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It’s rare to come across a book, particularly from a debut author, that tackles important issues without preaching life lessons. In The Truth About Alice, Jennifer Mathieu manages to do just that.

Alice Franklin, according to her peers, has done a lot of things. She slept with not one, but two boys at Elaine’s party. She had an abortion and didn’t even know which guy’s kid it was. She’s basically responsible for the death of Brandon, the school’s star quarterback. A long time ago, she was popular. Now nobody will even speak to her. But what’s true and what’s just a rumor?

The Truth About Alice is told through the alternating perspectives of Elaine (the most popular girl in the school), Josh (Brandon’s best friend), Kelsie (Alice’s former best friend), and Kurt (a genius loner who knows more than people think). Through these four perspectives, we find out the truth about what really happened with Alice, and the motivatons behind the lies.

In The Truth About Alice, Mathieu somehow manages to make the actions of these kids understandable. They do terrible things to their friend. I wouldn’t want to run into them at a party. I’m glad I didn’t go to school with people like them. But I completely understand why they made the decisions they did. And most importantly, they don’t pretend to be good people. They don’t think they’re perfect or infallible. They know they’re wrong and they might even feel bad about spreading those rumors and ostracizing their former friend.

It’s refreshing to read about realistically imperfect characters. It’s refreshing to read a YA novel that tackles issues like bullying through the eyes of the ones doing the bullying. This whole novel was refreshing.

Thank you to Netgalley for the advance copy.

Final rating: 

[see my original review here]

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I received a free copy of The Biology of Luck via Goodreads First Reads in exchange for an honest review.

I finished this book last night and I’m still not entirely sure how I felt about it. I absolutely hated it, with a fiery burning passion, while I was reading it. Starshine and Larry are obnoxious, pretentious people who embody the worst characteristics of my generation. I could not stand to read about them and literally had to force myself to keep going. That said, the book is very well-written. Appel has a way with words and was able to paint a very vivid picture of New York City to someone like me, who has never been there before.

But how many stars can you really give a book you hated?

I have to deal with a lot of people, and a lot of nonsense, every day. When I come home and curl up with a book, I don’t want to deal with more nonsense. I want likable characters.

I don’t want Starshine, who in one breath says that men are harmless and in another is saying how she’s afraid to be alone with a florist because men are only out to molest her. I don’t want to hear about how she uses her good looks to con lonely bankers into giving her their own money, or how she doesn’t want to work for any business that forces her to wear shoes. I don’t want to hear her complaining about her aunt because it’s no longer pleasant to visit her. I don’t want to read about how she wants to, but doesn’t want to, break up with her two… lovers? Boyfriends? I don’t need to read about how the entire world is in love with Starshine – literally EVERYONE IN HER LIFE.

I don’t want Larry, who hates himself and seriously contemplates suicide several times over the course of a walking tour. I don’t want to hear him rolling around in self-pity because he’s not good-looking, not rich, not good in bed. I don’t want to read about his pretentious friends and their meetings at an upscale McDonalds. Larry seems to almost stalk Starshine, at least through his book, writing about her travels through the city, her encounters with her lovers, all building up to her date with him that same evening. Larry, and his book, were very creepy.

I don’t want to read about unpleasant people. I kept waiting for some revelation that would make them more likable, something that would shed some light on why they act the way they do. It didn’t come. I was both happy to finish this book, and unhappy, because the ending of the book was so entirely disappointing.

In the end, I think I can safely award The Biology of Luck two stars – one for the writing and one for making me care about the status of Larry’s book.

[see my full review]

ARC review: The Undiscovered Goddess by Michelle Colston

The Undiscovered Goddess by Michelle Colston
Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Links: Amazon • Goodreads
Publication Date: August 15, 2012
Source: ARC via Netgalley

Who knew a Cosmo quiz and a bottle of wine could change a woman’s life?

Holly, housewife and frazzled mother of three, is determined to discredit the lackluster result of a Cosmopolitan magazine quiz. After buying a workbook geared toward helping her find her inner goddess, Holly sets off on a year of self-discovery, journaling through each exercise as she goes. Facing inner demons, yoga, an explosive colon cleanse and REALLY spicy curry, the lessons are hard on her emotions, not to mention her digestive system. But does she succeed in the end? Beyond the superficial, what important lesson does Holly’s inner goddess have the power to teach her…and what can Holly teach you?

I finished this book a couple hours ago and I’m still not sure how I feel about it.

I’m not sure what I expected, but it wasn’t this. I know I wasn’t expecting blurbs about finding myself on every other page. I certainly wasn’t expecting 90% of the book to be written like a journal. I wasn’t expecting frequent typos. I was expecting, from the summary and the reviews, that it would be funny, but I don’t think I laughed more than once or twice.

“What can Holly teach you,” asks the summary. Well…

Holly can teach me to stop acting like I deserve the world just because I occasionally have to do things I don’t want to do. Holly is a wife and mother of three. She doesn’t seem to really like her husband anymore (he’s away for work a lot) and often seems to detest her children. She has a lot of responsibilities, sure. She channels her frustrations into spending copious amounts of money on designer clothes she’ll never wear and drinking more alcohol than it’s healthy to consume. Apparently Holly is so wrapped up in self-pity that she doesn’t realize she could take some of that money and use it for, oh, I don’t know, A BABYSITTER SO SHE CAN GET SOME TIME TO HERSELF?! Instead, she literally thinks about murdering her son when he asks her to make him a sandwich. Yes, this is a thing that actually happens, and Holly sees nothing wrong with it. This book is supposed to be funny. IT IS NOT.

Holly can teach me what it really looks like when I complain about stupid things or blame my moods on my period. Holly is constantly menstruating, and constantly describing what stage of her cycle she’s in. She is extra mean to her husband during this time of the month (he finds it funny, not disturbing) and uses it as an excuse for doing (or not doing) whatever she wants. I hope I don’t use my period as an excuse for being a terrible person half as much as Holly does. It was incredibly tiring to read about her shirking responsibilities and snapping at everyone just because she has cramps.

Holly can teach me to be a happier person. I never want to be seen the way I saw Holly. She was a miserable person who only got a smidgen more tolerable toward the end. I think one of the biggest reasons I didn’t like this book was that I didn’t like Holly. It’s awfully hard to muster up the energy to read about a character you can’t stand. Now, granted, Holly does a complete 180 over the course of the book, but it comes across as very staged. She has convenient epiphanies related to each chapter of her workbook that allow her to move on to the land of better people. But even at the end, is she really as enlightened as she thinks she is?

Thanks, Holly, for giving me a wake-up call about how I’m perceived, though I doubt this was the intention of this supposedly funny book.

On the bright side, this book made me want to take up journaling again. It’s something I used to do pretty frequently, and although I would cringe at past entries, it was very therapeutic to get all my emotions out in a private way. It made me want to start working out with more frequency (I actually did 20 minutes of cardio immediately after putting the book down, so there’s a plus). And it made me want to set aside some time each week just for myself so I can unwind and be a happier person.

I’m just really glad to be done with this book.

Book review: Allegiant by Veronica Roth

Goodreads | Amazon

I could write an entire novel about all the problems I had with Allegiant. It’s hard to say what the worst thing was for me. The writing? The (lack of) plot? The characters? The lazy explanations of everything the last two books were built upon? The disastrous ending? I’m not really sure. Whatever it was, something about this book really got to me, and not in a good way. I literally want to go back in time to prevent myself from buying Divergent. THAT IS HOW MUCH IS DISLIKED THIS BOOK.

What I thought I was going to get is so different from what I actually got that I don’t even know what to think.

Ok, so let me break down all the problems I had with this book.

1. The writing. The first thing you’ll notice upon picking up this book is that that the book is no longer told from Tris’s point of view. She and Tobias alternate perspectives throughout the book, usually every other chapter. As if this isn’t confusing enough, given that the last two books in the trilogy were written from only her perspective, it turns out that she and Tobias have exactly the same voice. Sometimes I actually had to flip back a couple of pages to see who was narrating the chapter because I thought it was Tris, then she’d refer to herself in the third person and I realized I was reading a Tobias chapter. It’s not so bad when they’re together, but it’s so confusing when they’re off doing their own things. Tobias will be out doing something rebellious and then the chapter ends and we’re in a lab somewhere with Tris and Caleb. It’s very disorienting and really detracts from the story.

I also can’t think of any other books I’ve read, at least in recent memory, where the writing style changes mid-series. Typically you would pick one style and hang onto it throughout the entire series, but for some reason, Veronica Roth and her editors saw no problem with changing something that major. Allegiant gets to do whatever it wants, it seems. After all, the series picked up so much press and so much hype that it was bound to sell a huge amount of books regardless of the writing. Honestly, the change to the writing style should have been my first clue as to how terrible this book was going to be.

2. The (lack of) plot. At 526 pages, Allegiant is a fairly big book. It has a fair amount of side characters, who you might think would serve some purpose other than being conveniently there, but no. There are some pretty big conflicts going on, so you would think something would actually happen. Well, I’ve read books a quarter of the length with twice as much action.

Tris and Tobias narrate everything. They describe the trees and the windows and the roads and the kisses and the labs and the hallways and the clothes and literally everything that happens to them. They describe how they’re feeling and why they’re feeling that way and how it relates back to something totally irrelevant that happened before. They describe each other in such minute detail that I can only imagine all these descriptions only serve to increase the page count of the book.

3. The characters. I thought Tris was pretty cool in Divergent. I could not stand her in Insurgent. She’s better inAllegiant, having finally figured out her life and taken a good look at her choices, but she’s still not back to her former self. Tobias, on the other hand, has somehow devolved from the strong leader he used to be into an easily manipulated, petty, jealous teenager. Tris warns him not to trust Nita, but she’s pretty and intriguing, so he’ll risk everything to join her cause. He does stupid, stupid things that he would never have advocated in the previous two books just because some jerk in a lab told him he’s “genetically damaged.”

In the prologue, a full two and a half years later, you might think he’d be back to his normal self, but no. Remember when he used to go through his fear landscape for kicks? [spoilers removed]  And worse than that, he’s completely forgotten his roots and has gone into politics. WHAT?

The side characters lose any semblance of importance they may have formerly had. I’m pretty sure Christina was important in the first two books, but in Allegiant, she just kind of hangs around in the background, only being mentioned occasionally so that we remember that Tris used to have a life before all this conflict. Cara should have had more of a plot than she did, with everything she’s been through, but she really just popped up whenever Tobias needed comforting or someone to talk to. Peter, who used to be a huge antagonist, pretty much just falls into the shadows, only to show up toward the end [spoilers removed]. Tris’s mom starts off as a sort of main character in the book, but once her purpose has been served, she’s thrown to the side as well. The only characters that reliably have a plotline are Tris, Tobias, and Matthew, a new character who works in the Bureau’s lab.

4. The lazy explanations of everything the last two books were built upon. One of my biggest pet peeves when I’m reading a book is inaccurate science. I am, of course, able to suspend some disbelief when I’m reading. I get that this isn’t our society, that we’re however many hundreds of years in the future, that things are different. But when your explanation for why things are different is “because science did stuff,” and you can’t provide a description of how that makes a bit of sense, I can’t take you seriously anymore. Read on for Veronica Roth’s attempt to explain the factions.

[spoilers removed]

5. The disastrous ending. [obvious spoilers removed]

Let me give you one piece of advice. Don’t read this book. If you’re considering reading the Divergent series, don’t. It’s not worth it. Divergent isn’t particularly well-written, but at least it’s fun. Insurgent is a terrible book, but at least when I read it, there was hope of redemption in Allegiant. But Allegiant takes that hope and shatters it, relying only on hype and not plot to sell books. Don’t waste your time.

Final rating: ★☆☆☆☆

Click here to read my original, spoilerific review.