Tag Archives: Contemporary

Book Review : Bad Things (Tristan & Danika Book 1) by R.K. Lilley

Bad Things (volume 1 of the Tristan & Danika series) (Amazon Link)

Author : R.K. Lilley
Series : Tristan & Danika (volume 1 of 3)
Year Published : June 11th, 2013
Genre / Tags : Romance, Contemporary, Longer-Than-Average, Slow Burn
Formats : eBook, Paperback
# of Pages : 366 pages (Paperback)

Summary

Danika hasn’t had an easy life. Being insanely attracted to bad boys has never helped make it easier.

One look at Tristan, and every brain cell she possessed went up in smoke. This man was trouble with a capital T. It was a given.
She knew better. Bad boys were bad. Especially for her. Considering her history, it was crazy to think otherwise. So why did crazy have to feel so damn fine?

For as long as she could remember, Danika had been focused on the future with single-minded purpose. Tristan came along and taught her everything there was to know about letting go, and living in the present. She fell, hard and deep. Of course, that only made her impact with the ground that much more devastating.

Bad Things is about Tristan and Danika, and their train wreck of a love story. This series can be read as a standalone, or with the Up in the Air series.

Bad Things is a full length novel, at roughly 105,000 words.
This book is intended for ages 18 and up.

Review

I really wanted to love this one. This book seems made for me. There is a slow burn romance here where the characters get to know each other in the first half. Things aren’t rushed and feelings between the characters develop naturally. Biracial Asian MC is some frankly unusual rep in romance that I’d like to see more of. The love interest’s name is Tristan and I have some unique affinity for that name too. Everything came together for what would seem like subjective appeal.

First, the writing style. It is noticeably well-polished. I remember being impressed given that the book was free at the time on Amazon and I think it’s still frequently discounted or free. However, the core storyline was boring and uneventful for the most part. And honestly, that is a dealbreaker for me. If I had to choose between two major drawbacks, I would easily take a poorly written trainwreck with an interesting storyline and compelling characters over something technically competent but bland.

There’s nothing extremely wrong with the lead characters- but there’s also limited flavor to their characterization and banter. Their story is pretty unremarkable- except for the last couple of chapters.

In those last few, the leads abruptly become high strung and angsty. Tristan spends at least 70% of the book being an even-tempered and kind of bland guy and the last 30% going on a punching frenzy at every guy who looks at Danika wrong. It was a startling shift. They both react in kind of extreme ways to their relationship moving from friends to lovers, and more conflict ensues. At the end of it all, there was a preview for the next book that hinted at some unappealing future events. Honestly, had I not read that preview, I might have been more interested in maybe checking out the sequel. Sometimes I wonder if previews help or hurt a book. I usually skip them.

This title has quite a high average rating (4.3) and tons of ratings (almost 30k) on Goodreads. It’s worth noting that a lot of people seem to love it so I’m probably in the minority with my opinions. This couple’s slow burn romance is carefully handled enough to be realistic. But the boiling point seemed to slow to reach. Also suspect that the page count vs events of note might have been an obstacle for enjoyment, as the events in this book seem like they could have been accomplished in half the pages.

However, a major upside, the characters aren’t very problematic. In a sea of new adult titles that seem prone toward out-doing each other in shock value, something less feather-ruffling can actually be a breath of fresh air. Unfortunately, in the arena of fiction, I’m a person who lives for drama.

Overall Rating – 6/10

Why You Should Try It – If you’re a fan of contemporary romance, slow burn, lengthy narrative, and more realistic approaches to character development- this might strike the right chord. A lot of people seem to feel a strong chemistry between the pairing here.

Why You Might Not Like It – I was often bored with the averageness of every happening and found the characters and atmosphere unremarkable. Very forgettable sub-plots.

Bad Things (volume 1 of the Tristan & Danika series) (Amazon Link)


Thanks for checking out this review! Have you read this book or is it on your TBR? Read anything else by R.K. Lilley? Even though I felt lukewarm toward this book, I think romantic contemporaries in general might be a bit less appealing for me compared to fantasy settings. I have liked several, but they tend to need punchier or really funny banter or a remarkable and/or distinctive underlying plot to be engaging. Love to hear your thoughts as always and thanks again. ~ Kitty

Book Review : Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Ninth House
Author : Leigh Bardugo
Published By : Flatiron Books
Year/Date Published : October 8, 2019
Genre / Tags : Dark Fiction, Low Fantasy, Dark Fantasy, Mystery, Contemporary, Horror, Action
Mood : Vibrant yet mysterious
Formats : Hardcover, Paperback, eBook, Audiobook
# of Pages : 458 pages (Hardcover)

Summary

Galaxy “Alex” Stern is the most unlikely member of Yale’s freshman class. Raised in the Los Angeles hinterlands by a hippie mom, Alex dropped out of school early and into a world of shady drug dealer boyfriends, dead-end jobs, and much, much worse. By age twenty, in fact, she is the sole survivor of a horrific, unsolved multiple homicide. Some might say she’s thrown her life away. But at her hospital bed, Alex is offered a second chance: to attend one of the world’s most elite universities on a full ride. What’s the catch, and why her?

Still searching for answers to this herself, Alex arrives in New Haven tasked by her mysterious benefactors with monitoring the activities of Yale’s secret societies. These eight windowless “tombs” are well-known to be haunts of the future rich and powerful, from high-ranking politicos to Wall Street and Hollywood’s biggest players. But their occult activities are revealed to be more sinister and more extraordinary than any paranoid imagination might conceive.

The mesmerizing adult debut from #1 New York Times bestselling author Leigh Bardugo.

Content Warnings – Horror imagery (ghosts, mainly) violence, murder, coercion, sexual assault, flashback to assault of a child. A bit about that last one- if you wish to skip that scene here are some directions based on the hardcover 2019 US edition I have on hand : Page 121, stop reading at the beginning of the final paragraph that starts with “But Alex had to go. She chose the cleanest metal stall,” and start reading again at the beginning of page 124. Or you could just skip pages 121-124 altogether.

Review

I’m still in a foggy state of disarray at finally having and reading Ninth House. This book is good and well worth the while but also not quite measuring to my dreamlike, sky-high expectations. To be fair, no book should be subjected to such. I’ve found that most of my all-time faves have been utter surprises and the ones I wait feverishly for aren’t quite as sensational. Ninth House wasn’t a let down and there is much to enjoy within its pages, but this also wasn’t quite the bookish euphoria I was expecting. It’s a very far cry from Six of Crows in every conceivable way, to the point where I’d venture to imagine some people who hated Bardugo’s prior work might love Ninth House and vice versa. The commonalities between the two titles is Bardugo’s enduring knack for creative and fresh fantasy imagery (in Ninth House’s case, supernatural modern fantasy/mystery/horror) and solid characterization for the main characters.

First I’ll start with the main character, Alex. Her situation is best described as being similar to that kid from The Sixth Sense.

bruce willis i see dead people GIF

But instead of a little boy, imagine a little girl who grows up with not a single support or guiding force when dealing with this unfortunate gift. Only when she enters college, Yale to be exact, does she find people who can relate to her. By the way, if you haven’t seen The Sixth Sense I highly recommend dropping everything and watching it. Such a great movie.

Aside from seeing ghosts, Alex can interact with them. Over the course of Ninth House’s 450 pages, we see her grow and get a better handle on her powers and even learn how to use them for good and do some sleuthing. There is a bit of a chosen one trope feel but it’s a chosen-one-done-right. Alex doesn’t get special treatment for her gifts, of anything they’ve been a curse and the figures that recognize her abilities are not always trustworthy. The narrative jumps back and forth between present and recent past. In the recent past she’s given a mentor of sorts in a major character, Daniel Arlington or “Darlington”. He comes off as a bit pretentious and info-dumpy at first, but I ended up liking the guy a lot. He has an engaging rapport with Alex and there is what seems to be the vague beginnings of a relationship between the two. I’ve loved Bardugo’s approach to character relationships in previous books- in short, she tends to make them complicated, replete with conversation, and any tender development is hard-earned. Low-key shipping this couple.

Getting into a major criticism though, I didn’t find most of the characters outside of Darlington and Alex to be quite as conversationally interesting. The Bridegroom is a memorable exception, but he is one ghost among hundreds of ghosts that Alex could interact with. More enthralling and interactive ghosts, please.

Dawes is likable as an ally supporting Alex but we learn little else about them. Mercy has a minimal role outside of her sub-plot. I saw a particular missed opportunity in Hellie, a character who is central to Alex’s dark past. I think some of the world building should have been restrained in favor of memorable character development, which Leigh Bardugo has a history of doing skillfully.

I recall Six of Crows having various snippets of punchy, quotable dialogue. There are some great moments like that in Ninth House but they are often localized within Alex’s thoughts and interior development. She spends many later parts of the book being (mostly) on her own, unraveling the tangled web of disturbing secrets and a century of murders having to do with Yale’s secret societies.

The strongest aspect of this novel is how it takes down-to-earth locales and infuses a dark and mysterious underbelly of limitless supernatural magic, lurking just beneath the surface. I had quite a time getting a handle on how to even envision some of the dimension-bending abilities that are at work here. The descriptions are lush for low fantasy. A lot of thought and minute details went into the construction of an imposing network of magic-users and their experiments. It ends up coming off like a rabbit hole with a lot of room to grow in the sequels. I’m overwhelmed by how fantastical this novel is, even though it’s easily filed as dark fiction/low fantasy.

Also surprised at how effective (and perhaps understated) this book is as a horror novel. There are some very creepy moments where Alex describes what she has gone through with these ghosts or continues to go through. It’s imperative that she doesn’t make eye contact with them, or they might try to interact with and float closer. A few of them act in ways that are unpredictable. There are times she gets accosted in unexpected locations.

In closing, this book has pretty much everything I love. Supernatural elements, dark pasts, hidden secrets to unravel (or not unravel, I’m still full of confusion about many things) a writing style that almost approaches gothic prettiness at points, and complicated relationships.

My main issue is that things can get too info-dumpy (especially early on) and Alex’s obsession with a particular murder mystery can become an overwrought plot point in what is such a broadly intriguing world.

Also of note, though this is just a personal tidbit, I was expecting to be so sucked into this one and reading it in a spellbound trance from beginning to end. While this was the case for perhaps the first half, I was picking it up and putting it down without issue during the last half. So I would say it is lacking a certain extra oomph or utter spellbinding quality despite having, in theory, every possible personally appealing trait.

Overall Rating – 9/10

Why You Should Try It – An inspired and dark blend of low fantasy, mystery, horror, and action. The main character is gritty yet nuanced and I’d describe her as a chosen one trope done right. The lore and writing style is almost exhaustively impressive with a lot of personality and detail. Creative imagery.

Why You Might Not Like It – At times too detailed, or distracted by what should seem to be tangential asides. The side characters were definitely lacking in revealing details or impactful conversation. Alex’s standoffishness could be contributing to this.


Additional notes

About the disturbing content and how deep/dark it goes, I can definitely see how this can be too much for a teen/YA audience but relative to other dark adult-aimed books in general fiction/horror/thriller/suspense genres, I didn’t find this to be exceptionally gratuitous. The one scene that I can see being a point of trouble for people is one in which (spoilers, but I feel it’s important to know this context if we’re bringing it up at all) the heroine remembers being raped as a child. The moment and its after effects are referenced for some pages. I do urge anyone thinking of reading this book but worrying about that content to only approach with caution. If you would like to completely skip that scene I don’t think it would take away any important info from the plot. As stated in the content warning above, it takes place during/is mentioned at length on pages 121-124 in the hardcover edition.

(Spoiler-Free) About the ending- very satisfied with it, but in a way that makes me eager for the sequel. This has been the case for every book by this author, even the one I didn’t like (Siege and Storm, second volume of the Grisha Trilogy) she is quite good at handling endings. Building momentum and wrapping up the stuff we wanted to know about all while keeping the door wide open for more. Definitely reading the sequel.

I’ve heard that a TV adaptation is in the works.. and that’s actually pretty exciting to hear about. The low fantasy setting should be simple enough to adapt and seeing the menagerie of ghosts in the flesh is going to be pretty intense. There is a plot point of the characters using spoken word poetry to keep the dead at bay though that will be, uh, challenging to adapt without some unintentional hilarity though. But overall, I’m imagining/hoping for some chaotically entertaining cross between Supernatural, The Sixth Sense, The Eye, and Jessica Jones. That last one only because Alex reminds me of a younger version of Jessica.

jessica jones smirk GIF

Thanks for reading this review of Ninth House! Am actually shocked that I managed to write it. Upon finishing the book I was full of so many feelings and thinking (how?? How will this all somehow get organized enough to become a cohesive review?) but somehow I typed up this blob that is hopefully functionally coherent and helpful. :’D Have you read Ninth House or is it on your TBR? Always loving to read your thoughts, and thanks again for checking out this review. ~ Kitty

Book Review : The Babysitter’s Coven by Kate M. Williams

The Babysitter’s Coven (Amazon Link)

Author : Kate M. Williams
Published By : Delacorte Press
Year Published : September 17, 2019 (Preorder Available)
Genre / Tags : Contemporary, YA, Witches, Paranormal
Mood : Light and cute
Formats : Hardcover, eBook
# of Pages : 368 pages (Hardcover)

Summary

Adventures in Babysitting meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer in this funny, action-packed novel about a coven of witchy babysitters who realize their calling to protect the innocent and save the world from an onslaught of evil.

Seventeen-year-old Esme Pearl has a babysitters club. She knows it’s kinda lame, but what else is she supposed to do? Get a job? Gross. Besides, Esme likes babysitting, and she’s good at it.

And lately Esme needs all the cash she can get, because it seems like destruction follows her wherever she goes. Let’s just say she owes some people a new tree.

Enter Cassandra Heaven. She’s Instagram-model hot, dresses like she found her clothes in a dumpster, and has a rebellious streak as gnarly as the cafeteria food. So why is Cassandra willing to do anything, even take on a potty-training two-year-old, to join Esme’s babysitters club?

The answer lies in a mysterious note Cassandra’s mother left her: “Find the babysitters. Love, Mom.”

Turns out, Esme and Cassandra have more in common than they think, and they’re about to discover what being a babysitter really means: a heroic lineage of superpowers, magic rituals, and saving the innocent from seriously terrifying evil. And all before the parents get home.

Review

Note : This is a review of an uncorrected proof/ARC of this book that I received in a giveaway. On a scale of 5 I gave it a 3.5/5 on Goodreads, worth checking out if the concept really intrigues you.

The Good

  • I love the concept! The Babysitters Club meets Charmed, basically. Or as mentioned in the summary, Adventures In Babysitting meets Buffy.
  • There are neat little 90s references though the writing is super modern with use of acronyms and a lot of references in general.
  • The writing style has a flair for fun details. ‘Plain’ would be the opposite way to describe it. Some passages are funny.
  • The first 30% or so, I totally enjoyed. Only in later parts did it start to lose me.
  • While your mileage may vary on whether this tidbit is a good thing or a bad thing, I think it makes this book occupy an interesting space. In this YA landscape of many books that read a little old for YA, The Babysitter’s Coven actually reads YOUNG for YA. A little too young, as I feel that Esme reads as younger than 17 years old. I think people new to YA who were recently into reading Middle Grade could be more geared to like this book. The descriptions of her highschool life that I found monotonous could be attractive to younger readers who can’t wait to go. Though I’m older than both demographics, I was imagining YA-me and Middle Grade-me while reading, and the latter would have LOVED this title more readily.
  • Fairly safe content-wise, minus a handful of questionable decisions of characters and questionable jokes (that might not be in the final version, I’ll update this later if I can cross-check with a final copy.)

The Not-So-Good

  • I was expecting some high octane witchy action and high octane, er, babysitting. As per the title. There is definitely some, but large swathes of this book are more keenly devoted to Esme’s day-to-day life with school, a boy she likes, what fun and outrageous outfit she’s wearing that day, family issues, and just far more contemporary YA stuff than I was expected. The more supernatural aspects take quite a while to get into full swing.
  • There is limited warmth between the characters. One of the great things about The Babysitters Club (which is referenced multiple times in this book) is the wonderful sisterhood between the characters. Esme and Cassandra start off cold and I felt like they never reached that cute aww-worthy friends zone, though some events near the very end show how they care.
  • The snark (from multiple characters) is just constant, which might click with some, but I ended up not totally liking some of the key characters and thinking them superficial. The dialogue can come off sitcom-like, your mileage may vary on that but many of the conversations were not my cup of tea. Esme’s inner monologues were a bit more appealing.
  • This book ends on a higher note. Without going into any revealing details, I’ll just say the characters have more awareness of what they’re capable of and there is a lot of room for growth and more focused, exciting plot developments in a sequel. Also, in regards to the resolution to the Dion plotline- I liked that, found it uniquely handled among YA.

Overall Rating – 7/10

Why You Should Try It – The writing has a unique attitude to it, with potent and opinionated descriptions. If you chiefly like contemporary YA but want a little extra flavor, this one might be appealing. While technically YA, I feel like this book could be appealing to those just starting YA from Middle Grade as the characters read younger than they should.

Why You Might Not Like It – I didn’t find the characters very easy to like. Their sassiness could be good or bad depending on what you like in characters, but there were definitely a few moments that I felt were extra silly or annoying. Again, the characters read younger than they should.

The Babysitter’s Coven (Amazon Link)


Have you read The Babysitter’s Coven or would like this September new release? I appreciate your thoughts as always.

Book Review : No Judgments by Meg Cabot

No Judgments: A Novel

Author : Meg Cabot
Published By : HarperCollins, William Morrow Paperbacks
Year Published : Coming Out September 24, 2019. Preorder Available.
Genre / Tags : Contemporary, Romance, Chick Lit
Formats : Paperback
# of Pages : 384 pages

Summary

The storm of the century is about to hit Little Bridge Island, Florida—and it’s sending waves crashing through Sabrina “Bree” Beckham’s love life…

When a massive hurricane severs all power and cell service to Little Bridge Island—as well as its connection to the mainland—twenty-five-year-old Bree Beckham isn’t worried . . . at first. She’s already escaped one storm—her emotionally abusive ex—so a hurricane seems like it will be a piece of cake.

But animal-loving Bree does become alarmed when she realizes how many islanders have been cut off from their beloved pets. Now it’s up to her to save as many of Little Bridge’s cats and dogs as she can . . . but to do so, she’s going to need help—help she has no choice but to accept from her boss’s sexy nephew, Drew Hartwell, the Mermaid Café’s most notorious heartbreaker.

But when Bree starts falling for Drew, just as Little Bridge’s power is restored and her penitent ex shows up, she has to ask herself if her island fling was only a result of the stormy weather, or if it could last during clear skies too.

Review

This is a sweet, light, scenic little chick lit romance about a hurricane devastating a coastal town in Florida. Two things drew me to this book initially, one being that unlikely premise of a cute romance in the midst of a hurricane and two being that it’s by Meg Cabot. I’ve yet to read books by her despite hearing that this author was one of the best early YA writers. 

Here’s What I Liked

– Amazing cat rep. I should probably start by mentioning the main character Bree but I’d rather talk about her cat, Gary. He is a sweet and lovable cat without an ounce of sass. So often I hear of cats having this reputation as being sassy/cold/mean. Meanwhile in reality I’ve known the neediest, cuddliest, most lovable balls of fluff cats. It’s great to see cats like Gary, we need more cats like Gary in fiction.

– The romance is slow-moving. Your mileage may vary on appreciating this but I like slow, gradual, natural development in romance. Bree and Drew are cute and while she’s quickly attracted to him, I didn’t sense insta-love and when they finally kiss it’s after a decent amount of interaction, tension, and character-building. Also love that they’re both animal lovers. Some of the issues I’ll mention in the didn’t-like section were made up for by that at least.

– There is a real atmosphere. This is a very summer-y book. The brief but good descriptions of Bree’s seaside neighborhood and the offbeat but endearing locals are nicely realized. The conversations she has with them are convincing and give a warm and fuzzy atmosphere. There is some funny dialogue. Going to use the word ‘mancation’ to describe being single from now on.

– Just a quick and relaxed read. This is one you could finish in a day if it keeps your attention. I spread it out into 2-3 days.

Didn’t Like

– Bree irked at times. Don’t get me wrong, she’s an alright character, but her stubborn insistence to chillax on this island when winds are tearing down her doorstep was maddening. Especially when Gary’s life could be at stake. I could, on occasion, be found yelling at the pages just chastising the character. Does anyone else do that?

– Based on the description I was expecting Bree and Drew to go on some animal-saving journey in the ruins of their island town. This plot thread is small and loaded around the end of the book. A lot of huge events and plot wrap ups are packed into the last 30% or so, to an almost comical effect.The calm before the storm, by comparison, takes up around the first half of the whole book. I hope to never again think this morbid thought- “When is the storm coming? Can it just happen now please?” Would have been better for the overall story to move it along faster and have the storm occur sooner.

One other thing of note, not a didn’t like but just a content warning. Bree is a survivor of assault. It’s just lightly touched upon at the beginning of the book but becomes a surprisingly relevant plot line later on. At one point she confronts her attacker. Given the light and airy fluff that permeates the majority of this book, I found this scene a bit questionable in its handling. Bree says some worthwhile things during the encounter. But without spoiling it, I’ll just say this much- I thought this was a less than effective scene and some readers may be put off if they are sensitive to that subject matter in the first place.

To sum it all up, I enjoyed No Judgments. May or may not be open to the sequel, depends on its aims. I think a new set of characters in this setting might be nice to see in keeping things fresh.

Note : I received an advanced reader’s copy of this title courtesy of NetGalley and HarperCollins Publishers.

Overall Rating – 8/10

Why You Might Like It – If you’re looking for a light, positive, seaside romance read. Pageturner readability. The main pair are animal lovers and their relationship and attraction grows gradually and naturally. Nicely atmospheric. A sort of quirky charm, Bree has a lot going on and the end of the storyline seeks to wrap up multiple bits of unfinished business. Some funny dialogue.

Why You Might Not Like It – Bree and Drew don’t handle the impending natural disaster in a way that’s very smart. They can come off as a bit dim if you don’t get wrapped up by the book’s overall tone of silly whimsy.

No Judgments: A Novel (Amazon Affiliate Link)

Thanks for reading my review! Are you interested in reading No Judgments? Have you read anything else by Meg Cabot? I am curious to hear your thoughts, thank you as always in advance for your comments and likes. Until next time-

Book Review : The Hating Game by Sally Thorne

The Hating Game: A Novel

Author : Sally Thorne
Published By : William Morrow
Year Published : 2016
Genre / Tags : Romance, Contemporary
Mood : Light, fun, relaxing.
Formats : Hardcover, Paperback, eBook, Audiobook
# of Pages : 365 pages (Paperback)

Summary

Nemesis (n.) 1) An opponent or rival whom a person cannot best or overcome.
2) A person’s undoing
3) Joshua Templeman

Lucy Hutton has always been certain that the nice girl can get the corner office. She’s charming and accommodating and prides herself on being loved by everyone at Bexley & Gamin. Everyone except for coldly efficient, impeccably attired, physically intimidating Joshua Templeman. And the feeling is mutual.

Trapped in a shared office together 40 (OK, 50 or 60) hours a week, they’ve become entrenched in an addictive, ridiculous never-ending game of one-upmanship. There’s the Staring Game. The Mirror Game. The HR Game. Lucy can’t let Joshua beat her at anything—especially when a huge new promotion goes up for the taking.

If Lucy wins this game, she’ll be Joshua’s boss. If she loses, she’ll resign. So why is she suddenly having steamy dreams about Joshua, and dressing for work like she’s got a hot date? After a perfectly innocent elevator ride ends with an earth-shattering kiss, Lucy starts to wonder whether she’s got Joshua Templeman all wrong.

Maybe Lucy Hutton doesn’t hate Joshua Templeman. And maybe, he doesn’t hate her either. Or maybe this is just another game.

Review

First, lets introduce the main characters-

Lucy – She’s a well-liked and sweet girl but also not afraid to speak her mind- which causes her to bump heads with one of the more incorrigible personalities at her workplace. I think most people will like Lucy. Career-driven but fun-loving. Playful but intelligent. Just a well-balanced character overall.

Joshua – This guy… where do I start. He’s a handful. Superbly fantastic-looking but with a blunt, abrasive personality. Thrives on conflict. He seems to have it in for Lucy. One thing I find interesting is that he shows some self-awareness toward the downsides of his personality and we see how that effects different areas of his life in a realistic way. But really, Josh is fun, he’s a challenge and at times infuriating yet consistently entertaining in his verbal sparring matches with Lucy. And he obviously adores her despite their many differences.

At one point I was trying to read this book in public, and had to put it aside because I kept smiling like an idiot. The Hating Game is perhaps the crème de la crème of guilty pleasures, and the first thing I want to make note of is the writing style. It’s really good, startlingly good. I would describe the writing, in comparison to many in the romance genre, as sharp and witty in a noteworthy way. The characters are rarely very stupid (they are a tad too old for that) and the level of angst is low despite this being a veritable minefield of potential drama.

This is an enemies to lovers / hate to love scenario replete with playful banter and a teasing, slow burn romance. The tension is extraordinary, at times frustrating, but was largely successful at keeping me engaged.

A frequent struggle with the #EnemiesToLovers scenario is the transition from enemies to lovers. I’ve rarely seen it done smoothly. Usually the couple just goes from hating each other in one moment to loving each other the next, it seems hard to pull off gradually and naturally. The Hating Game does quite skillfully manage to smoothly transition its couple from hating to liking and then loving each other, and still keeps some of their adversarial charm intact. They don’t conveniently change as people and do still have conflicts despite the growing affection.

Another thing about enemies to lovers is that it’s typically full of problematic, trigger warning-worthy happenings. The Hating Game is distinctive in managing to be not too controversial. It helps that the leads are on very level playing fields. I must confess, I’m not great at spotting content that people would popularly deem problematic. The goings-on in various foreign dramas and much older romance novels I’ve read before would make people’s hair fall out with the long lists of objectionable relationships and dodgy things that happen, lol. From my limited perspective, The Hating Game gives off a vibe that the author is being careful. Joshua a pretty decent guy. You know, outside of the two main characters wanting to comically destroy each other.

I can’t think of much to complain about, when observing what this book is trying to do. I think every area (the romance, the relationship, the banter, the will-they-or-won’t-they) is quite well done.

But as someone who usually reads romance as a companion piece to other genres lately, it did strike me how much of a keen focus there was on the main couple. Everything that ever happens in this book has to do with them and building upon their relationship. Very little, if any time is afforded to detailing friends/friendships or sub-plots that veer too far outside of the sphere of the couple’s interactions.

The plot can feel limited in some ways by this consistency. One might say “But Kitty, it’s a romance, of course everything is about the relationship!!” but I’ve read several romances in the past that develop meaningful friendships with other characters or back story or have some other side plot that offers variety. The Bridgerton series by Julia Quinn immediately comes to mind as one that not only develops side-plots but has a large family all doing their own things and gently leaving a mark on the reader. All while developing a narrative that does not lose sight of the main couple.

That said, The Hating Game has one job. Be a good romance novel. In that arena it delivers in spades. But for myself, reading this book alongside other books from other genres at the time was definitely helpful at keeping things fresh. I couldn’t see myself marathoning this one in a single sitting from beginning to end, but a more devoted romance reader or one who clicks in a special way with this couple might easily do so. I can imagine A LOT of people clicking with these two. They are brimming with charm.

Overall Rating – 9/10

Why You Should Try It – An enemies to lovers/hate to love scenario that is skillfully transitioned and just well handled. Sharp, witty writing and great banter. I found both characters very likable. Very fun and light atmosphere. Ideal beach read.

Why You Might Not Like It – The teasing nature of the slow burn romance can be annoying but the ending makes up for it. The chain of events is kind of short considering the size of this book (365 pages paperback.)

The Hating Game: A Novel (Amazon Link)

Have you read this book or are interested in reading it? Have you read anything else by Sally Thorne? Please feel free to share your thoughts, I read and appreciate all your comments and likes.

Book Review : Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane (Spoiler-Free)

Ask Again, Yes: A Novel

Author : Mary Beth Keane
Published By : Scribner
Year Published : 2019
Genre / Tags : Contemporary, Realistic Fiction, Literary Fiction
Mood : Sad, stressed, yet compassionate.
Formats : Hardcover, Paperback, eBook, Audiobook
# of Pages : 390 pages (Hardcover)

Summary

How much can a family forgive?

A profoundly moving novel about two neighboring families in a suburban town, the bond between their children, a tragedy that reverberates over four decades, the daily intimacies of marriage, and the power of forgiveness.

Francis Gleeson and Brian Stanhope, two rookie cops in the NYPD, live next door to each other outside the city. What happens behind closed doors in both houses—the loneliness of Francis’s wife, Lena, and the instability of Brian’s wife, Anne—sets the stage for the explosive events to come.

Ask Again, Yes is a deeply affecting exploration of the lifelong friendship and love that blossoms between Francis and Lena’s daughter, Kate, and Brian and Anne’s son, Peter. Luminous, heartbreaking, and redemptive, Ask Again, Yes reveals the way childhood memories change when viewed from the distance of adulthood—villains lose their menace and those who appeared innocent seem less so. Kate and Peter’s love story, while tested by echoes from the past, is marked by tenderness, generosity, and grace.

Review

Note : While I excised parts of this review to keep it spoiler-free, some areas may still reveal a bit much. I tried to keep it relevant to only matters that are mentioned in the blurb above.

I went into this book with high and perhaps misguided expectations, and a stubborn willingness to continue when I should have long-guessed it wasn’t going to be right for me. But there remained a lingering curiosity due in part to the hype, some interest in a couple of characters, and the fact that I did really adore the first 25% or so.

About that first 25% I was immediately taken in by the premise and told a friend “This book is going to be huge.” Actually, it’s already quite popular. I have only rarely come across a stand-alone book that was checked out/waitlisted in ALL of my nearby libraries within so many miles. The libraries where I live tend to be under-utilized so that was quite a surprise.

The premise is totally up my alley. Some summaries I’ve read mention a sort of family saga drama spanning generations with plot threads concerning many different characters across decades of time (like The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough or Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides? Both of which I loved.)

A very heart-rending, powerful and heartbreaking story line with troubled and complex characters (like A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara or The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls? Both of which I loved.)

A story of star-crossed lovers who are childhood friends met with intense disapproval toward their union? Sold!! I would kill to find a romance novel like that, and seeing a love story of that sort in literary fiction is more than welcome.

And yet I largely disliked Ask Again, Yes. A book that has a lot in common with some of the most precious books of my collection.

I usually start with the good but in this case I’ll start with the bad, then wrap around to the good.

So, this one ended up not having romance, which is totally fine. But it doesn’t just have no romance- it’s like the anti-romance, the polar opposite of romantic, and preceded by a sadly perfect setup for a love story.

These characters, Peter and Kate, are split up across a span of years and we see their births, their upbringing, their departure from one another, their college years, finally they are just about to meet again and then.. drumroll the author skips completely over a long-suffering, long-awaited reunion to plunk us down into grim moments, years later.

About the family saga bit- there are really only six or so characters who ever matter across the span of this novel. I could not tell you a single worthwhile thing about Kate’s sisters or other assorted children who are born, for example.

I feel kind of weird about leveling my next criticism, which is that everything that everyone goes through is awful. I have a strange, hard-to-explain fondness for books where everything is awful. A Little Life from Hanya Yanagihara, for example, had me crying at 4 o’clock in the morning while marathoning its 800+ pages.

I think my lack of connection could have something to do with the emphasis on domestic drama. As mentioned briefly in the synopsis the “daily intimacies of marriage” bit. I have made efforts over the years to pointedly avoid books about very down-to-earth suburban slice-of-life issues and domesticity unless it’s merely a feature of a larger whole, as can be the case with thriller, horror, or magical realism novels.

I’ve tried a few books in the past that ended up going into minute detail on things like worrying about a child’s major in college, buying a new house, maintaining a yard, and dramas like cheating, mid life crises, marriage problems, etc. Nearly all of these things are present in Ask Again, Yes to a level of detail that I found dull and plodding.

In one passage that was quite easy to relate to, Peter laments how boring and monotonous his life is and how the boredom and tedium he feels in such a plain day-to-day life is causing problems for him. I completely and utterly understood where he was coming from and often felt challenged in reading about it.

The final area of trouble for me was the dialogue between characters. I would like to preface this by stating that the writing is by and large gorgeous. But then characters actually talk to each other and it’s like a whiplash of clunky, curt, short-shrift dialogue that is not warm, conversational, or particularly intelligent. I always had the sense that they just don’t know each other very well. To be fair, these issues tie into a theme of the story- inadequate communication. But it’s nevertheless frustrating to see this often unappealing dialogue and led to my actively disliking almost everyone in the narrative and having a distaste for their relationships with one another.

Now finally, the good.

The writing struck me immediately as being beautiful. This is literary fiction, with befitting metaphors and passages that dig deep into the psyche of some of these characters and offer insight into what makes them tick. Considering the heavy nature of this story in dealing with mental illness, disabilities, and addiction- the amount of empathy present within the writing and the surprising, touching climax and ending is well in good faith and meaningful.

I felt quite strongly for Peter and, in a complex way, Anne. Anne is harmful to those around her but she’s also harmful to herself. I felt a complicated mix of compassion for the character and fear of what effect she might have on the rest of the cast. Some of the scenarios are really quite clever at depicting the issues she faces and providing a deep insight and even pulsing tension at brief intervals. Anne is one of the reasons I kept on. I didn’t exactly like her but she was worth reading about.

I did like Peter though and in a more conventional way at that. Really hoped that he would be okay in the end. One of the reasons why I kept reading was to see if he would be. I also liked his Uncle George, who offers some of the precious few bits of decent dialogue in this book. I actively disliked everyone else and couldn’t connect with them.

The final thing I’d like to mention is that I seem to be way in the minority with my thoughts on this book. Many have been deeply touched by the characterization and honest, realistic portrayals within. Where I was bored, many others have been moved to tears. Being able to relate to the situations of the book and lifestyles of the characters may make for a more prepared and fulfilling experience.

Overall Rating – 6/10

Why You Might Like It – High grade literary fiction writing, several little meaningful passages that dive into the motives behind an assortment of characters. I was enraptured by the beginning (First 25% or so.) A family drama that focuses on their struggles to overcome a traumatic event and dealing with the repercussions. There is a tangible realism that I found boring that others may find to be grounded and believable. There are several worthy talking points about how characters react to the startling events, making this a pretty good book club selection. The tail end was nicely handled. This book could be useful and helpful to people in its way of tackling difficult subject matter.

Why You Might Not Like It – Even though this is a story about two families, many members remain under-developed. Even though there were strong building blocks for a blossoming romance, they’re handled in a most unromantic way. There are rarely any breaks from hardship. While I personally find the end messages of this book to be edifying, others may consider those choices too dismissive of the harm posed by a specific character. The focus on meticulous descriptions of domesticity in the last 50% or so was truly DNF-worthy for me.

Ask Again, Yes: A Novel

Have you read Ask Again, Yes and have any thoughts on it? Are you interested in reading it? I do still recommend giving this book a shot just in case, as I’m pretty much in the minority in not liking it. Any and all of your thoughts are appreciated at any time, and thanks for checking out this review!

Book Review : Girl Made Of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake

Girl Made of Stars

Author : Ashley Herring Blake
Published By : HMH Books For Young Readers
Year Published : 2018
Genre / Tags : Contemporary, YA, Realistic Fiction, LG(B)TQIA, Coming Of Age
Mood : Sad yet hopeful
Formats : Hardcover, Paperback, eBook, Audiobook
# of Pages : 295 pages (Hardcover)

Summary

Mara and Owen are as close as twins can get, so when Mara’s friend Hannah accuses Owen of rape, Mara doesn’t know what to think. Can her brother really be guilty of such a violent act? Torn between her family and her sense of right and wrong, Mara feels lost, and it doesn’t help that things are strained with her ex-girlfriend, Charlie. As Mara, Hannah, and Charlie come together in the aftermath of this terrible crime, Mara must face a trauma from her own past and decide where Charlie fits into her future. With sensitivity and openness, this timely novel confronts the difficult questions surrounding consent, victim blaming, and sexual assault.

First, a little note, I buddy read this book with Dana from Devour Books With Dana. We had a great time and discussed a lot of aspects of the novel! I definitely recommend checking out her blog.

Review

This is one of those rare books wherein the major aspects of its plot are already quite revealed within the summary / blurb. That makes it easier to review since most of the things I want to talk about have everything to do with those interior plot elements. But if you want to go in blind, I kind of suggest doing so and would advise to stop reading after this next paragraph is through.

Girl Made Of Stars has some fantastic, largely top-tier writing among the selection of YA titles out there. I think it’s a good selection for people who might still be interested in YA but are tiring of bubbly or superficial plots. This one maintains the brisk pace of a typical YA novel, is pretty short, and easily approachable. But the topics are heavy and provide a lot of talking points. The perspective is closely focused, revealing the innermost thoughts of the main character. Difficult decisions and conflicts are conveyed in simple yet intense passages that really make you think about how everyone is effected and ponder how best to handle things.

The teenage protagonist, Mara, surrounds herself with friends who are mostly intelligent, sensitive, and warmly depicted. We get insightful looks into their reactions and how they are handling the situation that is central to this novel. That situation being- Mara’s twin brother, Owen, is accused of raping his girlfriend, Hannah. The three of them and their extended group of friends have been close and their bond is suddenly torn apart by the accusation.

Everyone expects Mara will take her twin’s side. Even Mara’s seemingly feminist journalist mother doesn’t believe Hannah. Owen is popular and has long been a nurturing and good force in Mara’s life. But Mara has her own troubling secrets that are bubbling tot he surface- and the decision of who to support is anything but simple.

While it would be very easy to bungle and badly handle this sort of plot, I think the author did a largely great job showing not only how Mara feels, how the people around her react, but also- and most importantly- how society and a very realistically depicted community reacts to these accusations. The greatest achievement of this book is in expressing why rape victims are statistically reluctant to come forward. There are some very compelling reasons why, and Hannah’s story skillfully conveys some of them. Comparing Hannah’s life before and after coming forward shows stark differences that are enlightening to witness.

Aside from that plot is Mara’s enduring friendship with her ex-girlfriend, Charlie. The two still have a lot of tension under the surface of their interactions. Mara is bi, and while not over Charlie, does consider starting anew with Alex, a mutual friend. Like Mara, he is conflicted from recent events and slowly distancing himself from her twin, his best friend. The romantic entanglements weren’t the highlight of this novel for me, but do offer some diversions and changing tones. Mara’s sense of longing and regret where her relationship with Charlie was concerned was palpable.

There were some things that happen toward the end that I had more mixed feelings about. In efforts to keep this review spoiler-free I’ll just say that this book was 85% fantastic and consistent and 15% had me strongly questioning certain actions of characters or handling of situations. There are just things I would have done differently or liked to have seen done differently.

Just as an aside, though I don’t consider it a major criticism or anything- the adults of this book were by-and-large terrible. There are only a few of them and I do think a sort of generational gap within a close-minded small town setting may do well in explaining why it’s not unrealistic for them to be the way they are. But still- I happened to hate literally all of them.

I added Coming Of Age as a category. For me, it’s a genre, and I often enjoy it. Girl Made Of Stars has a particularly poignant moment, toward the end, that artistically depicts Mara’s shifting from teenager to adult, letting go of a romanticized naivete of her girlhood.

There is an author’s note after the acknowledgements, conveying the author’s intent to tell a story that should inspire anger and action for injustices, yet also show that there is hope the future, and growth within kinship and connecting through shared traumas. The moments between Mara and Hannah were striking and often beautifully-written, and did well in conveying these most important messages.

Overall Rating – 8.5/10

Why You Should Try It – A YA novel of substance. Complicated decisions and relationships are conveyed simply yet offer a lot to think about. The writing is often lovely and quotable. The characters are vividly realized.

Why You Might Not Like It – While I think this book is fast-paced, I don’t think everyone will feel that way. There is a sort of quiet, thoughtful atmosphere within several sections that might not be everyone’s cup of tea.

Girl Made of Stars (Amazon Link)

Have you read Girl Made Of Stars or are you interested in reading it? I hope my review has been helpful, and I welcome your comments/questions/thoughts at any time. As always-

Book Review : After by Anna Todd

After (The After Series Book 1)

Author : Anna Todd
Published By : Gallery Books
Year Published : 2014
Genre / Tags : Romance, Contemporary, New Adult
Formats : Paperback, eBook, Audiobook
# of Pages : 582 pages (Paperback)

Summary

Tessa is a good girl with a sweet, reliable boyfriend back home. She’s got direction, ambition, and a mother who’s intent on keeping her that way. 

But she’s barely moved into her freshman dorm when she runs into Hardin. With his tousled brown hair, cocky British accent, tattoos, and lip ring, Hardin is cute and different from what she’s used to. 

But he’s also rude—to the point of cruelty, even. For all his attitude, Tessa should hate Hardin. And she does—until she finds herself alone with him in his room. Something about his dark mood grabs her, and when they kiss it ignites within her a passion she’s never known before. 

He’ll call her beautiful, then insist he isn’t the one for her and disappear again and again. Despite the reckless way he treats her, Tessa is compelled to dig deeper and find the real Hardin beneath all his lies. He pushes her away again and again, yet every time she pushes back, he only pulls her in deeper. 

Tessa already has the perfect boyfriend. So why is she trying so hard to overcome her own hurt pride and Hardin’s prejudice about nice girls like her? 

Unless…could this be love?

Now newly revised and expanded, Anna Todd’s After fanfiction racked up 1 billion reads online and captivated readers across the globe. Experience the Internet’s most talked-about book for yourself!

There was the time before Tessa met Hardin, and then there’s everything AFTER … Life will never be the same.

Review

Warning, rant review ahead!

I want to start this review out by stating that despite my literary faves, I am in no way above reading utter nonsense if it sounds entertaining. I’m even going to proceed to make a dark and embarrassing confession right now- I have Naruto fanfics in my favorites on fanfiction.net that I read on occasion when I’m bored.

That’s not the confession. The confession is that one of them made me cry and would probably still make me cry.

This might be embarrassing, but still not as embarrassing as some of the goings-on in After.

Speaking of that favorites list, at least a few of the fics were written by pre-teens. All of whom created stories with better writing, plotting, and dialogue than is contained in After.

Going back to the fanfic thing and how I am totally open to what would be considered “low fiction”, there was a fan fiction based off of an old Playstation game called Legend Of Mana. I read it obsessively. The author made some original characters that I still remember vividly and adore. There was a character in it named Snow I think? He didn’t exist in the game but the author was talented enough to make me love him.

The site went offline a bunch of years ago. The author disappeared into internet oblivion, and I had emailed some random person involved with them if they happened to have a backup of that fic but alas, no reply. The fic is nowhere online and I never downloaded it, so it may be gone forever. My heart is still broken over that.

Oh yeah, back to After. It’s terrible in every sense. Even in the in-the-mood-for-stupidest-guilty-pleasure sense, it doesn’t deliver anything worthwhile. Even by fanfic standards, I think it’s a bad fanfic.

Lets start with the heroine, Tessa. She is the worst.

I fear that After’s success will lead to a million copycats with a million heroines whose favorite band on the entire face of the earth is The Fray for some reason (The Fray??!? no offense to fans though, but I’m pretty sure even The Fray themselves would be confused) who beg their boyfriends to mistreat them, and have a noticeable disdain for all other girls in the narrative who do literally NOTHING to deserve mistreatment. Moreover, Tessa is bankrupt of morals enough to think about cheating on a boyfriend without feeling guilty, yet still feels the need to criticize girls for how they dress. What?

Tessa just hates girls, I’m saying that now. It’s like she gains some special energy from hating them, energy that she can put toward mindlessly fawning over a guy who detests her and treating a few other special guys with some level of decency. I looked up the names of all the guys Tessa seems to be OK with by the way….. and they were all based off of members of One Direction.

So there was another fanfic author that was gifted and I was very much adoring their work. They posted an ominous message and disappeared from the internet, never to return. This was ten years ago or so.

I really don’t understand how the universe works in that all the fanfics I like get swallowed into the internet maw while some of the not-so-great ones become mega-successful sensations. I’m pretty sure the land of fanfic authoring is accursed, probably by a spirit that seeks to troll the reading world.

So another problem with After-

It comes off so forced, as if written under duress. Like it doesn’t want to be written and is the product of some kind of scenario similar to Stephen King’s book, Misery. Many chapters are retreads of previous chapters, with only a few details changed. Maybe there was a bomb that would go off if the chapter had not been finished that day? So it had to be written despite containing no ideas! Pondering this possibility was more exciting than reading After. There are entire chapters where nothing remotely noteworthy or new happens. Or chapters where a thing happens that already happened three chapters ago. Why is it happening again?? I have a memory like a goldfish and could still tell that this was a constant issue.

So your question at this point may be “Why did you keep reading?”

Two reasons. Reason number one, a close friend of mine was reading so we were pseudo-buddyreading it and I was desperate at the time to buddy read with someone IRL. Reason two, I have been led to books with bad reputations before via rant reviews not unlike this one. I didn’t hate all of them. Or maybe I disliked them in part but liked them overall.

One that stands out in particular is November 9 by Colleen Hoover. There are a lot of worthy criticisms that can be foisted upon that book (and I agree with pretty much all of them) but I enjoyed reading it.

There’s something about the flow of the first 50-100 pages or so of After that kept me wondering, optimistically, if it would go somewhere good. The heroine is a fish out of water, a tremendously prissy prep school cliche of a girl who is suddenly faced with people very different from her.

There was ample opportunity for a worthwhile story to unfurl from that, but it never does. I would even go so far as to say that the ending of this novel (no spoilers intended) only seeks to confirm and somehow justify Tessa’s snobbery toward the undesirables of society.

Added note, Tessa’s mother is a really bad person and is at least 50% responsible for Tessa’s bad traits and closemindedness. She is also not properly dealt with or called out. I’m almost curious to see if she is ever meaningfully criticized for her behavior in future books- but I cannot read any more of this series without dying inside. So, if a person who has read these books happens upon this post, feel free to let me know in the comments.

As for the guy, Hardin, I can understand the appeal. He acts incorrigible and impossible to deal with and this can create a great sort of “Challenge Accepted!” scenario of trying to work out how the couple can possibly end up together. I’ve been there before with digging this type of thing. Romances that are a maze of improbability can just be so much more entertaining than insta-love and/or unchallenging and paint-by-number romance scenarios. But all other aspects of this book work against whatever intrigue could have emerged. His eventual sob story to explain his behavior is very ineffective. And he does something particularly foul toward the end that makes him irredeemably trashy and gross, so there’s that.

Overall Rating – 1/10

Why You Should Try It – If you happen to connect with the characters, this could be enjoyable as a very character-driven story. Hardin can be worthwhile if he’s to your niche tastes. The writing (and perhaps editing?) is high in clarity and fast-moving, and could have worked out if everything else were different.

Why You Might Not Like It – The plot is distressingly same-y or just doesn’t exist. Lots of repetitive, stubbornly repeated scenarios. Or just nothing happening. The heroine is just awful. Hardin’s actions are pretty much unforgivable.

After (The After Series Book 1) (Amazon Link)

To anyone who likes After and somehow stumbled upon this review, I hope to not offend anyone with my thoughts. There are books and media that I like that are heavily criticized, high levels of problematic, and/or or not critically acclaimed. There’s a book that I love that someone literally stomped on in a fit of rage due to some awful events within (if you’re reading this, I still lol at that memory and totally understand.)

Basically my motto is to like whatever you like, regardless of people’s opinions. Don’t feel too guilty about your guilty pleasures. At least have fun with it.


Many thanks to Kumamon for being adorable, pictured in all the gifs above. He is the hero we deserve. And many thanks to you for putting up with this chaotic review. I hope you enjoyed reading it. I would love to hear your thoughts, as always!

Book Review : The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

The Hate U Give Collector’s Edition

Author : Angie Thomas
Published By : Balzer + Bray
Year Published : 2017
Genre / Tags : Contemporary, YA, Realistic Fiction
Mood : Everything
Formats : Hardcover, Paperback, eBook, Audiobook
# of Pages : 444 pages (Hardcover)

Summary

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

Review

Before I get into this review I want to mention that I did my first buddy read ever, reading this book with Dana from Devour Books With Dana. One of the most enjoyable reading experiences I’ve ever had and Dana is a lovely person! I highly recommend checking out her reading blog. She has a lot of very well written reviews on contemporary and YA novels among other things. Thanks again for the amazing buddy read, Dana!


I have a lot to say about this book so I’m splitting it off into two sections.

Here is a short version of my review.

This book is worth reading. It’s well-written and a cut above the typical YA, very much living up to the hype. I really liked Starr and could relate to some aspects of her experiences. Her family was fun to read about and vividly realized. This book takes some complicated, often ignored or misconstrued subject matter and builds an enthralling and touching story around it that fosters understanding.


Now onto the full version.

This book is something special. I sense it may go down as a modern classic. I remember being a kid and looking at all the various books in the kids and middle grade section and coming across Newbury Award Winners. Books with little gold/silver foils on them indicating a higher level of quality and distinct importance toward fostering development and informing a young reader of important events, historic or current.

The Hate U Give is like that, but fun, current, non-preachy, and easy to read and get into. It doesn’t have an aura of hopelessness or sadness; rather, a really lively and warm atmosphere. The serious subject matter is tackled in a way that isn’t clinical or quietly vague. This is a loud and brave book that, in it’s most valuable moments, clarifies a time, a place, and a point of view that is often misunderstood and even blatantly silenced.

If you’re thinking of reading it, I recommend choosing now rather than later. This book is hyper-contemporary and very relevant in the here and now, inspired by events and experiences that people are going through at this moment or had been through within the last couple of years. Though this story is fiction, it’s built off of a myriad of true events and on-going problems that can still be properly researched and remembered. A lot of the dialogue and references are extremely current, such as references to social media. I can see them becoming puzzling to grasp 5-10 years from now.

I feel awkward speaking of this book as if it’s here for the purpose of research. It isn’t presented that way. This is an endearing and enjoyable, multi-faceted novel that I think would appeal to any fan of contemporary YA.

There’s a little bit of comedy and romance and really touching friendship and family development. At it’s core, this is just a story about a girl and her day-to-day life that also happens to be gut-punchingly genuine in conveying current issues not only having to do with police brutality but casual racism and the role that media and the larger society plays in contributing to injustices.

There are many small but incredible moments where I was left reeling thinking “I remember hearing people say things like that.” or “I remember witnessing something like that happening.” or “I remember thinking something like that, and having since realized my ignorance.”

There’s also a list at the end of the book containing names of victims whose stories are all kind of interlaced into this one, serving as inspiration.

Starr is a fantastic YA heroine. She goes through an event that would leave anyone traumatized. She deals with a lot of complex internal strife, but still comes out of it all a thoughtful and nuanced, motivated person. Her family members are given similar depth. This is one of those very few YA novels where parents are present and conveyed as strong, loving, and vividly realized characters.

I could really relate to Starr’s issues with fitting in. I think her story of being a fish out of water can be relatable to pretty much anyone who has ever felt that way. Her telling of it deals specifically with being from a poor neighborhood but going to an elite private school, and feeling like she has to hide aspects of herself and her upbringing.

Effectively, living two very different lives and navigating two very different worlds capably in order to be successful.

In her predominately white school, she’s under pressure to shut up about black issues. In her black neighborhood, she hears many generalizations about white people and worries about what her dad will think of her having a white boyfriend.

I liked the relationship between Starr and Chris. The problems they faced were immense and some of their interpersonal conflicts would seem barely worth it. But they didn’t lose faith in each other and I was just really impressed with Chris in general, he was almost too good to be true. But I felt all sorts of genuine warm feelings for the character and the pairing of he and Starr against the odds.

There were a few moments where I felt Starr could go a bit easier on him, but most of what they would discuss was very realistic and relevant to interracial relationships. Long story short, hooray for a romance I actually felt something for in a YA novel! And no love triangle. The lack of a love triangle and the aforementioned parental character development are two big ways this book dodges cliches.

There are some moments where Starr is told some broad stereotypes about white people, or what the black people in Starr’s life think white people think about them. I think these lines could be startling in their directness or inspire a kind of kneejerk reaction of discomfort or defensiveness in some readers, especially older ones who might have limited exposure to points of view like Starr’s. I thought the context did a good job supporting why characters were saying what they were saying, and Starr is understandably caught in-between points of view.

She, at regular intervals, brings up “not all cops” or “not all white people” to help make her intentions clear. Though I didn’t think those additions necessary, they can help get readers back on track. Starr does not want to acquiesce to generalizations, she just wants people to acknowledge troubling trends and know about Khalil and understand that he was a victim.

The last thing I want to cover is Khalil, the victim of the novel and Starr’s childhood friend. We get to know him personally for a very short number of pages but by the end of the book I felt a deep understanding for his character, through the power of Starr’s ongoing commitment to justice for him.

There are so many important, subtle accomplishments in the handling of Khalil’s characterization. Expressing the tragedy of a teenager becoming a drug dealer and how it can happen- and that it IS a tragedy that should be met with constructive solutions. The struggles in inner city environments that can lead to youths going down wrong paths. The tendency to trust an idealized perpetrator and villainize an imperfect victim. The fact that imperfect victims are still victims who deserve justice. The importance of being brave and standing your ground in the face of ill-informed assumptions, no matter how prevalent they are. I feel that this book illustrated, through Khalil and Starr, all of these important things.

I could probably go on for many more paragraphs about how much this book accomplishes. The main point is, it’s probably the best YA novel I’ve read and easily recommendable.

Overall Rating – 10/10

Why You Should Try It – Lives up to its extremely good reputation. Fantastic writing that is both thought-provoking and fun. Starr is a great heroine with a clear voice and well-illustrated point of view that is not often heard. The characters feel real and aren’t one-note. The tone of this novel strikes a multi-faceted balance between happy, humorous, sad, shocking, and more- just a wide gamut of emotions. Dodges cliches.

Why You Might Not Like It – While there are funny moments, there are very heavy and thought-provoking moments, tear-jerking moments, and overall I would not advise reading the book this instant if you’re more in the mood for something light and easy.

The Hate U Give Collector’s Edition (Amazon Link)

Thanks so much for reading my review! Have you read The Hate U Give and have any thoughts on it? Are you interested in reading it? I appreciate all of your thoughts.

Book Review : The Turn Of The Key by Ruth Ware

The Turn of the Key (Amazon Link)

Author : Ruth Ware
Published By : Simon & Schuster
Year Published : 2019
Genre / Tags : Mystery, Thriller, Light Horror, Contemporary, Gothic
Mood : Atmospheric, spooky, quietly building tension.
Formats : Hardcover, Paperback, eBook, Audiobook
# of Pages : 384 pages (Hardcover)

Summary

When she stumbles across the ad, she’s looking for something else completely. But it seems like too good an opportunity to miss—a live-in nannying post, with a staggeringly generous salary. And when Rowan Caine arrives at Heatherbrae House, she is smitten—by the luxurious “smart” home fitted out with all modern conveniences, by the beautiful Scottish Highlands, and by this picture-perfect family.

What she doesn’t know is that she’s stepping into a nightmare—one that will end with a child dead and herself in prison awaiting trial for murder.

Writing to her lawyer from prison, she struggles to explain the unravelling events that led to her incarceration. It wasn’t just the constant surveillance from the cameras installed around the house, or the malfunctioning technology that woke the household with booming music, or turned the lights off at the worst possible time. It wasn’t just the girls, who turned out to be a far cry from the immaculately behaved model children she met at her interview. It wasn’t even the way she was left alone for weeks at a time, with no adults around apart from the enigmatic handyman, Jack Grant.

It was everything.

She knows she’s made mistakes. She admits that she lied to obtain the post, and that her behavior toward the children wasn’t always ideal. She’s not innocent, by any means. But, she maintains, she’s not guilty—at least not of murder. Which means someone else is.

Wow I actually made a mood board for once! I find these hard to make since I can never find the right pics or think of any pics to search for. This book conjures some memorable and interesting images. By no means do all these perfectly match the book descriptions but I hope it’s nice to look at anyway.

Review

The Good

This novel reads like a lengthier successor to Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. I had some issues with The Haunting Of Hill House when I first read it but looking back months later, I better appreciate how influential and clever it is. The Turn Of The Key seems inspired by many of its best ideas, but expands upon them with a higher page count and more in-depth detail of the enigmatic house itself. The sort of shifting from day to night is also present, with night scenes containing more palpable tension.

Spooky old house, spooky kids, spooky.. garden? I like spooky/creepy imagery in books. Though a contemporary, this has a rich gothic style and atmosphere that is a bit unusual to find. I think one could even categorize this title as horror, it is close enough in a sort of quiet and classical way. Every element is at least a bit off, lending a slowly-building and sinister atmosphere. Something is also not right with the kids the main character, Rowan, is looking after. Even the garden has secrets.

The house and its very modern “smart” features cleverly deepen the suspense. Also perfect for lending some horror and mystery to the mix. The house seems massive and is described almost as if it’s a living, shifting entity brimming with secrets to explore. I’ve come across very few works that aim for such an effect and it’s always great to see.

Then we get to the technological features- lights can be turning on and off via voice control. Doors can be opened or closed via app. Camera surveillance and audio monitoring of various rooms is also a thing that Rowen is in charge of. When things go expectedly awry within that house, a lot of strange things can happen. I was never 100% sure how many zany and entrapping possibilities there were in this slightly futuristic house.

Multiple mysteries, the main character being one of them. I’m a fan of unreliable narraters. Also a fan of ambiguity. This book has both. I wasn’t sure if Rowan is unreliable or true and accurate in all of her sometimes neurotic-seeming thoughts.

The Not-So-Good

There was no character that I adored. This is not a requirement or anything, but it’s always nice to have at least one that stands out as special. Jack comes close, for his constant willingness to help Rowan. She has a prickly relationship with the kids and I really wish more time had been spent having them bond and converse more meaningfully. If you’re looking for an emphasis on deep character interactions, that’s not the focus of this novel.

Things can be slow. The first 25% of the book was about Rowan leaving her job, going to the house, getting a tour of said house, meeting a couple people, and finishing her job interview. It seemed like a small amount of ground covered for what is a considerable chunk of pages. But I did like how extensively the house is detailed.

Some other details I’d like to cover..

The nitty gritty details of being a nanny. I didn’t have much of a problem with this aspect as I was a little curious about the ins and outs of it, but some stretches of minutiae related to Rowan’s duties as a nanny can be less interesting. Your mileage may vary on this matter.

The best moment. In typical haunted house fashion, there is a mysterious locked door that takes forever to get opened. When Rowen is finally making real strides toward getting that door open, it’s really exciting and unputdownable.

Some totally non-spoiler thoughts about the ending. So around the 25% mark, 50% mark, even 70%+ mark I was thinking to myself how the ending could make or break this work. There was so much build up and it seems inherent to thrillers/mysteries that the ending and all the big reveals are of exceeding importance. I’m happy to say that I was mostly pleased with the revelations. I don’t over analyze too hard when reading books of this nature, but I don’t think the twists are by any means guessable.

Overall Rating – 9/10

Why You Should Try It – Heavy atmosphere, a spooky house that is a mix of old gothic imagery and almost futuristic modern conveniences. There is an array of plot twists. The writing is also quite solid.

Why You Might Not Like It – Can be slow-moving. The characters are not very endearing.

*Many thanks to Netgalley and Simon & Schuster for providing me this advance reader’s copy for review.*

The Turn of the Key (Amazon Link)

Have you read this book or are interested in reading it? Please feel free to share your thoughts, I read and appreciate all your comments and likes.