Publisher: Delacorte Press

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Review: Antisocial by Jillian Blake

May 1, 2017 Diversity 3, Reviews 0 ★★★

Review: Antisocial by Jillian BlakeAntisocial by Jillian Blake
Published by Delacorte Press on May 16, 2017
Genres: Mystery, YA, YA Contemporary, YA Thriller
Pages: 256
Format: ARC
Source: print ARC from Amazon Vine
Goodreads
three-stars
Alexandria Prep is hacked in this exhilarating whodunit set in the age of social media and the cloud—Pretty Little Liars meets WikiLeaks.

Senior spring at Alexandria Prep was supposed to be for sleeping through class and partying with friends. But for Anna Soler, it’s going to be a lonely road. She’s just been dumped by her gorgeous basketball star boyfriend—with no explanation. Anna’s closest friends, the real ones she abandoned while dating him, are ignoring her. The endearing boy she’s always had a complicated friendship with is almost too sympathetic.

But suddenly Anna isn’t the only one whose life has been upended. Someone is determined to knock the kings and queens of the school off their thrones: one by one, their phones get hacked and their personal messages and photos are leaked. At first it’s funny—people love watching the dirty private lives of those they envy become all too public.

Then the hacks escalate. Dark secrets are exposed, and lives are shattered. Chaos erupts at school. As Anna tries to save those she cares about most and to protect her own secrets, she begins to understand the reality of our always-connected lives:

Sometimes we share too much.

Diversity: 3 – Closer to Reality

Racial-Ethnic: 4 (Anna is half-Columbian; her best friend Radhika is Indian and Rad’s boyfriend Andrew is Chinese)
QUILTBAG: 1 (quite a few characters get outed as gay by the leaks, but only one has any major role)
Disability: 3 (Anna has social anxiety disorder and her ex has OCD/anxiety too)
Intersectionality: 3 (Anna is pretty well-written and I’m happy to see all three categories above represented)

In my book, it’s always time for a YA thriller. Putting together the pieces of a mystery, trying to solve it just before or at the same time as the main character, watching everything get worse and worse right up to the climactic scene,… Maybe I’m a bit cruel, but as often as I read YA contemporary novels, YA thrillers and mysteries are a bit above them in my heart. Antisocial is a pretty good one with plenty of representation across the board and its realistic stakes will chill just about every reader.

I’ve always tried to be my best self online, but even I’m terrified at the idea of all my texts, emails, etc. being leaked online. Whether it would expose someone’s two-faced ways or provides enough evidence that they could be successfully convicted of a felony, everyone has something to fear if their name gets attached to their anonymous or private online shenanigans. Anna’s fear: the friends who are just barely starting to accept her back after she abandoned them for her boyfriend will learn how she insulted all of them when talking to him.

Antisocial is a tiny little book at 256 pages and perfectly paced so you’ll feel compelled to read it all in one sitting. In particular, Anna is an incredible character Latin@ and anxiety disorder-ridden readers hungry for representation will love. She’s half-Columbian, has social anxiety disorder, and had a stint in a group home, but she’s still determined to find out who’s leaking students’ online histories, which were gathered via an app the school required students to download. Turned out the app was gathering all their data and storing it and then someone found a hackable hole! Oops.

Even when her ex-boyfriend’s data gets leaked and she finds out how easily he dumped her when he wrecked her with the break-up, she still wants to help him. He has a form of OCD (pretty respectful and nonstereotypical, at that!) and they shared a kinship over their anxieties. No matter how much he hurt her, she’d rather do what’s right than revel in his humiliation. If I explained my history with an ex-friend, you’d quickly learn I wouldn’t be as good of a person in the same situation as Anna.

Too bad it has a lot of stereotypes and cliches going on among both the characters and the events. One twist of an event in particular toward the end of the book failed to make me feel anything at all when it was intended to be gut-wrenching. Honestly, it made me laugh and quote Heathers, which made fun of something very similar. It doesn’t ruin anything for either book or film to tell you I was giggling to myself and quoting “I LOVE MY DEAD GAY SON” as the twist’s aftermath played out.

My giggling was sandwiched between me groaning at how melodramatic and ridiculously corny the whole ending is. This is what Heathers was making fun of almost thirty years ago! Considering everything the data leaks caused at their school, trying to spin it as “everything will be sunshine and rainbows soon” makes me want to gag. You know who things won’t be okay for? The kid who made a podcast out of the leaks and delighted in it. He better change schools or he is screeeeeewed. No one’s gonna forgive him that easily for having fun with someone else’s humiliation.

All in all, Antisocial is a gripping thriller for the modern teen. Its ending may not have left me feeling anything other than mildly amused, but the core conceit of the story is what will make it memorable for readers and get the most praise. I’m excited to read more from Jillian Blake in the future and would recommend this for anyone whose hunger for thrillers still needs to be satiated or is in a bit of a reading slump. This tiny little thrill ride should cure you pretty easily!

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Review: And I Darken by Kiersten White

January 4, 2017 Diversity 4, Reviews 0 ★★★½

Review: And I Darken by Kiersten WhiteAnd I Darken by Kiersten White
Series: The Conqueror's Saga #1
Published by Delacorte Press on June 28, 2016
Genres: YA, YA Historical
Pages: 496
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Goodreads
three-half-stars
No one expects a princess to be brutal. And Lada Dragwlya likes it that way. Ever since she and her gentle younger brother, Radu, were wrenched from their homeland of Wallachia and abandoned by their father to be raised in the Ottoman courts, Lada has known that being ruthless is the key to survival. She and Radu are doomed to act as pawns in a vicious game, an unseen sword hovering over their every move. For the lineage that makes them special also makes them targets.

Lada despises the Ottomans and bides her time, planning her vengeance for the day when she can return to Wallachia and claim her birthright. Radu longs only for a place where he feels safe. And when they meet Mehmed, the defiant and lonely son of the sultan, Radu feels that he’s made a true friend—and Lada wonders if she’s finally found someone worthy of her passion.

But Mehmed is heir to the very empire that Lada has sworn to fight against—and that Radu now considers home. Together, Lada, Radu, and Mehmed form a toxic triangle that strains the bonds of love and loyalty to the breaking point.

Diversity Rating: 4 – This Is Our World

Racial-Ethnic: 5 (Most of the cast is Muslim once we get to the Ottoman Empire; Lada and Radu are Slavic)
QUILTBAG: 3 (Radu is gay; his arranged marriage enables a lesbian couple to life happily and safely)
Disability: 0
Intersectionality: 3 (if I remember correctly, Radu’s sexuality and religion don’t come into conflict with one another)

Kiersten White’s debut novel Paranormalcy was one of the first books I read once I started reviewing and I loved it then, but White’s novels have failed to impress me since. Then And I Darken started gathering all sorts of praise from major outlets and even people who disliked White’s previous books like I did. With so many like-minded people saying her latest was very different from her earlier works, of course I’d pay attention! I’ll add my voice to the chorus: And I Darken is much darker, features a brutal, unapologetic heroine, and is just plain good. Read more »

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Review: The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

December 2, 2016 Diversity 4, Reviews 0 ★½

Review: The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola YoonThe Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
Published by Delacorte Press on November 1, 2016
Genres: YA, YA Contemporary
Pages: 384
Format: ARC
Source: ALA Annual 2016
Goodreads
one-half-stars
Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.

Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store—for both of us.

The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?

Diversity: 4 – This Is Our World

Racial-Ethnic: 5 (Natasha’s family is Jamaican, Daniel’s is South Korean, and their identities are explored well)
QUILTBAG: 0 (very brief appearance of a lesbian women in one interlude chapter)
Disability: 1 (a suicidal woman makes brief appearances in two or three interlude chapters)
Intersectionality: 5 (see all of the above)

Look, I don’t set out to be a black sheep. It’s not fun thanks to all the jerkwads who will eventually show up in the comments to tell me how wrong I am and how I should die (legitimately a comment someone left in Portuguese on my review of a Cassandra Clare book). Nicola Yoon? Her fans are dedicated and I completely understand why because there’s a lot to like in Everything, Everything as well as her newest, The Sun Is Also a Star. I simply have grievances with both books that run too deep and mean too much for me. Read more »

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Review: Die for You by Amy Fellner Dominy

November 14, 2016 Diversity 1, Reviews 0 ★★★★

Review: Die for You by Amy Fellner DominyDie for You by Amy Fellner Dominy
Published by Delacorte Press on November 8, 2016
Genres: YA, YA Contemporary
Pages: 304
Format: ARC
Source: ALA Annual 2016
Goodreads
four-stars
Not everything is as perfect as it seems in this dark romance by A Matter of Heart author, Amy Dominy.

Theirs was the perfect love story.

After Emma Lorde’s parents’ divorce forces her to move halfway across the state of Arizona to live with her father, Emma must face her senior year in a new school knowing absolutely no one.

Then she meets Dillon Hobbs and something just clicks.

Dillon introduces Emma to friends she can call her own. He provides a refuge from the chaos of her past and the security of a commitment that he promises will last forever. And because circumstances of her messy life forced Emma to put aside her dream of pursuing archaeology, Dillon creates a blueprint for a future together.
He saves her, over and over, by loving her more than she thought anyone ever would.

But just when everything seems picture-perfect, Emma is offered an opportunity that will upend the future they’ve planned. Uncertainty grows, and fear spirals into something darker.

Now Dillon is the one who needs saving.

But how much do you sacrifice for the one you love? What if saving Dillon means losing herself?

Diversity Rating: 1 – Tokenism

Racial-Ethnic: 0
QUILTBAG: 0
Disability: 1 (Dillon has mental issues the author says are purposefully left unspecified)
Intersectionality: 0

Well. After the clusterfuck that was last week, let’s get back to business. Read more »

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Review: The Darkest Corners by Kara Thomas

April 7, 2016 Diversity 0, Reviews 0 ★★★½

Review: The Darkest Corners by Kara ThomasThe Darkest Corners by Kara Taylor, Kara Thomas
Published by Delacorte Press on April 19, 2016
Genres: Mystery, YA, YA Thriller
Pages: 336
Format: eARC
Source: eARC via NetGalley
Goodreads
three-half-stars
The Darkest Corners is a psychological thriller about the lies little girls tell, and the deadly truths those lies become.

There are ghosts around every corner in Fayette, Pennsylvania. Tessa left when she was nine and has been trying ever since not to think about it after what happened there that last summer. Memories of things so dark will burn themselves into your mind if you let them.

Callie never left. She moved to another house, so she doesn’t have to walk those same halls, but then Callie always was the stronger one. She can handle staring into the faces of her demons—and if she parties hard enough, maybe one day they’ll disappear for good.

Tessa and Callie have never talked about what they saw that night. After the trial, Callie drifted and Tessa moved, and childhood friends just have a way of losing touch.

But ever since she left, Tessa has had questions. Things have never quite added up. And now she has to go back to Fayette—to Wyatt Stokes, sitting on death row; to Lori Cawley, Callie’s dead cousin; and to the one other person who may be hiding the truth.

Only the closer Tessa gets to the truth, the closer she gets to a killer—and this time, it won’t be so easy to run away.

Diversity Rating: 0 – What Diversity?

Racial-Ethnic: 0
QUILTBAG: 0
Disability: 0
Intersectionality: 0

In my spare time, I read about things like the OJ Simpson case or general unsolved mysteries while crime documentaries and docudramas play in the background. Maybe Forensic Files will be on instead if I can’t find a program or documentary to my liking at the time. In other words, I’m a massive true crime junkie. The author proved herself to me with her Prep School Confidential series (written as Kara Taylor), so combined with the premise, of course I was going to read The Darkest Corners. It is a fantastic read, but I’m a bit disappointed as well.

Fellow true crime junkie will find catnip and callbacks to infamous cases on every page. A clear West Memphis Three inspiration, a Serial and Making a Murderer-esque national obsession with finding the truth behind the Ohio River Monster’s identity, a major plot point I can’t discuss because SPOILERS,… Were the Ohio River Monster and the associated murders real, I have no doubt whatsoever that the nation and our central characters would be exactly as obsessed as Taylor writes them. She nails the small-town vibe perfectly and makes Fayette, Pennsylvania one of the most vivid settings I’ve read in a while.

Tessa and Callie’s dynamic as former friends, decisive co-witnesses in the Monster’s conviction, and two girls badly hurt by their part in the case is utterly fantastic as they run into red herring after red herring and try to get comfortable with one another again. The lack of romance is refreshing too! I’d like to headcanon Tessa as aromantic asexual like me because she comes off as more disinterested than simply not thinking about it, but I don’t like to do that. Imagining my identity on other characters just hurts me and obscures how much representation I actually have.

ANYWAY. Here begins the criticism.

Tessa is a very bland narrator from the very start. Her one standout trait is that she’s so obsessed with the Ohio River Monster case that you wonder if she’s hiding something more than “I didn’t actually see his face, the police badgered me into saying I did.” Spoiler alert that’s not actually a spoiler: she’s not. She’s written right along the lines of an unreliable narrator but isn’t one. If it gets in your head early on that she’s unreliable, throw it out because you’re thinking too hard from reading more expertly crafted thrillers. I fell in that trap too.

The novel is full of twists and turns to keep readers wondering what the truth is alongside Tessa and Callie, but a mix of my experience and overly clear clues led to me calling quite a few twists I wasn’t supposed to. An incredibly weak ending didn’t make me feel much better.

The last chapter or two are exposition-heavy and spent solely on wrapping up every single loose end in one of the most unsubtle ways I’ve ever seen. At the end of a thriller, we’re all going to get stuck with a little bit of boring exposition to explain what happened afterward. Still, I’ve seen it done much better than this. Even in a book, not every plot thread will be wrapped up because life doesn’t work that way. There’s a character we’ll never learn the truth about, for instance. One event that can’t quite be explained. The Darkest Corners answers every possible question, leaving nothing for readers’ brains to stick to. As quickly as someone finishes reading, the book will already be out of mind and on its way to be forgotten.

Don’t get me wrong, this is still an deeply absorbing novel. I read it in a single day with my feet propped up on pillows with a view of the Las Vegas Strip from my hotel room window. But I’ve read mystery-riddled thrillers with much more honed craft–and two I can think of came from Thomas herself when she wrote as Kara Taylor. I know she can writer much tighter works, so I’m a bit disappointed. Oh well! I still recommend The Darkest Corners as well as her Prep School Confidential series if you haven’t read those books. For real, read that series. It’s great!

Spring Bingo 8 The Darkest Corners

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Review: A Song for Ella Grey by David Almond

January 11, 2016 Diversity 1, Reviews 1 ★★

Review: A Song for Ella Grey by David AlmondA Song for Ella Grey by David Almond
Published by Delacorte Press on October 13, 2015
Genres: Magical Realism, YA
Pages: 272
Format: Hardcover
Source: finished copy from the publisher
Goodreads
two-stars
Claire and Ella and their friends are bound by ties so strong they seem unbreakable. Then the strange and handsome Orpheus strolls onto the beach, and he sings them all into an astonishing new understanding of themselves. Ella is caught the hardest, fastest, deepest—and Claire feels the pain of looking on.

Raw, emotional, lyrical, and funny, A Song for Ella Grey is a tale the joys, troubles, and desires of modern teens. It takes place in the ordinary streets of Tyneside and on the beautiful beaches of Northumberland. It’s a story of first love, a love song that draws on ancient mythical forces. A love that leads Ella, Orpheus, and Claire to the gates of Death and beyond.

Diversity Rating: 0 – What Diversity?

Racial-Ethnic: 0
QUILTBAG: 1 (lots of gay people and Claire has a heavily implied love for Ella)
Disability: 0
Intersectionality: 0

David Almond has both a Printz winner and a Printz Honor book under his belt, but I have admittedly never heard of him. Printz-winning or honored novels have a good chance of being used in school–I had to read Printz winners Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy and Monster and Printz Honor novel/hotbed of stupid controversies Speak is also used in classes–but aren’t necessarily memorable. Look at this list of all the nominees and winners in the award’s history and see how many you do/don’t recognize.

Why am I talking about all this boring crap? Because literary novels win awards, but they’re not necessarily good. Bad books can have other stuff going on that’s good enough to earn awards or maybe the judges in one particular year had horrible taste. Almond clearly writes literary YA if his history with awards is any indication.  A Song for Ella Grey is literary without a doubt, but it’s also rather bad. Read more »

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Review: The Trouble with Destiny by Lauren Morrill

November 16, 2015 Diversity 0, Reviews 0 ★★

Review: The Trouble with Destiny by Lauren MorrillThe Trouble with Destiny by Lauren Morrill
Published by Delacorte Press on December 8, 2015
Genres: YA, YA Contemporary
Pages: 272
Format: eARC
Source: eARC via NetGalley
Goodreads
two-stars
It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey...

With her trusty baton and six insanely organized clipboards, drum major Liza Sanders is about to take Destiny by storm—the boat, that is. When Liza discovered that her beloved band was losing funding, she found Destiny, a luxury cruise ship complete with pools, midnight chocolate buffets, and a $25,000 spring break talent show prize.

Liza can’t imagine senior year without the band, and nothing will distract her from achieving victory. She’s therefore not interested when her old camp crush, Lenny, shows up on board, looking shockingly hipster-hot. And she’s especially not interested in Russ, the probably-as-dumb-as-he-is-cute prankster jock whose ex, Demi, happens be Liza’s ex–best friend and leader of the Athenas, a show choir that’s the band’s greatest competition.

But it’s not going to be smooth sailing. After the Destiny breaks down, all of Liza’s best-laid plans start to go awry. Liza likes to think of herself as an expert at almost everything, but when it comes to love, she’s about to find herself lost at sea.

Diversity Rating: 0 – What Diversity?

Racial-Ethnic: 0 (Hispanic best friend)
QUILTBAG: 0 (Hispanic best friend is stereotype gay)
Disability: 0
Intersectionality: 0 (stereotypical Hispanic gay friend is not diversity)

If you’ve been fortunate enough to go on a cruise, you know what can happen. If you haven’t been on a cruise, you’ll really be amazed what can happen when you’re on a boat for 2-7 days. My brother met his first love on one and he holds the song “My Heart Will Go On” as sacred because of it; y dad got violent food poisoning on a second; and I was unwillingly the center of a love triangle on a third. I still remember all three vividly even though the first cruise happened when I was eight and I count the cruises among my best experiences. Lauren Morrill really captures the overall experience of a cruise, but there’s a lot here that isn’t quite right.

Read more »

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