Backlist Bonus: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

15749186by Jenny Han
YA Contemporary
2 of 5 stars
Book 1 of a duology

This is a cute premise, and certain parts felt very Boy Meets World to me, but overall it’s probably not worth the time if you have a long to-read list. The characters are flat and the plot barely involves the letters, or much of anything else, unfortunately. It has a middle grade voice trying to convince you Lara Jean is 16 and not 11. It’s obvious from page 30 who sent the letters, but Lara Jean literally never wonders how they got out there, and is nonchalant about how it screwed with her life once she does find out at the very end. Actually, she never sticks up for herself, come to think of it.

There’s so much to work with here, and I feel like the author barely scratched the surface of it. Lara Jean is half-Korean in a white school. She could have had actual relationships with her older and younger sister. She could have a real friendship with her only female “friend” Chris (who is portrayed as a “slut,” so I’m not sure how they stayed friends for long since they have little in common, but that’s a separate issue).

If you pretend Lara Jean is younger, this could be a good summer read for a day or two. Since there is one sequel planned I will probably check it out this summer just to see if Lara Jean or any of the other characters experience a significant character arc. I have a feeling I’ll be less disappointed now that I know what to expect (i.e. a middle-grade novel, not YA). I happen to love the cover art for both books, for whatever that’s worth.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is available on Goodreads and its parent company Amazon. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith – Hadley Sullivan meets Oliver (a Brit) on her flight to England for her father’s second wedding to a woman she’s never met. The story follows twenty-four hours in Hadley’s life that might change her future.
  • Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn, David Levithan – Told through dual narration, Nick and Norah meet at a chance concert and spend a crazy twenty-four hours together in New York City trying to find their favorite band’s secret show, and falling in love along the way.

Rags & Bones: New Twists on Timeless Tales

17310066Edited by: Melissa Marr & Tim Pratt
4 of 5 stars

Featuring: Saladin Ahmed, Kelley Armstrong, Holly Black, Neil Gaiman, Kami Garcia, Melissa Marr, Garth Nix, Tim Pratt, Carrie Ryan, Margaret Stohl, Gene Wolfe, Rick Yancey

These twelve short stories are a collection of famous works re-imagined by an excellent group of writers who grew up on them. Some of them, such as The Castle of Otranto, Sleeping Beauty, and The Awakening, I was familiar with, but for the most part this was a fun introduction to new and old tales for me.

Although not all of the original stories were in the fantasy genre, this collection adds a sense of magic and mystery to each one, and it struck the perfect balance of thematic connections between vastly different worlds. There’s something refreshing about reading an entire story in one sitting. These are perfect for a lunch break or those in-between moments in your day. The characters grapple with what it means to be human as they traverse Earth thousands of years in the future, fantasy kingdoms with evil witches, and dystopian futures ruled by cold machines and colder crime lords. Each character has such powerful goals and feelings, and despite only spending an hour or less in their company, you care about them so much. I can honestly say I enjoyed them all!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Rags & Bones is available on Goodreads and its parent company Amazon. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  •  The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman – Of course, he’s one of the author’s in this collection. This book is a novella, so you can read it quickly and it has the same fast bonding with characters in a strange setting. See my review here.
  • Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen – Her semi-parody of The Castle of Otranto is light-hearted and dramatic (Otranto was sort of the Twilight of her time). This is the quickest read and most accessible of her novels, in my opinion, because it’s just as much about a teenage girl exploring a mysterious mansion as it is about romance or Austen’s social commentary.
  • The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving – One of the best-known Americana ghost stories, and a fun read.

Backlist Bonus: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

15783514by Neil Gaiman
5 of 5 stars

This was an impulse buy at an independent bookstore in Colorado last summer, and I fell in love with it from the first page. The narrator is in his forties looking back on a strange experience when he was seven years old, and the familiar wistfulness and contrasts between children and adults that Gaiman explores is at its peak. The English countryside is shrouded in fog that intertwines the real and magical events the unnamed narrator remembers (similar in style to Coraline and Neverwhere).

The narrator returns to his childhood home for a funeral, but he feels drawn to the tiny farmhouse at the end of the road. There, he once had a friend named Lettie, who said her pond was an Ocean. We find out his childhood was filled with strange, even violent experiences as his parents struggled to make ends meet. They finally decide to rent a room in their house to some strange and unsavory people. As a young boy, nobody wants or listens to his opinion about anything, not even his sister. Only Lettie tells him that he’s right, and helps him overcome the dangers to his family and himself. There’s a balance of adventure and philosophy as the narrator reflects on how growing older changes you.

If you’ve enjoyed Gaiman’s other work, you’ll love this, but I also feel it’s a good introduction if you haven’t read his novels before. The characters, themes, and language are in his trademark style, and you’ll have a good idea of whether he’ll become a personal favorite or not.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is available on Goodreads and its parent company Amazon. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black – Hazel has to unravel some mysteries about her own identity before the fairies living outside her small town decide to claim her life for good. See my review here.
  • The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater – This YA fantasy series set in a small Virginia town follows Blue and four Aglionby (a fancy prep school) boys as they try to find the hiding place of a Welsh king said to grant a wish. But the growing frequency of paranormal events starts making them question what else they might find on their quest. See my review here.
  • Sunshine by Robin McKinley – A girl with an intriguing power crosses paths with a vampire who desperately needs her help to survive. Vampires aren’t normally my thing, but I loved this take on it and the characters are fascinating.

The Walls Around Us

18044277by Nova Ren Suma
YA Contemporary
3 of 5 stars

I read her debut novel Imaginary Girls almost two years ago, and it remains one of my favorite stories due to the unreliable narration from the characters. Nova Ren Suma mixes supernatural elements within everyday reality in such a way that you never really know what is true, even at the end. Spanish literature has a whole sub-genre of this called “magical realism” and it creates beautiful but chilling plots with characters you can never trust.

This story uses the same techniques with the dual narration from Violet and Amber, but I didn’t enjoy this one as much. There are fewer moments of shocking realization–instead we wander in confusion between the past and present until the climactic moment of revelation, and it wasn’t nearly as surprising or satisfying.

Violet’s dreams of attending Juilliard to become a prima ballerina are about to come true. Amber has been locked up for so long she doesn’t know what a normal life would be like. Caught between them is the impossibly sweet Orianna, a talented ballerina who nurtured Violet’s lesser skills and finds herself wrongfully accused of a terrible crime.

Neither of the characters were compelling to me, and once it became clear that not much was going to happen before the ending, I kept with the story mostly to know the final twist. It was hard for me to connect to any of the characters. For there to be any secrets or doubts about the plot, Violet and Amber have to be misleading, but in this instance they were so guarded it was hard to care about their problems or vague motivations. I gave it three stars for the writing itself, but I hope to like her next book much more.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Walls Around Us is available on Goodreads and its parent company Amazon. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma – Her first story featuring an adoring but toxic relationship between two sisters growing up in a town with a reservoir that harbors some dark secrets. It’s haunting and beautiful, so don’t let Chloe’s opinions annoy you.
  • Holes by Louis Sachar – This isn’t as dark as any of the other books mentioned here, but it does follow Stanley Yelnatz in a youth detention camp as he digs holes and finds out nothing is what it seems at Camp Greenlake.

Backlist Bonus: Imaginary Girls

8603765.jpgby Nova Ren Suma
YA Contemporary
4 of 5 stars

Debut novel – June 11, 2011

This is one of my favorite YA stories because it does a little genre-mashing. On the surface it’s a YA Contemporary story about two sisters in a small town. But as you read it, more paranormal experiences and strange events keep you from trusting the narrator (Chloe, Ruby’s adoring younger sister) or anyone else around her.

Ruby is the star of the show. When her younger sister, Chloe, is sent away from the small town and its reservoir, Ruby does what it takes to get her back. At first everything seems great, but the longer Chloe lives with her sister, the more you start to realize that almost nothing Chloe tells you is what it seems. Ruby might not want what is best for her, and the dead classmate that Chloe remembers might not be dead. The whole story feels like an uneasy dream.

Chloe and Ruby are polarizing characters, but to me the pull of the story more than surpassed any character flaws. Their relationship isn’t perfect, and that’s part of the intrigue. The mystery of what happened one night on the reservoir, and why Chloe was taken from Ruby afterward, is something the sisters navigate together. It lurks behind everything said and unsaid as they live on their own, get boyfriends, and spend a summer together.

Extra points for beautiful cover art and excellent writing. This is a creepy mystery you’ll finish fast.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Imaginary Girls is available on Goodreads and its parent company Amazon. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma – Her third novel centers around Violet, a ballet dancer, and Amber, an inmate at a girls’ juvenile detention facility. They both knew Orianna, a talented ballet dancer accused of a terrible crime, but finding out who is guilty and who is innocent isn’t simple. See my review here.
  • Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn – An excellent mystery with two unreliable narrators, Nick and Amy, who try to convince you that they’re telling the real story behind Amy’s disappearance and possible murder.

Crown of Midnight

17167166by Sarah J. Maas
YA Fantasy
5 of 5 stars

When I read Throne of Glass, it was such a breath of fresh air that I devoured the rest of the series in a week! This is the second of what will be six books, and so far it is my favorite. Any flaws from the first book are cleaned up and swept aside here. The plot unfolds in a much more balanced way, with more twists and turns–the last 150 pages is a seamless collection of powerful scenes with cinematic scope. I loved it so much I immediately went back and read it a second time!

Everything you liked is back in this story: Celaena’s friendship with Nehemia, more of Chaol, more of Dorian, as well as an expanded view of the world and Celaena’s past. The web of politics expands, and Celaena has to come to terms with being too comfortable in her enemy’s glass castle. Her destiny is at a crossroads, and she has to choose a side.

If you enjoyed Throne of Glass, this one will only make you a bigger fan. If you thought the first book was “just okay,” this one might convert you.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Crown of Midnight is available on Goodreads and its parent company Amazon. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo – This fantasy trilogy based on Russian mythology follows Alina as she struggles to discern her true destiny as the ruler or savior of Ravka. This is the second book and does an excellent job of expanding the story’s scope.
  • In the Hand of the Goddess by Tamora Pierce – The second in a quartet about Alanna, a young woman trying to become the first lady knight in her country. Again, this sequel improves and expands on the first book and is my favorite in the quartet. See my review here.
  • Sabriel by Garth Nix – I recommend this book a lot because I love the heroine so much. Sabriel has to take up the mantle of Abhorsen (the person who protects the kingdom from Dead spirits and necromancers) before she is ready, when her father disappears. See my review here.
  • Graceling by Kristin Cashore – Katsa’s magical ability (her Grace) is killing — until a prince from another country asks for help with a political/personal mystery and makes her question everything she believes about herself and her world. This is a bit slower than Maas’ work but the world and characters are rich and full of life. See my review here.
  • Old Magic by Marianne Curley – An Australian girl named Kate meets Jarrod, an attractive guy who just might have magic powers he doesn’t know about. Good thing Kate is a witch, because Jarrod’s family is cursed and she has to help him break that curse before it destroys them.

Ender’s Game

375802by Orson Scott Card
Science Fiction
5 of 5 stars
Debut novel – first in series – 1985

I regret that it took me so long to read this book, especially since I can give it such an excellent rating. I loved every page of this story! The edition I read came with an introduction from the author that added insights about critical and popular reaction to its publication. Much of the debate was based on the fact that he wrote it as simply as possible. His style reminds me of Hemingway, the ultimate dry writer, but I like it much more. The author discussed the strange idea that declares any fiction understood by the masses isn’t worthy of acclaim or isn’t thought-provoking, and how that just isn’t true. Metaphors, subtle themes, and symbolism don’t mean a story is better or for better people. That belief is evident here. It’s one of the few times that an author’s ideology has felt very present without detracting from my enjoyment of the story.

The technology is believable–not just believable, but an accurate prediction in most cases–the characters are compelling, and the pacing is perfect. It’s undeniably science fiction (humans are in a star-ship war with aliens) but not much time is spent on space-travel or weaponry itself. The characters are always “on-screen” and driving the plot, so there are no huge chunks of exposition getting in the way.

The key relationships in the story are between Ender and his equally brilliant siblings, which isn’t something I come across often. Their interactions and reactions were the most interesting, especially as they demonstrated how clever people often find themselves being manipulated but can’t stop it. This story will leave you uncomfortable and thoughtful.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Ender’s Game is available on Goodreads and its parent company Amazon. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • Acorna: The Unicorn Girl by Anne McCaffrey and Margaret Ball – A saga following an alien girl discovered by some miners. They travel the galaxy on several quests, exploring themes of injustice and genocide.
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley – The flip side of an Orwellian future; in this story everyone is controlled through pleasure, not pain.
  • The Time Machine by H. G. Wells – A short but poignant meditation on the human condition as the time-traveler explores the future.
  • Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin – In an alternate timeline, the Axis Powers won WWII, and a Jewish girl named Yael escaped is on a mission to kill the Fuhrer. She just has to win a cross-country motorcycle race first. And she has to do it by impersonating the previous year’s winner. See my review here.

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