The Hating Game by Sally Thorne

Title: The Hating Game25883848
Author: Sally Thorne
Pages: 387
Year: 2016
Publisher: William Morrow
Rating: 4/5

Goodreads Synopsis: Lucy Hutton and Joshua Templeman hate each other. Not dislike. Not begrudgingly tolerate. Hate. And they have no problem displaying their feelings through a series of ritualistic passive aggressive maneuvers as they sit across from each other, executive assistants to co-CEOs of a publishing company. Lucy can’t understand Joshua’s joyless, uptight, meticulous approach to his job. Joshua is clearly baffled by Lucy’s overly bright clothes, quirkiness, and Pollyanna attitude.

Now up for the same promotion, their battle of wills has come to a head and Lucy refuses to back down when their latest game could cost her her dream job…But the tension between Lucy and Joshua has also reached its boiling point, and Lucy is discovering that maybe she doesn’t hate Joshua. And maybe, he doesn’t hate her either. Or maybe this is just another game.

I kept seeing The Hating Game on my Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, and Goodreads timeline, and its rave reviews piqued my curiosity. As is my policy for all books, I put it on my Kindle Wishlist until it went on sale. My boyfriend bought me an amazon gift card for the sole purpose of buying full price books, but I have still adhered to this policy. Because, as I explained to him, why would I buy two full priced books when I could buy 20 books for $1.99? Ahem. On to the review.

Lucy Hutton and Joshua Templeman are both executive assistants to the co-owners of Bexley & Gamin, a publishing company in New York City. While they share an office space in close quarters, they have never gotten along. When their respective bosses announce that one of them will be promoted over the other, their competitive drive only raises the stakes of their hatred for one another. However, the office dynamic begins crumbling when their daily arguments and games turn into sexual tension.

Office romance? Enemies to lovers? Sounds like a big cup of cliche. *Sips tea* But the author was able to bring new life to these tired tropes through her hilarious and quirky characters. Lucy’s narration of her working relationship with Josh and the other employees of Bexley & Gamin had me laughing out loud. The witty banter and bickering between Lucy and Josh only made their chemistry more apparent.

As a whole, this book was a fun, hilarious read. I enjoyed every second of it, and seriously could not put it down. Recommending to all fans of contemporaries and rom-coms!

Everything You Want Me to Be by Mindy Mejia

Title: Everything You Want Me to Be29276588
Author: Mindy Mejia
Pages: 340
Year: 2017
Publisher: Atria Books
Rating: 4.5/5

Goodreads Synopsis: No one knows who she really is…

Hattie Hoffman has spent her whole life playing many parts: the good student, the good daughter, the good girlfriend. But Hattie wants something more, something bigger, and ultimately something that turns out to be exceedingly dangerous. When she’s found brutally stabbed to death, the tragedy rips right through the fabric of her small-town community.

It soon comes to light that Hattie was engaged in a highly compromising and potentially explosive secret online relationship. The question is: Did anyone else know? And to what lengths might they have gone to end it? Hattie’s boyfriend seems distraught over her death, but had he fallen so deeply in love with her that she had become an obsession? Or did Hattie’s impulsive, daredevil nature simply put her in the wrong place at the wrong time, leading her to a violent death at the hands of a stranger?

Full of twists and turns, Everything You Want Me to Be reconstructs a year in the life of a dangerously mesmerizing young woman, during which a small town’s darkest secrets come to the forefront…and she inches closer and closer to death.

Evocative and razor-sharp, Everything You Want Me to Be challenges you to test the lines between innocence and culpability, identity and deception. Does love lead to self-discovery—or destruction?

This is a review that I have sat on for a while now, just because I was so stunned by this book. Everything You Want Me to Be is a book that has stayed with me since the very last page, and I’ve had a difficult time putting into words just how much I enjoyed it and how deeply it disturbed me.

The story is told from three alternating points of view; Hattie’s, Peter’s, and Del’s (the Sheriff investigating Hattie’s murder). Both men know vastly different versions of Hattie, and this is made apparent right away. In a small town setting where everybody knows everything about everybody, people are very surprised to learn that the popular girl they thought they knew was not all that she seemed.

This book is one of those books that will make you uncomfortable, but not in the reasons that you’re thinking. While being about the murder of one of the main characters, Everything You Want Me to Be is actually pretty tame when it comes to graphic violence. What’s disturbing about it is Hattie’s final year in high school, the events leading up to her death, and what caused everything to fall apart.

Hattie is a master in the art of manipulation, and by the time she turns eighteen, it’s as natural to her as breathing. This is not to say that she is a sociopath, but that she has learned how to perceive what will be most pleasing or attractive to each person in her life and changes her personality based on those preferences. Her manipulations are grounded in good intentions, but that level of self-regulation is exhausting to Hattie. When she finally decides to end the charade and mold herself into her best character yet (herself), she is murdered.

Even though there is a relationship between Hattie and a teacher, I wasn’t as uncomfortable with this as I would have previously imagined. This is not to say that I was completely comfortable with it, I wasn’t. But the 8-year age gap between Hattie and Peter seemed less and less significant as time went on, and I found myself feeling sorry for them knowing what was to come.

Peter Lund was a fascinating character. He’s a young teacher, new to the profession, having all the excitement and characteristics that make up the best kinds of teachers. However, he is not without his own problems. He’s become increasingly distant from his wife, as a result of being transplanted from big city life to his wife’s small hometown. He misses the opportunities that city life affords him, and feels alien to the farm life in which his wife is so capable.

Sheriff Del Goodman is less of a defined character. His purpose is to provide the reader with more details and discoveries about the investigation into Hattie’s murder. Being an old friend of Hattie’s family, he has a personal stake in the case and is therefore more involved and forthcoming with information, but he is still not as developed as the other narrators.

As far as structure, I thought that the pacing was very good. Mejia gave us certain revelations at the perfect times and withheld others until later. The investigation was filled with twists and false assumptions that kept me guessing until the very end. Just when I thought I had it all figured out, I was shocked yet again. Highly recommended to fans of the psychological thriller!

With Malice by Eileen Cook

Title: With Malice26153925
Author: Eileen Cook
Pages: 316
Year: 2016
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Rating: 3.75/5

Goodreads Synopsis: It was the perfect trip…until it wasn’t.

Eighteen-year-old Jill Charron wakes up in a hospital room, leg in a cast, stitches in her face and a big blank canvas where the last six weeks should be. She discovers she was involved in a fatal car accident while on a school trip in Italy. A trip she doesn’t even remember taking. She was jetted home by her affluent father in order to receive quality care. Care that includes a lawyer. And a press team. Because maybe the accident…wasn’t an accident.

As the accident makes national headlines, Jill finds herself at the center of a murder investigation. It doesn’t help that the media is portraying her as a sociopath who killed her bubbly best friend, Simone, in a jealous rage. With the evidence mounting against her, there’s only one thing Jill knows for sure: She would never hurt Simone. But what really happened? Questioning who she can trust and what she’s capable of, Jill desperately tries to piece together the events of the past six weeks before she loses her thin hold on her once-perfect life.

Imagine waking up in a hospital bed with no recollection of the last month or so of your life. This is how Jill Charron’s story begins, as she recovers from a devastating car accident that killed her best friend, Simone. The gut-wrenching twist? The police don’t believe it was an accident at all. Statements are emerging saying that Jill fought with Simone before the accident, that the crash looked intentional, and that their friendship was more sinister than it seemed.

Jill doesn’t remember any of this. She only remembers a loving relationship with her oldest and dearest friend. But as the evidence begins to tower over her, she wonders if she is capable of the things everyone is saying she has done. Could she have let a boy come between their friendship? Could she have fought with Simone? And could she have murdered her best friend?

Jill’s narrative is split up between interviews, online conversations, media segments, and descriptions of Italian landmarks. This format worked very well for me. I thought it was a fun way to break up the novel and to give more points of view other than our protagonist. It showed just how much the “truth” can differ between different people, and how flimsy that truth can be. Even when Jill’s memory begins to return, her doctors remind her that her “memories” could be influenced by what she has been told by her family and the press, making her an unreliable narrator and leaving a lot of what she remembers up to interpretation from the reader.

I felt sympathetic for Jill as she is cruelly depicted by the media and slut-shamed by peers and strangers alike. Her parents and lawyers don’t believe in her innocence either, simply trying to make it all go away. Everyone believes that Jill is hiding something, and remembers a lot more than what she is letting on. However, while the plot hinges on Jill’s memory, it is only moved forward by the statements and interviews gathered by police as they build the case against her. This is not a novel driven by character development, but by the development of the plot.

So, did Jill murder Simone? Read this fast-paced thriller and find out!

 

The Bucket List to Mend a Broken Heart by Anna Bell

Title: The Bucket List to Mend a Broken Heart28811985.jpg
Author: Anna Bell
Pages: 432
Year: 2016
Publisher: Zaffre Publishing
Rating: 3.5/5

Goodreads Synopsis: A hilarious new romantic comedy for fans of Lindsey Kelk and Jane Costello from Anna Bell, the bestselling author of Don’t Tell the Groom. Abi’s barely left her bed since Joseph, the love of her life, dumped her, saying they were incompatible. When Joseph leaves a box of her possessions on her doorstep, she finds a bucket list of ten things she never knew he wanted to do. What better way to win him back than by completing the list, and proving they’re a perfect match? But there’s just one problem – or rather, ten. Abi’s not exactly the outdoorsy type, and she’s absolutely terrified of heights – not ideal for a list that includes climbing a mountain, cycling around the Isle of Wight and, last but not least, abseiling down the tallest building in town …Completing the list is going to need all Abi’s courage – and a lot of help from her friends. But as she heals her broken heart one task at a time, the newly confident Abi might just have a surprise in store …

Abi is completely devastated when her long-term boyfriend, Joseph, dumps her unexpectedly. So much so, that it sends her wallowing in a deep depression for weeks. When she discovers his “Things to Do Before I am 40” list among the items he’s left at her apartment, she decides to complete it; thus, impressing him and winning him back in the process. What ensues is the hilarious, yet heart-warming journey of a woman’s discovery of herself.

If you’ve ever been broken up with, especially unexpectedly, you’ll know the emotional roller coaster that ensues in the aftermath. Obsessing over what went wrong, what was said, what might have gone differently, and how you can win them back. Abi’s case is no different. The novel begins with Abi wallowing in post-breakup depression. Bouts of crying, emotional eating, and lack of personal hygiene… Personally, I found it a little pathetic that she let someone else have that much control over her and her happiness, but I can understand the sentiment. This is why that when Abi finds Joseph’s bucket list, it makes sense in her desperate state that she wants to use it to win him back.

Aided by her best friend, Sian, and colleage, Giles, Abi begins to make her way through the list as quickly as she can in order to win Joseph back before he can find someone else. What I liked most about Abi’s group of friends is that even though they were unsure about her list (why abseil down a building when you’re afraid of heights?) and didn’t know the real reason why she wanted to start and complete it so quickly, they still wholeheartedly supported her. They wanted her to succeed and were willing and able to help her do so. I thought their support of Abi really lifted the tone of the story and made it more of a team effort. Sometimes, having a great group of friends around you during a difficult break up can be all the medicine you need.

 

The bucket list aspect could have been very formulaic and just followed the list without much depth or character development, but instead we got to see Abi’s character change and grow from the pity party of one we saw in the beginning, to a woman with confidence and independence. It was very inspiring to see her, not only pick up the pieces, but become a better version of herself, despite her original motives. While this book is very much the predictable, romantic comedy trope, I still found myself invested in Abi’s character and the outcome of the book. All I wanted was for Abi to realize how awesome she was on her own, and that she didn’t need to place her self worth in someone else’s hands. Thankfully, she arrived at that conclusion in the end, after five or six shenanigans.

A must-read if you’re looking for a laugh-out-loud, inspiring, romantic, pick-me-up!

Top Five Wednesday: Double Post

I missed the last T5W. (A sentence you have never heard me say before.) But it was one I didn’t miss on purpose, OKAY? So I’m combining them. Is your body ready? No? Too bad.


Discuss your preferred fancasts for some of your favorite characters. (Fancasts means actors you’d like to play your favorite characters or imagine your favorite characters as)

So…  This is a dilemma. Most of my favorite characters have already been cast into films and TV shows. Some of the castings I loved, and others I very much disagreed with. I’m not going to get into that right now because this post will never end, but JUST KNOW… I have opinions.

Red Queen by Veronica Aveyard

Mare Barrow – Lindsey Morgan (The 100) or Esmeraude Tobia (Shadowhunters)

Mare is described as being of Hispanic and Mediterranean descent, and I think both of these ladies fit the bill. Each of them play kick-ass characters on broadcast television, and I can easily see them filling Mare’s shoes. To be completely honest, I will be happy with the casting as long as they don’t cast a blonde, Caucasian actress to play her.

Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

Tessa Gray – Jenna Louise Coleman (Victoria, Dr. Who)MV5BMTQ2NjAwMTI2N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODk3MjA3NjE@._V1_SY1000_SX1500_AL_

I already know that I’m going to get some backlash for this. The Clockwork Angel characters are so hard to cast because I really just want the perfect people to play them. When searching for fancasts of Tessa Gray, I noticed Sarah Bolger and Astrid Berges-Frisby were mentioned frequently as favorites. However, I don’t really like either one for the part. Jenna Coleman is fantastic in Victoria, and I think she could play the bookish Tessa fairly well. I also liked Alicia Vikander for this part, but I think I would be happy with anyone relatively unknown playing her. As long as they look the part.

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Cinder – Chloe Bennet (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) or Jessica Yu (Awkward)

I PROMISE THEY ARE BOTH ASIAN. Preferably they would get someone younger to play Cinder, but I don’t know about the unknowns. I’m not an agent, and this isn’t star search. (Do you SEE what I did there?)

Uglies by Scott Westerfield

Tally Youngblood – Willa Holland (Arrow)

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Finding an ugly actress in Hollywood is like trying to find a snowball on a beach. I’m not saying Willa Holland is ugly by any means, but I think she could really do Tally some justice. FYI: This film has been “in the works” since ‘nam, and it really doesn’t look like they’re ever going to do anything for it.

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

Don Tillman – Matthew Gray Gubler (Criminal Minds) or Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory)

I imagined Don as Sheldon the entire time while reading this book. But I think Matthew Gray Gubler could do the character justice as well. It’s a toss up, really.


Discuss the books you’ve picked up because you’ve heard of them in the online book community or platform you use

History is all you left me by Adam Silvera

History is all you left me+ Adam Silvera

I can’t remember specifically which booktuber recommended this book, but I think it’s safe to assume that all of them did. I haven’t started it yet, but I just picked it up this week through Amazon Kindle for $1.99. (HINT HINT.)

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

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This is another book that I recently picked up for $1.99, and don’t remember who I heard about it from. There is so much hype surrounding this book that I’m almost afraid to read it, but I’m sure it will live up to its reputation!

Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

the queen of the tearling - erika johansen

I stumbled upon this book through ReadbyZoe’s booktube channel. (I promise I came up with my own blog handle without realizing the resemblance.) I loved the cover, and I found the premise very interesting. Although Emma Watson (my QUEEN) is in talks to play Kelsea, I couldn’t see her as such while reading the book. I imagined Kelsea more curvy, like an America Ferrera type. Side note: how cool would it be to have a plus-sized leading actress in this movie?

Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

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This book has been hammered into my brain by the likes of PolandBananasBOOKS, Abookutopia, Peruseproject, Jessethereader, Tashopolis, etc., etc. If you’ve been with me for a while, you’ll know that I just got around to reading this incredible series last year. Because I am the Queen of being late to the party.

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

a discovery of witches - deborah harkness
Sasha Alsberg of Abookutopia recommended this book to her followers a while back, and proclaimed it her second favorite book. Sasha and I seem to generally have the same taste in books, so how could I say no? And I wasn’t disappointed.

The Shoes Come First by Janet Leigh

Title: The Shoes Come First25026404
Author: Janet Leigh
Pages: 286
Year: 2015
Publisher: Goodreads
Rating: 2/5

Goodreads Synopsis: In Sunnyside, Texas, Jennifer Cloud is an assistant purchasing manager for an upscale shoe store. But after her boss is arrested, she’s forced to find work elsewhere and ends up in her brother’s chiropractic office, where she discovers a hidden passion for helping others.

However, when she receives an unexpected birthday gift from her aunt that transports her back in time to 1568 Scotland, she meets a dashing Scottish outlaw who introduces her to a world of time-traveling keys. But on a return trip to the past, Jennifer’s key is stolen by a villainous band of time travelers who will stop at nothing to collect all of the keys for themselves. When Jennifer attempts to retrieve the key and sees her cousin kidnapped, she enlists a dysfunctional cast of characters—including a few interested suitors—to help her find the key and rescue her cousin.

Oh man… Where do I begin? I picked this book based solely on the fact that it was free via Kindle, and I am so glad of that fact. I really hate to say that I hated this book, but it was pretty bad… I’ve read better Twilight fan fiction… (*Cough* Fifty Shades of Grey *Cough*)

Ditzy (and virtually helpless) Jennifer Cloud’s obsession with shoes outweighs most other pressing matters in her life, until she accidentally stumbles upon a time traveling outhouse that takes her back in time to the 16th century. There, she meets a Scottish hunk, for whom she abandons all morals. (Context: At the time, she’s a 16 year old virgin who sleeps with a stranger she just met.) After a big time jump to the future, Jenn is yet again whisked away to the past via outhouse. Only this time, her redneck cousin Gertie goes along for the ride. From there, a series of shenanigans transpire, as well as Jenn being fought over by at least 3 different men. All of whom, I should mention, are massive fuckboys that Jennifer shouldn’t be wasting her time on anyway.

Positives:

  • There were a few funny moments that I couldn’t help snorting at.
  • Jennifer Cloud is written as a kindhearted, passionate person, who can’t help but inspire those around her to be better.
  • Time travel

Negatives:

  • Jennifer Cloud is written as a woman with no self control. She sleeps with a man she has just met, who abandons her in a foreign land/foreign time. She is indecisive, ditzy, and helpless. She has to rely on others to save her, and frequently wishes for the men in her life to save her from predicaments instead of looking for a solution herself. She’s described as gorgeous, but doesn’t buy that all these men are interested in her. In summary: Jennifer Cloud is a Disney Princess.
  • All of Jennifer’s love interests are serial daters, and are well known for sleeping around. None are immune to Jenn’s charms.

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    Me

  • Many, many, MANY plot cliches.
  • Cheesy villains

If you want a LIGHT, romantic, cheesy read, this is the book for you. Personally, I found it a little hard to get through, but someone else may enjoy it immensely. This book received a *chokes on coffee* 3.71 rating on Goodreads.

The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger

Title: The Devil Wears Prada 228580
Author: Lauren Weisberger
Pages: 432
Year: 2003
Publisher: Doubleday
Rating: 3.5/5

Goodreads Synopsis: When Andrea first sets foot in the plush Manhattan offices of Runway, she knows nothing. She’s never heard of the world’s most fashionable magazine, or its feared and fawned-over editor, Miranda Priestly. But she’s going to be Miranda’s assistant, a job millions of girls would die for. A year later, she knows altogether too much: That it’s a sacking offence to wear anything lower than a three-inch heel to work. But that there’s always a fresh pair of Manolos for you in the accessories cupboard. That Miranda believes Hermes scarves are disposable, and you must keep a life-time supply on hand at all times. That eight stone is fat. That you can charge cars, manicures, anything at all to the Runway account, but you must never, ever, leave your desk, or let Miranda’s coffee get cold. And that at 3 a.m. on a Sunday, when your boyfriend’s dumping you because you’re always at work, and your best friend’s just been arrested, if Miranda phones, you jump. Most of all, Andrea knows that Miranda is a monster who makes Cruella de Vil look like a fluffy bunny. But also that this is her big break, and it’s going to be worth it in the end. Isn’t it?

The Devil Wears Prada (2006) is one of those films they play on TV all the time, and one I almost always watch when it is on. It’s really a fantastically entertaining film, and Anne Hathaway’s, Meryl Steep’s, Stanley Tucci’s, and Emily Blunt’s performances are top notch. So when I found the book on Amazon Kindle for $1.99, I couldn’t pass it up. Miranda Priestly would not approve of my bargain shopping, but I don’t work for her, so YOLO. Settle in for my review, it’s not like you have anything better to do at the moment.

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I think most of you will know the story by now – Andrea Sachs, a recent college grad who neither knows nor cares anything about fashion, is thrown into a world where anything bigger than a size zero is frowned upon, carbs are the devil, and if you thought that top went with those shoes, you are seriously disturbed. Her boss, Miranda Priestly, head of Runway Magazine and dragon lady extraordinaire, is the most demanding and unreasonable person on the planet. The only reason Andrea puts up with it all, is because working for a year as Miranda’s assistant will open up many doors for her in the future. Only, she’s turning into a “clacker” herself, and her personal life is crashing down around her. After reading the book, I can only say that if you’ve seen the film and think you know the book, you are sadly mistaken. I’ll take “creative liberties” for 500, please.

In the film, we are introduced to our clear protagonist, Andrea “Andy” Sachs (Anne Hathaway) when she interviews for her first publishing job out of school. As her demanding job occupies more and more of her time, we become frustrated alongside her, as her friends and family refuse to see things from her point of view. We become enamored with the cold, Miranda Priestly, and the Runway way of life. When Andy’s job demands her soul, she gives it all up (in a professional way) and takes what she has learned to her next opportunity.

In the book, Andy ends up at a job interview for a magazine she doesn’t read, nor has ever heard of. She doesn’t do any research about the company before the interview, and doesn’t look to see who the key players are. “A million girls would die for this job” is a phrase repeated countless times throughout the novel, but Andy doesn’t appreciate what she has. She constantly complains about her vapid and fashion obsessed co-workers, but while that may be so, they have a much better work ethic than she does. Instead of being grateful for the experience and the contacts she is gaining, she chooses to complain about having to earn her dues.

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While I felt for Andy when Miranda would come up with yet another vague task for her to complete, I couldn’t help but be annoyed with the way she acted. After almost a year of working, she chooses to blow up at Miranda and is fired on the spot. I felt this to be extremely unprofessional, and I couldn’t help but wonder how Andy’s job prospects would pan out after this. (This is fiction, so obviously she is just fine.) Miranda Priestly, while difficult, is an extremely influential person in the magazine industry. Did she really not think about what the consequences might be for her outburst?

From the moment Andy is hired at Runway, she begins to put her friends and family second behind her career. Her best friend and roommate is an alcoholic. When she begins failing her classes, sleeping with random guys, and losing time, Andy doesn’t talk to her about it or offer to help. When her boyfriend starts becoming increasingly distant, Andy doesn’t make more of an effort to keep him in her life. Instead, she seriously considers cheating on him. When Miranda suggests that Andy “reminds her of herself”, Andy takes it as a compliment and uses her words as an opportunity for career advancement. Even when the worst happens, Andy throws away the opportunity for redemption to preserve her career. Because this is fiction, she ends up rebuilding all the bridges she burned, but I couldn’t help wanting to shake her screaming “IT’S JUST A JOB!!!!”

One thing I wish the book had touched on was the double standard in modern culture for women in leadership positions having to act the same way as their male counterparts. While Miranda was (and is viewed as being) difficult, cold, condescending, etc; it’s important to realize how much she has accomplished. Her background is briefly touched on in the novel, but it is explained that she came from nothing and clawed her way to the top. She wouldn’t have gotten to where she is, garnered the respect she has, or proven her invaluable worth to the magazine and fashion world if she didn’t have talent or determination. This, while men are able to occupy leadership positions without the assumption that they are shrill, cold, or overly ambitious.

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3.5, because while it was definitely worth the read, I prefer the film. Or maybe I just prefer Meryl Streep. (That woman could play a plastic bag blowing in the wind and still win an Oscar, IMO.)

Secondborn by Amy A. Bartol

Title: Secondborn32972153
Author: Amy A. Bartol
Pages: 321
Year: 2017
Publisher: 47North
Rating: 3.5/5

Goodreads Synopsis: Firstborns rule society. Secondborns are the property of the government. Thirdborns are not tolerated. Long live the Fates Republic.

On Transition Day, the second child in every family is taken by the government and forced into servitude. Roselle St. Sismode’s eighteenth birthday arrives with harsh realizations: she’s to become a soldier for the Fate of Swords military arm of the Republic during the bloodiest rebellion in history, and her elite firstborn mother is happy to see her go.

Televised since her early childhood, Roselle’s privileged upbringing has earned her the resentment of her secondborn peers. Now her decision to spare an enemy on the battlefield marks her as a traitor to the state.

But Roselle finds an ally—and more—in fellow secondborn conscript Hawthorne Trugrave. As the consequences of her actions ripple throughout the Fates Republic, can Roselle create a destiny of her own? Or will her Fate override everything she fights for—even love?

I read this book via Amazon’s Kindle First program.

Not another teen dystopian novel! Honestly, someone needs to do a parody of dystopian novels if they haven’t already. 10/10, would read, would buy seafood dinner.

Secondborn’s dystopian identifier is in its title. All second born children are handed over to the government as slaves, and the first born children rule the world. I thought this book offered a unique take on the “realms separated by factions” trope that we have seen so often in YA. Amy Bartol is very detailed in her world building and explained the politics and terminology very well, but it felt like a lot of information at once. Thank God for the glossary in the back of the book (that I didn’t realize was there until I had finished reading).

Our protagonist, Roselle St. Sismode (try saying that 5x fast…) is a second born. Her mother is the Clarity (leader) of her fate (caste system), whose high ranking has forced Roselle to live in the spotlight her entire life. Luckily, Roselle isn’t jaded by her privileged upbringing, and uses her celebrity as a means to help others. She has been trained as a fighter since she could walk, and is a natural born leader. While she is a bit naive, Roselle has a hero’s heart and is loyal to the people she loves. Yada-yada, oppressed second class rebels against their oppressors, led by a skinny white girl with a Mary Sue complex, yada.

The characters were distinctive and seemed to fit in well with the protagonist. There were a few characters that made an appearance only to never be mentioned again, but for the most part, every character had a purpose and a personality.

The pacing here was terrible. The first third of the book was pretty slow, due to detailed world building. We get detailed explanations about the weirdest things at the most bizarre times. Roselle learns about how soldiers get sex privileges right after surviving a terrorist attack and leaving the only father figure she has ever known. I suppose this was a way to hammer in the romance aspect early, but it could have been handled more naturally. There was time to build up the tension between these characters, but instead they got the insta-love special. About halfway through, we have a time jump (which wasn’t necessary to the plot in any way, whatsoever) and an entire year is described in two pages. The pacing did even out for the second half of the book, but the first half definitely put a bad taste in my mouth. I couldn’t figure out why the time jump was important and why our characters couldn’t have just continued as usual. I nearly put the book down and stopped reading, but didn’t, thankfully. Once Amy found her pacing, the rest of the book flowed very well.

All of that being said, I thought Secondborn was an interesting read. While Amy borrowed from a lot of dystopian tropes, she reworked them in a unique way. It was easy to be invested in certain characters, and in the world they live in. Amy’s imagination knows no bounds, as her futuristic and technological society is almost nothing like I’ve ever read before. 3.5 stars for selective poaching, bad pacing, and the need for a strong edit. Can’t wait to read book 2! 🙂

Miss Mabel’s School for Girls by Katie Cross

Title: Miss Mabel’s School for Girls25321022
Author: Katie Cross
Pages: 316
Year: 2015
Publisher: Antebellum Publishing
Rating: 3.5/5

Goodreads Synopsis: Never underestimate the power of a determined witch.

Letum Wood is a forest of fog and deadfall, home to the quietly famous Miss Mabel’s School for Girls, a place where young witches learn the art of magic.

Sixteen-year-old Bianca Monroe has inherited a deadly curse. Determined to break free before it kills her, she enrolls in the respected school to confront the cunning witch who cast the curse: Miss Mabel.

Bianca finds herself faced with dark magic she didn’t expect, with lessons more dangerous than she could have ever imagined. Will Bianca have the courage to save herself from the curse, or will Miss Mabel’s sinister plan be too powerful?

Miss Mabel’s School for Girls is the first novel in The Network Series, an exciting new fantasy collection. A gripping tale about the struggle to survive, it will take you to a new place and time, one you’ll never want to leave. 

I think I would have really liked this book, had I been 10 years younger and had never read or even heard of Harry Potter. It has all the elements of an intriguing fantasy book: witches, magical boarding school, a confident and determined protagonist, a purely evil villain, strong female characters, and an exciting plot. The best part? No love interest! How could I be disappointed? Fasten your seat belts, ladies and gents. We just boarded the critical train.

Bianca Monroe is a fifteen-year-old witch who has just recently enrolled into Miss Mabel’s School for Girls in order to win the competition and become the Assistant to Miss Mabel, so that she can reverse the curse put upon her family and save her own life. Sound vaguely familiar? Bianca has been trained since birth in her magical abilities in order to defeat Miss Mabel, casting spells and hexes beyond the reach of her age. Yet, she’s still completely likable and human. While it was refreshing to have a protagonist that knew what she was doing, it felt too convenient. She already knew everything she needed to know to accomplish her end goal, but simply refused to do it.

The Competition reminded me heavily of the Triwizard Tournament. However, the challenges lacked tension and seemed too easy. There isn’t any suspense because we already know who is going to win. I think the story would have been better if Bianca had lost, and had to try to figure out another way to reach her end goal.

The word progression and overall story line is very well done, and I loved that there weren’t any information dumps. Not everything about Bianca’s motivations, character, or even the witchy world in which our characters reside are given away all at once. Everything is unraveled naturally as the dialogue and action progresses, rather than giving it away in the first few chapters.

This book has the ability to transcend the masses, being clean enough for middle grade readers, but dark and angsty enough for tweens and teens. Being 24, I felt it was a bit too young for me, but I still enjoyed reading it. If I had read this when I was 14, I would have given it at least 4 stars.

P.S. This book was free on Amazon Kindle!

From Sand and Ash by Amy Harmon

Title: From Sand and Ash27343696
Author: Amy Harmon
Pages: 386
Year: 2016
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Rating: 5

Goodreads Synopsis: Italy, 1943—Germany occupies much of the country, placing the Jewish population in grave danger during World War II.

As children, Eva Rosselli and Angelo Bianco were raised like family but divided by circumstance and religion. As the years go by, the two find themselves falling in love. But the church calls to Angelo and, despite his deep feelings for Eva, he chooses the priesthood.

Now, more than a decade later, Angelo is a Catholic priest and Eva is a woman with nowhere to turn. With the Gestapo closing in, Angelo hides Eva within the walls of a convent, where Eva discovers she is just one of many Jews being sheltered by the Catholic Church.

But Eva can’t quietly hide, waiting for deliverance, while Angelo risks everything to keep her safe. With the world at war and so many in need, Angelo and Eva face trial after trial, choice after agonizing choice, until fate and fortune finally collide, leaving them with the most difficult decision of all.

It’s taken me a while to review this book, simply because I am at a loss for words as to how to translate my feelings for this book into a review. Amy Harmon has proved, first in The Bird and the Sword and now in From Sand and Ash, her ability to create a work of art using words alone. I want to read everything this author has ever written, even her shopping lists.

From Sand and Ash is a story of contradictions, contrasting violence with love, fear with bravery, good with evil, and death with life. Amy brings together the best and worst of humanity on these pages, evoking a relentless emotional response that will have you laughing one minute and sobbing the next. The story of Eva Roselli and Angelo Bianco is as enchanting as it is brutal. The love they share, forbidden both by duty and by law, is all consuming despite the horrific circumstances in which this love inhabits. Amy doesn’t disguise the pain and atrocities her characters face, but immerses her readers in a frightening and turbulent time in history. This book serves, not only as a story of survival and love, but as a reminder that we are all the same. No matter where we come from, where we live, who we pray to, or what we believe in, we all seek joy and purpose. This book is a harrowing demonstration of what happens when we stop trying to understand each other, when we take what makes us different and use it as a means to divide, hurt, and demean. This message is hammered in on every page, in every sentence, in every word. When we refuse to learn from the past, we are doomed to repeat it.

As someone who was raised in a Catholic family, I understood Angelo’s devotion to God. However, his self-righteousness and desire for martyrdom were very frustrating. The relationship and tension between Angelo and Eva was all consuming, and it tugged on my heartstrings to see just how much he loved her. It actually brought tears to my eyes to see just how much Angelo worshiped Eva’s mind, body, and soul. Even though he is a priest, you can’t help but root for them no matter how wrong and blasphemous it is in the eyes of the Catholic Church.

In the author’s note, Amy mentions that she researched Judaism and Catholicism, but wasn’t sure if she brought them justice. I can’t speak for Judaism, but I can say that she captured the Catholic religion beautifully.  I think both of these religions have a negative stigma to them, brought about throughout history due to a lack of understanding. Amy Harmon not only understands these religions, but she makes them beautiful. Even if you aren’t religious by any means, I think you can still appreciate the role each religion plays in this book.

My biggest, and only, complaint I had while reading this book was how lucky these characters were, to the point where it was almost unbelievable. There were times when Eva and Angelo should have gotten caught, but didn’t. There were characters that had happy endings that seemed too good to be true, endings that fell too easily into place, or were resolved too quickly. However, none of these things took away from the bigger picture. It’s one of the best books I’ve read this year, and its message is still relevant for us today. Highly, highly recommended.