after what she wants. Sure, Jude isn’t a purely, good-hearted character – she’s power hungry and has no qualms about murdering or screwing people over if she has to, but I can’t help but appreciate just how well she’s able to play the game as someone with built-in disadvantages.

In TWK Jude doesn’t undergo much development. She shows her inexperience and has a habit of making silly decisions as well as letting her power go to her head in a way that produces a great deal of arrogance, particularly where it comes to Cardan (so stupid). She also spends a lot of the book scrambling around, trying to do things on her own when she shouldn’t, and this bites her in the ass multiple times. While her lack of foresight disappointed (and frustrated) me in this book, I’m expecting an epic comeback in book 3.

The Not So Wicked King

“Why was I cruel to Folk? Why was I awful to you? Because I could be. Because I liked it. Because, for a moment, when I was at my worst, I felt powerful, and most of the time, I felt powerless, despite being a prince and the son of the High King of Faerie.”

Comparatively, Cardan goes through a great deal more change than Jude. While he’s a cocky party-boy that does little more than lounge around during the first half, as the book goes on he displays some surprising moments of maturity, fairness, affection, and strategic thinking (what are you talking about Cardan, don’t you know that murder is always the answer?). TWK continues to build on the backstory to Cardan’s characterisation begun in TCP and it does make him a more sympathetic character. What also helps is the fact that no longer bound by the need to impress, disappoint, or shame his disdaining family members, he starts to shed the frivolous and “cruel” protective mask he’s crafted, and do some self-reflection. As a result, by the end, he becomes more of an actual player in the game as opposed to the pawn he’s been previously. This does lead him to some shattering actions but somehow I’m still all for it because PLOT DRAMA.

Other Characters

Taryn, Locke, and Nicasia can all just piss right off. That is all.


In summary, this series is addictive and I love it. Bring me more twists, drama and backstabbing. Now to start the countdown to The Queen of Nothing *cries*.

4.5 Stars

YA Dystopia Meets Superhero Comic: Renegades by Marissa Meyer

3.5 stars

Renegades

Ever read a comic book or watched a superhero tv series/movie, and thought: Gee whiz, I wish there were superhero novels, too? If so, look no further, because Renegades is the book for you. No, really, this book is basically a superhero comic with a little bit of angst and dystopian world building thrown in to really hit the YA genre mark.

Who, What, Where?

I had a bit of hard time summarising the plot of this one in a concisely so I’m going to fall back on the official blurb with a few added clarifications:

The Renegades are a syndicate of prodigies — humans with extraordinary abilities — who emerged from the ruins of a crumbled society and established peace and order where chaos reigned [Prodgies rebelled against persecution by normal humans under the leadership of a guy called Ace Anarchy which then turned the world to complete crap]. As champions of justice, they remain a symbol of hope and courage to everyone… except the villains they once overthrew [who, without their leader, now live in the sewers plotting revenge].

Nova has a reason to hate the Renegades
[they failed to protect her family from murder by gangs], and she is on a mission for vengeance [infiltrate the Renegades and gain intel on how to destroy them]. As she gets closer to her target, she meets Adrian, a Renegade boy who believes in justice — and in Nova. But Nova’s allegiance is to a villain who has the power to end them both.

Why You Should Read this Book:

World Building

As far as world building goes, Marissa Meyer once again proves that she’s pretty freakin’ awesome. I really enjoyed what she’s created here. Unlike your traditional superhero fare involving a modern city simply facing an infestation of criminals with the occasional super-criminal, Meyer’s taken a more hardcore dystopian approach to her setting and has woven superheroes and supervillains into the history, politics, and social issues of her world. It’s gripping, well-constructed, and flawed enough to create some great ideological dilemmas between the characters. I also love the fact that she gives us enough detail to contextualise events without bogging everything down.

Cool-Ass Superpowers

You guys know I’m absolutely gaga for things involving magic and superpowers, and my superhuman loving little heart was not at all disappointed by these elements of the book. I’m just amazed at Marissa Meyer’s creativity. My geeky heart was getting major X-men vibes. There are so many awesome powers in this book and they all feel different from one another. I love that she tried to throw in some abilities you wouldn’t necessarily expect and then showcased their offensive uses in interesting ways. I mean, changing into butterflies, blood that turns to rubies, transformation into smoke, control of bees, making drawings come to life… can you sense my excitement?

Long-Haul Romance

YES, an author who understands that romantic subplots can be a marathon and not some messy, insta-love situation. The romance in this book was kind of cute and I liked that it actually felt like realistic teen attraction despite the crazy circumstances. Man, this is going to cause some DRAMA further down the track but I’m kind of looking forward to it?

Cliffhanger/Twist

The twist at the end of the book will be obvious to most people but it’s impossible to be mad or disappointed because it’s (a) a great direction for the plot and a fun cliffhanger, (b) going to create some epic drama and showdowns later in the series, and (c) well, it just makes sense.

Things that Could Go Either Way

Characters

There are a lot of characters in Renegades, A LOT, and I’ll be honest, there’s very few aside from the two leads that I give a stuff about (basically just Max *love heart eyes*). This is particularly frustrating considering how much time they take up. At the centre of the book are Adrian and Nova. While they’re far from perfect, and it took some time to warm up to them, by the end I found them both to be likeable and fleshed out. They’re also pretty much perfect comic book characters:

  • Superpowers
  • Orphans
  • Tragic backstories
  • Act like they carry the weight of the world on their shoulders
  • Secret identities

There are occasions when Adrian starts to come across as a bit of a cookie cutter, boring hero and others when Nova’s narrow views on things got on my nerves (you want to destroy the current regime but have no plan for what to replace it with? COME ON!) but overall, they work well in their roles. However, what I enjoyed the most is that because of their contrasting ideologies, they provide balance to each other. It’s made obvious the two of them could learn a lot from one another if they were to have an honest, open minded conversation and we get a taste of this toward the end of the book.

Why You Might Want to Skip It

Tonal Contrasts

The tone of Renegades is a little…weird but it’s also quintessentially superhero-esque. For the entirety of the book it jumps back and forth between being light-campy and heavy-dramatic. The characters in the novel refer to themselves and others, unironically, as superheroes and villains, they seriously consider code names and costumes, and at one point Adrian asks a character if they’re making a “villain speech”. I’m not sure whether it’s the medium, but a lot of the time it comes off feeling kind of cheesy and unintentionally funny. Then on the reverse, we have a world which has quite a dark and violent past, constant discussions about corruption, and two lead characters whose family members were brutally murdered. To top things off, a baby is shot in the opening pages. The emotional whiplash is real.

Pacing

Renegades definitely has some really exciting and fun moments but there’s no denying that sections of the book drag. The beginning is great but after this the story starts to slow down and sag in the middle, taking longer than it should to kick back into gear. And let me say, for a book that clocks in at over 500 pages, that’s a long middle. As I mentioned, Renegades has a lot of characters and because the plot requires you to understand them, there’s a large amount of conversation and character explanation. It often got to the point at which I wondered where the story was heading, it just seemed to be meandering around between random scenes. What was even more confusing was when certain characters, *cough* Ingrid, acted in ways that were extremely bizarre and which didn’t support the narrative or their previously explained motivations.


Is this Marissa Meyer’s best work? Probably not, but despite some hiccups, Renegades was still a fairly enjoyable, and at times even fun, read. The book has a solid premise and I see a lot of potential for this to become a fantastic series further down the track now that some of the groundwork is out of the way. I’ll highly likely be picking up the sequel at some point – if only to see how everything well and truly hits the fan.

3.5 Stars

Survival, Sisterhood, and Female Empowerment: Grace & Fury by Tracy Banghart

4.5 stars

Grace & Fury

I received this ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

I am woman, hear me roar.

If there’s one thing I never grow tired of reading about, it’s women supporting one another and finding their inner strength, even when all the odds are stacked against them.  As Banghart’s author’s note says, this is:

For every woman who has been told to sit down and be quiet…and who has stood up anyway.

Who, What, Where?

Grace & Fury is set in the kingdom of Viridia – think Gilead from Handmaid’s Tale without the fertility issues and religious nut jobs.

Women were forbidden to read. Women were forbidden to choose their husbands, their jobs, their futures. Forbidden to dive for pearls or sell goods at market to help their families. Forbidden to cut their hair unless a man told them to. Forbidden to think for themselves. Forbidden to choose.

At the country’s head is The Superior. Every three years he selects three women to join his household as Graces (basically, glorified concubines). It’s the highest honour to be selected and although it’s a life of subjugation, it’s also one of luxury.

The novel alternates third person POV between two protagonists: Serina & Nomi. Serina, beautiful and soft-spoken, has spent her life training to be a Grace, while her sister, Nomi, smart and strong-willed, desires more from life than simply being Serina’s handmaiden. When it’s announced that the Superior’s heir, Malachi, is to make his first ever Grace selections, the girls travel to the palace. However, plans are turned on their head when instead of Serina, the Heir selects Nomi.

Things go from bad to worse when Serina is caught in a compromising position and sent to Mount Ruin, an island prison designed to house the worst of Virdia’s female offenders. Here, women are pitted against each other in violent matches to the death for sport and rations, and every day is a struggle to survive.

In the palace, Nomi is forced to adjust to her new life as a Grace, knowing that one wrong step could prove fatal. She soon comes to realise that her position may, in fact, present the perfect opportunity to create permanent change in Virdia, and the Superior’s second son, Asa, could prove her ticket to freedom.

Why you Might want to Skip it (But Please don’t!)

Normally I start off with the positives, but let’s change things up, shall we?

Pacing

While Serina’s story jumps into gear quickly and remains engaging right to the end, Nomi’s takes until at least halfway to find it’s purpose. Following Serina’s departure, Nomi spends a frustrating period of time trying to find out what happened to her. It makes sense for the character but it offers zero interest to the reader. The search eventually leads her to Asa and kicks off her main storyline but I would love to have seen more of an investigative and active element on Nomi’s part and earlier on, too.

Will the real Nomi please stand up?

I have to say, I feel a bit disappointed in Nomi. At the beginning of the story, she’s rebellious, questioning, and sassy. During her first conversation with Malachi, I was like, YES, you go girl. And then poof!  Where did you go spunky Nomi? WHERE? I get that you’re sad Serina’s gone and terrified The Superior is going to murder you but what happened to your spirit? The promised Nomi does emerge later on but I wish she’d been a stronger character throughout.

Why You Should Read this Book

Balance

One of the things I loved about Grace & Fury was the contrast and balance between Serina and Nomi’s stories. Setting wise, with Serina, Banghart gives us a very harsh environment in which women have to be both physically and mentally tough to make it through. Then we have Nomi, living in the most glamorous place in the country, but which, to her, feels just as much like a cage.

Serina’s path is very much action-oriented and involves a lot of big, bold moves to get her to where she needs to be at the end. Comparatively, Nomi’s relies on secrecy, a bit of cloak and dagger, and thinking her way around problems.

The ending of these storylines is also in stark opposition – one a triumph, the other a complete disaster. These differences are great in that they give the novel fantastic variety in terms of plot and tone which keeps the book engaging and in motion.

Likeable MCs & Bonds of Sisterhood

Grace & Fury’s success stems largely from its well written and distinct leads. Both Nomi and Serina are very likeable and you have no difficulty rooting for them. Serina, in particular, starts the novel off quite soft and submissive, but over time, we watch her transform into a strong, brave, and resourceful, young woman who’d rather die than compromise her own humanity.

Both girls are also very different from one another. The wonderful thing is that despite this, and a situation that should make them resent one another (as a sister, trust me, I know), they remain loyal. Each desperately wants to break free of their situation, not just for themselves, but because they believe they need to rescue the other. It’s a quality that only makes you love them more.

The absence of her sister was a hole in her chest, growing larger and larger the longer they spent apart. She had to save Serina. If she didn’t, there’d be nothing of her left.

Twist

If you’ve read Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, you’ll be able to predict this twist from a mile away. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, no way! But don’t get me wrong, even though I saw it coming, I loved the direction. Once I realized this was where the story headed, I was really excited, even impatient, to see it play out and it completely changed how I viewed interactions between certain characters. It ended up being interesting and dramatic, provided more character depth, gave Nomi a chance to shine, and left us in an exciting place for the sequel.

Female Empowerment

“We are not flowers,” she said firmly. “Like you said, Oracle, we are concrete and barbed wire. We are iron.”

This is a book that showcases the power of women in so many ways. Seriously, Grace & Fury will make you want to take on the world and more importantly, believe you can win. This is a novel about women surviving and even triumphing under adversity. It’s about refusing to just accept your situation. It’s about striving for more and overcoming fear. And most of all, it’s about women supporting other women.

My Mother raised me never to trust other women because we would always be in competition. But it’s not true. Look at how we take care of each other here…We heal each other…We share food…We die for each other…We need to stop killing each other and fight them.

 

 “In all the stories, women give up everything,” Maris said, her voice tight. “We are always supposed to give. We are never supposed to fight. Why do you think that is?”…

“Because they’re afraid of what will happen if we do.”

I wish I could say more but that would be spoiling it. What I will say is, read this book. You won’t regret it.

4.5 Stars

Love Ashley

A lot Better than Fruit Cake Cookies: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

4 stars
TATBILB

Well, hello there you adorable, sweet, lovely, bubbly, fun, all the cute adjectives in the English language, book. Why yes, I do see your flaws, of which there are many, but for some reason, my brain seems to have short-circuited to the point where I can’t seem to get enough of you.

TATBILB (gosh, what an acronym, I need a breather after just typing that), is one of those young adult contemporaries that people seem to bring up among a couple of choice favourites every time the genre is mentioned in conversation. You know the ones, Anna and the French Kiss, Fangirl, The Fault in Our Stars, Simon vs the Homo Sapiens AgendaI’ll Give you the SunAll the Bright Places, etc, etc. I’ve had some good experiences with YA contemporaries and some not so good. So even though I’d already committed to giving this one a go, I went into it expecting it to be silly, childish and disappointing.

Apparently, I really need to stop going into things so cynical because occasionally the hype train does, in fact, pick some winners. And yes, I know basically everyone out there has already read this one but eh, I’m going to review it anyway because cute contemporary. And yes, I’m going to use heaps of completely unnecessary gifs.

Who, What, Where?

Our story’s protagonist is sixteen-year-old Lara Jean. She’s half Korean, dresses in outfits almost bordering on costume, bakes great cookies, is the middle child of three sisters, and has never had a boyfriend. She has, however, been in love – five times. And for every boy she’s loved, she’s also written a letter. Not to send of course, because that would be embarrassing. She keeps these love letters hidden away in a hatbox in her closet, where no one will ever find them.

That is, until one day the letters are mysteriously sent out in the post. Can you say, awkward?

The bigger problem is the fact that one of LJ’s five happens to be her older sister’s ex-boyfriend, Josh, which is a big no-no in any sense of the girl code. In order to convince Josh her feelings are long over, Lara Jean makes a deal with Peter, another of her letter receivers. By pretending to be in a relationship, LJ can throw Josh off the scent and Peter can hopefully show his controlling ex, Genevieve, that he’s over her. It’s the perfect plan, because neither of them has feelings for the other, right?

Yeah, right.

Reasons You Should Read this Book

Finally, an Asian Protagonist!

Alright, half Asian but still! Just like with Simon, it was nice to have a little bit of diversity going on in the MC department for a change and to see some representation of families that don’t often get featured at the forefront of YA. Lara Jean being mixed race also provided the chance for Jenny Han to raise a few of the more frustrating parts of being of Asian descent in a western country. Some of these are small such as feeling the pressure to dress up as only Asian characters on Halloween. However, others are bigger, like having to deal with the constant insensitive questions about where you come from (no really, where? No, I mean, where were you born?) and trying not to lose connections to your heritage whilst being surrounded by another culture 24-7.

The Romance is Adorable

Come on, this is not the sort of book you read if you aren’t keen on romance. Don’t try to deny it, you care. As I’m sure you worked out from the synopsis, there are two main love interests to Lara Jean in this story, Peter and Josh. Yes, it’s the beginnings of a love triangle but don’t worry, it never really becomes an annoyance here as LJ’s focus is always on one person at any given time and there’s none of that annoying ‘who do I choose’, ‘oh, woe is me’.

Josh is sweet, if a little boring, but as I’m in the camp of if you’ve dated someone’s older sister you MUST NOT go after their younger sister, I can’t root for him to win this one. You move that little butt on, mister. Peter, on the other hand, is that cocky, amusing guy who acts like an ass but actually has deeper emotions and a good heart. In other words, he’s the character archetype I’m a real sucker for. Every damn time. I was a goner from the moment he showed up with his fancy car wearing that stupid grin.

“That’s when I see him. Peter Kavinsky, walking down the hallway. Like magic. Beautiful, dark-haired Peter. He deserves background music, he looks so good.”

The relationship development here is predictable but it’s still really nice to watch the two characters bounce off one another in cute sections of dialogue. While Peter encourages LJ to get out into the world instead of just fantasizing about it, LJ brings out more of Peter’s sweet side. Even just seeing Peter hang out with Lara Jean and her little sister Kitty is delightful and by the time feelings develop, they feel well earned.

It has it’s Giggle Moments

Is it even a good YA-contemporary if you don’t let out a few snorts once in a while? A few of my personal favourites:

“Oh, I used to lie all the time as a kid.” I didn’t think of it as lying, though. I thought of it as playing make-believe. I told Kitty she was adopted and her real family was in a travelling circus. It’s why she took up gymnastics.” 

“That’s the biggest lie I’ve ever told him, even bigger than the lie about my so-called dead twin Marcella. Until a couple of years ago Josh thought I had a twin sister named Marcella who died of leukemia.” 

“Your house is lovely,” I say, even though it isn’t. It’s old; it could use a good cleaning. But the things inside it are lovely.
“It’s empty now. All my things sold up. Can’t take it with you, you know.”
“You mean when you die?” I whisper.
He glares at me. “No. I mean to the nursing home.”

Easy, Breezy, Short and Sweet

TATBILB is your typical YA-contemporary. It’s a short read and despite some sad moments for LJ, it’s still light and fluffy. Jenny’s writing is really easy to read – there’s no unnecessary descriptions, Lara Jean’s internal monologues never drag on for too long, and even the quieter plot sections still feel like fun time with the characters. The book is a great choice if you’re looking for something to break up some of your denser reads or if you’ve been stuck on another less engaging book for a while. Read this one in only a few days (or one sitting) and you’ll feel ready to tackle the rest of your TBR with enthusiasm.

Why You Might Want to Give it a Miss

The issue of Lara Jean

Alright, let’s deal with the big one first. On the whole, I didn’t mind LJ as a protagonist (her cringy use of “Daddy” aside). She’s relatable, sweet, and tries her best to do the right thing. BUT. LJ hasn’t really experienced much of the world. She’s never been in a relationship and her sister, Margo, has protected her from a lot of responsibility since their mother’s death. Because of this there are moments when her narration comes off a lot younger than sixteen. She’s naive, romanticizes things, doesn’t handle awkward situations very well, and is a little over the top at times.

For this reason, a lot of people are going to find her childish and annoying, and that’s completely okay. If you can’t handle a slightly sheltered protagonist with a lot of learning to do, then maybe this one isn’t for you.

What Mystery?

The whole reason the events in the book kick off is because someone decides to send out Lara Jean’s box of love letters. With this in mind, you’d think that part of the story would be devoted to figuring out who send the darned things, yes? Wrong. While LJ considers this very briefly at the beginning of the book, she then forgets about it completely until the answer is given to us at the very end. The culprit is ridiculously obvious but it would have been nice to have a little mystery and some more potential suspects.

Wait, it’s Over? (Except not Really)

Everyone knows that the best part of a rom-com is the end, the happily ever after where everything is resolved in an unrealistic but still love-heart eye worthy reconciliation. Well folks, if that’s what you want here, better move along because there ain’t none of that. TATBILB, unfortunately, ends in a blunt and somewhat unresolved fashion. Yes, we all know there’s a sequel but would it kill you to give a girl a bit of temporary closure. I feel like the Rolling Stones, where be my satisfaction Jenny Han?Divider

Despite its flaws, I had a great time with this one. Perhaps it’s a little bit of a guilty pleasure read but TATBILB is just one of those books that I can’t help but like because of its tone and the fluffy, warm feelings it gave me while reading. It’s cute, and makes you feel good about the world for a little bit, so plot issues withstanding I’ll unashamedly admit that I’m so excited to read the rest of the series. Sue me. Lara Jean and Peter forever.

4 Stars

Love Ashley

Top 10 Tuesday: Series I’d Like to Finish or Continue with Someday

This week’s TTT topic is: book series I’ve given up on. I had a think about this for a little bit and since I didn’t feel comfortable including any series where I only read the first book before going, nah, not for me, I was running a bit short on selections. Instead I’m going with Jana’s (That Artsy Reader Girl) provided alternative which is: series I’d still like to finish someday. To give myself some more options, I’m also including series I want to continue with at some point. For me, this means the series hasn’t finished being written yet but I’m a little behind on it.

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The Lunar Chronicles – Marissa Meyer

I only started this series last year so it’s definitely not the oldest unfinished one on my shelves. At this point I’ve only got one book to go, Winter, which is relatively sizeable. I’ve been really enjoying it so far, mostly because the characters are strong, different, funny, AND ethnically diverse, which is always great. It’s a really well done fairytale retelling series but there’s still a lot of originality which keeps it feeling fresh, fun and surprising.


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The Inheritance Cycle – Christopher Paolini

It feels like I’ve had only one book left in this series FOREVER. Oh wait, it actually has been forever. I’ve reread books one and two quite a few times over the years, and read book three once, but for some reason I never make it all the way through. I get busy, or distracted, or something. I’m determined to get there though, it will happen! Watch out Eragon & Saphira, I’m coming for you…eventually.


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The Mortal Instruments – Cassandra Clare

I gave up on this series after reading City of Fallen Angels years ago because it was so annoyingly bad. The problem is, I now really want to read The Dark Artifices and after reading about 180 pages into Lady Midnight, I found myself fairly lost. Then I realised some of the characters and backstory had been introduced in City of Heavenly Fire. I’m sure you can see where this going. So yes, I’m going to reread the first four books, finish the rest of the series and then finally make my way back to Lady Midnight. Lord save me from death by Clace angst.


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The Raven Cycle – Maggie Stiefvater

The Raven Cycle is one of those series that I felt pressured to read because of the amount of love the books get online. I found The Raven Boys a bit of an average read. It had it’s moments, but the tone and plot was always slightly odd. However, still I persisted – I mean, people LOVE these books, right? I had to be missing something. This idea pushed me through the next two entries in the series and unfortunately I still don’t fully get the crazy level of devotion people have to them. However, because of all my answered questions, as well as the amount of time I’ve now invested, I feel like I have to finish it all off by reading The Raven King, so that’s what I’ll do.


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Mistborn Trilogy – Brandon Sanderson

I read The Final Empire a few years ago back when I was at university and quite enjoyed it. The magic system was really original, the characters were interesting, the book got me with a twist about two thirds in, and I really loved the idea of the hero defeating the villain only to become one. I’ve had the second book for a while but haven’t been in the mood to read it yet. I’d definitely like to in the future though.


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The Grisha Trilogy – Leigh Bardugo

Originally, after finishing Shadow and Bone I had intended not to read anymore of this series. Mostly because the plot felt a little mediocre and I found the idea of Mal as Alina’s love interest extremely boring. However recently I’ve been thinking that I might finish the series after all. This is in large part due to the fact that I’d like to get a proper introduction to Nikolai (everyone seems to adore him) so that if I end up wanting to read King of Scars, I’ll be able to do so.  I also happen to be a fan of The Darkling as a villain so if I keep going, I’ll get some more development with him too.


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Poison Study Series – Maria V. Synder

I read Poison Study a long time ago now, we’re talking way back, when I was in mid high school. At the time it seemed like another series I didn’t think I would continue with. Like the Grisha books though, recently I’ve been seriously considering going back to it. It seems weird but I think that now, having gotten a bit older and read more widely, I’d enjoy the book a lot more than I first did. Guess the only way to find out is a re-read.


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Outlander Series – Diana Gabaldon

This is the first series on my list that isn’t actually complete yet, although it’s about eight books plus several novellas and spin offs in already. These are really long novels at around a thousand pages each so they do take a fair amount of time to get through, which means you really need to be in the mood. I took a break after reading Drums of Autumn as it wasn’t exactly my favourite in the series and I’ve heard that the next one, The Fiery Cross is the low point in the books before they very successfully pick up again. The motivation isn’t there right now, but it will be further down the line.


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A Song of Ice & Fire Series – George RR Martin

This is another series which is still many years off being finished and one in which each installment is extremely chunky, requiring motivation and concentration. When I began these a few years ago I read several very close together and burnt myself out a little about two hundred pages into A Feast for Crows. I’d like to go back to the series some day but not right now. However, considering the pace at which Martin writes, I can probably take as much time as I need.


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Red Sparrow Trilogy – Jason Matthews

I enjoyed the first book in this series a lot more than I thought I would when I read it a few months back (even with the constant references to Dominika’s clothing). I don’t read a lot of espionage or thrillers so it’s nice to have something different on occasion. After the end of book two, I’d like to continue on with the series and see where it leads.Divider

Which series do you have plans on reaching the end of soonish (or sort of soonish, or maybe even just before you die)?

Are there any series that you’ve given up on part way through because they declined in quality?

Love Ashley

 

Unsavouries, Killer Fish, and Death by Martini: Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman

4.5 starsThunderhead

I waited for what feels like forever to read Scythe earlier this year and to my relief, I loved it. Consequently, I had some pretty high expectations for Thunderhead. To make matters worse, there was also the typical worries about the dreaded middle book syndrome, or as I like to call it sequel suckage syndrome. However, I am very happy to report that Thunderhead (a) did not suffer from SSS and (b) largely lived up to expectations. Well done Shusterman! And…end review.
Kidding.

Who, What, Where?

Thunderhead picks up several months after the end of Scythe. Citra, now Scythe Anastasia, continues to live with her mentor, the honourable Scythe Curie, and has now developed her own unique approach to gleaning. This involves allowing her glean-ees to select their own demise no matter how weird or whacky – a realistic performance of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and a deadly James Bond style martini are a few choice examples. In doing so, she’s begun to make big waves throughout the increasingly conflicted mid-Merican scythdom.

“More and more scythes are coming to enjoy the act of killing. Conscience is becoming a casualty.”

After the death of Scythe Goddard, the order has slowly separated into two camps – 1) It’s totally fine to enjoy your job, even if it happens to involve killing people, and therefore you may murder in vastly creative and messy ways, and 2) Gleaning is a burden and an honour, and should be handled with compassion.

Tricky dilemma, right?

This isn’t the only thing on Citra’s mind as there’s also the small, nagging problem that someone is seemingly out to kill both her and Curie (How dare they! I love Scythe Curie).

Meanwhile, Rowan, the yin to Citra’s yang, is now an outlaw of sorts. Utilising the Thunderhead’s inability to interfere in scythe affairs, he’s fashioned himself a new persona, Scythe Lucifer, to hunt down scythes he believes to be unworthy of their position (aka  Goddard ideology supporters).

“Rowan grinned. “Come now, Your Excellency, there hasn’t been a terrorist in hundreds of years. I’m just a janitor cleaning filth from dark corners.”

As you can probably imagine this path lands him in some particularly hot water which happens to involve his friend, professional partygoer, Tyger.

Aside from the familiar faces, book two also introduces us to Greyson Tolliver. Greyson wants nothing more than to give back to the Thunderhead by becoming a Nimbus agent. However, things soon fall apart when he’s given some information that acting upon would put him in direct violation of the Thunderhead-Scythdom separation. Thrown out of the academy, Greyson is cut off from the Thunderhead and labelled a dreaded “Unsavoury”. But it turns out that the Thunderhead may have a plan for Greyson after all, and it may or may not involve Scythe Anastasia.

Why you should read this book

Do I Laugh or Cry?

The tone of this series is really unique, mostly because the world it’s set in is so completely different and yet also the same as the real one. Real issues like religious persecution, racism, the dangers of technology, abuses of power, and the meaning of our existence all come up but they never develop in the way you’d expect. Well, duh Ashley, that’s because it’s a world with no death run by a supercomputer in which there are nutters who worship a giant tuning fork. Then there’s the not so real-world circumstances which arise that you could never have predicted. This is because they’re just so extremely outlandish that they’re almost comical, even though they might involve things that are disturbing or gut-wrenching. The climax of the book is a perfect example of this. Speaking of which…

Now that’s a Climax!

The climax/end of Thunderhead is outlandish, funny, heart-breaking and just generally fantastic. It’s worth wading through some of the quieter plot sections just to read the end of the book which involves *spoilers* a major character death, a cliff-hanger with our heroes in an awful position, a sinking island, murderous marine life, and the villain doing a fake rescue just to gloat. It’s all very bizarre and yet somehow it just works together. Now that’s some writing witchcraft, I’m telling you.

Inside the Mind of a Super Computer

In Scythe, the story was broken up by journal entries from several of the key scythes in the story, detailing their intimate thoughts about their profession and themselves. This time around we’re given insights into the thoughts of the Thunderhead. These segments are really interesting and provide a lot of extra information about the world, showcasing just how well Shusterman’s crafted it. Although, they’re also a little sad in that you can’t help but feel bad for the Thunderhead as it’s forced to watch the Scythdom become increasingly more corrupt whilst being unable to do anything about it.

“Rain is the closest thing I have to tears.”

However, I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen so many stories involving computers gone nuts that I was constantly on edge waiting for the switch to happen where the Thunderhead just snaps and goes postal.

Me the entire book: I know there’s going to be an AIDAN situation, I JUST KNOW IT. Is it now? It is NOW?

A Worthy Adversary

One of the things I was a little disappointed about with Scythe was the loss of the antagonist, Scythe Goddard. I worried about where the story’s conflict would come from following his decapitation and incineration. As it turns out, I shouldn’t have. Rowan and Citra were given a suitable (and familiar) villain to face off against which tested both their specific skills and different approaches to situations, with Citra perhaps more successful than Rowan (don’t you just love how vague I am? Avoiding spoilers is like making your way through a mine field). How this individual enters the story is pretty creepy and horrifying though. The more you think about it, the more you’re repulsed. Well, I was at least. Here’s a hint: Frankenstein. *shivers*Divider

Why You Might want to Skip it

Where are we going with this?

One of the things that turned people off Scythe was its pace and direction. I didn’t really have this problem but with Thunderhead I’ll admit that I did have some difficulty in seeing where the story was leading for the first half of the book. Several major, and fairly compelling, plot threads are introduced and slowly developed, but it takes a good long while to understand not only how they relate to each other but also their overall importance. This was especially relevant to things like Greyson’s story as well as Tyger’s role.

It’s a bit like a giant puzzle with cool looking pieces that don’t seem to fit together until you discover some extra ones lying on the floor. And then you realise that pieces you thought were part of this puzzle actually belong to a similar one. I really hope you know what I mean. Hint: the similar puzzle is book three.

Unfinished Business

Yes, I know there’s a third book on its way, but there were a couple of things that I felt were left in a bit of an incomplete or unsatisfying place by the end of the book. The first is Scythe Faraday’s search for the hidden land of “Nod” in the hopes of finding a fail-safe against a corrupt Scythdom. The second is Greyson’s storyline which fizzles out and hits a sort of nothing point about a third of the way from the end. Here, he seemingly sits around doing nothing until the last couple of lines. These stories will definitely reach their stride in the next book but for this one, they were a little on the lacking/disinteresting side at times.

A Cliffhanger

Everything is awful now. Why. Why. Why. Where is book 3? I need to make sure my babies are okay. So basically, if you can’t handle books without a proper resolution and everything tied up neatly in a bow, avoid this one. Because everything is awful now.

Verdict

Overall, despite a few bumps in the road, I really enjoyed Thunderhead and am very much looking forward to reading book three, The Toll, whenever it happens to materialise. If you had a good time with Scythe, you’ll likely have a similar experience with Thunderhead. My recommendation is definitely read it. And if you haven’t read Scythe yet, firstly, what the hell are you doing here, and second, GO GO GO, DOOOO IT.

4.5 Stars

Love Ashley