Goodreads | Amazon

I’ve tried to write a review of Lola and the Boy Next Door at least four times now with absolutely no success. I liked it, I really did, I just can’t quite figure out why.

Let’s start with the plot: Lola lives in San Francisco with her two dads. She’s a budding fashion designer who never wears the same outfit twice, loves wigs, and is a whiz with a sewing machine. She’s dating Max, a super cool guy who plays in a band that’s gaining popularity – and is also several years older than her. She’s really happy with her life until Cricket, the boy next door, moves back in and destroys everything.

Aside from the major plot points, Lola and the Boy Next Door is extremely similar to Anna and the French Kiss. The plot develops almost identically. Anna and St. Clair are even featured pretty heavily in this book – much more than I would have expected.

I’m trying to come up with a list of things I liked in this book, and I’m drawing a blank. The only thing I can really think of is Cricket. He’s a great character, and it’s obvious from the beginning that he’d be a better choice for Lola. While Max is always pushing people away, Cricket draws them in. While Max acts like Lola embarrasses him (so, I wonder, why is he dating her?), Cricket is happy to be seen in public with her, happy to do whatever she’s interested in. Max is uncomfortable with Lola’s dads (parents in general, I think), but Cricket is almost part of the family, and he knows her deep, dark secrets, right down to who her mother is and all the issues that come with that.

And it’s because of this that I really couldn’t understand why Lola stayed with Max as long as she did. As the book continued, he became a progressively worse character – blowing her off, treating her like a child, being downright mean – and she still clung to him. Even when Lola realized that her feelings for Cricket were developing into more than just a silly childhood crush, she still insisted on trying to save her failing relationship with Max. He’s not being himself, she thinks. He’s uncomfortable spending time with my friends, she rationalizes. He’ll be better when we’re alone. And so she stays with him. And he’s never better. He just gets worse. I didn’t really understand that, and it’s the same thing that bothered me about Anna and the French Kiss, in which St. Clair knows he’d rather be with Anna, but won’t break up with Ellie. It seems to be a pattern in these books, and it’s probably the only part that I really can’t get into.

Lola was a bit of a drama queen, and I feel like a lot of her problems could have been solved if she just calmed down. Example: when she finds out that Cricket is moving back in next door, she literally drops a stack of plates and passes out. I thought Cricket was going to have, like, some crazy, dark, possibly murderous secret. But no, it’s just Lola’s childhood crush moving back in. No big deal, really, except that Lola is a drama queen. Another example: Lola has hated Cricket for two years because of a misunderstanding they had on his last day in town. If she had just spoken with him, she would have realized that. Instead, she passes out and drops a stack of plates at the mention of his name. Drama queen.

But aside from all of that, I did really like the book. It’s cute, in the same way that Anna and the French Kiss is cute. If you liked that book, you’ll most likely like Lola and the Boy Next Door as well.

Final rating: 

Goodreads | Amazon

All Ceony Twill wanted was to be a Smelter, but that’s not what the fates have planned for her. After finishing her education at the Tagis Praff School for the Magically Inclined, Ceony learns that her apprenticeship will be under Emery Thane, a master Folder. Ceony is devastated – instead of bespelling bullets to never miss their mark, she’ll, what exactly? Make paper cranes? A magical education without an apprenticeship is worthless, so Ceony decides to go along with the plan. After all, some magic is better than no magic. What follows is a whimsical story in which enchanted paper birds can fly, enchanted paper dogs can bark, and enchanted paper skeletons can serve as butlers.

I absolutely adored this book. The descriptions were so vivid. Take this, for example, from when Ceony arrives at Magician Thane’s house:

Every flower in the yard looked to be crafted of Folded paper, each blossom perfectly creased. The buds appeared real – so much that, when a cloud passed over the afternoon sun, they all closed their petals ever so slightly. Like flowers trying too hard to be flowers.

It was obvious from the beginning that Thane was going to be a great guy, and I was a little bit miffed with Ceony for being so sassy toward him. To his credit, he didn’t force the Folding on her, but instead let her realize on her own what the benefits of it would be.

Ceony was alright, but definitely not my favorite heroine. I appreciated that, for her time, she was a pretty strong woman – she was educated and clearly talented, and she didn’t let anyone push her around or tell her what to do – but I didn’t like her bad attitude at the beginning. It seemed like she was unreasonably upset over ending up a Folder, and she took it out on Thane, who had nothing to do with it, and then her feelings on the matter seemed to abruptly change for no reason. [click through for slight spoilers]

All in all, this was a really fun, whimsical book, and I would highly recommend it for anybody who likes magical books. I’m looking forward to reading the next book in the series.

I received a free copy of The Paper Magician through Amazon’s Kindle First program.

Final rating:

Now through September 2, 2014, you can enter to win one of 20 free copies through Goodreads First Reads program!

Next Up: The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg

Ceony Twill arrives at the cottage of Magician Emery Thane with a broken heart. Having graduated at the top of her class from the Tagis Praff School for the Magically Inclined, Ceony is assigned an apprenticeship in paper magic despite her dreams of bespelling metal. And once she’s bonded to paper, that will be her only magic…forever.

Yet the spells Ceony learns under the strange yet kind Thane turn out to be more marvelous than she could have ever imagined—animating paper creatures, bringing stories to life via ghostly images, even reading fortunes. But as she discovers these wonders, Ceony also learns of the extraordinary dangers of forbidden magic.

An Excisioner—a practitioner of dark, flesh magic—invades the cottage and rips Thane’s heart from his chest. To save her teacher’s life, Ceony must face the evil magician and embark on an unbelievable adventure that will take her into the chambers of Thane’s still-beating heart—and reveal the very soul of the man.

Does this sound like something you’d be interested in?  Goodreads has 20 copies available though its First Reads program.  The giveaway ends on September 2, so hurry up and enter!

Goodreads | Amazon

Davis has been genetically engineered to be perfect – she’s what’s known as a Prior. Since birth, even before birth, her parents were able to pick and choose the kind of daughter they wanted. Davis is beautiful, athletic, intelligent, and driven to be the best ballerina she can be – just like her mother was.

Cole comes from the wrong side of the tracks, literally. As an Imp – the derogatory term for the imperfect, the geneserians, the unenhanced – he’s segregated by law into tiny tin shacks across the river from the Priors. Imps are second class citizens, forbidden from fraternizing with the Priors and only allowed to work the lowest-paying jobs possible. Cole is a cage fighter in the underground (and very illegal) FEUDS, and his sponsor is the current mayor.

Davis’s dad is a politician campaigning to be the new mayor. His platform is total and complete segregation – for the good of all citizens. If he’s elected, Priors and Imps will never look at each other again. They will never speak. Imp news won’t even be shown on Prior television.

When a mysterious illness starts killing Priors – previously thought to be immune to nearly everything – it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the government covers it up. After all, when the mayor sponsors illegal fights, it’s obvious that there’s a lot of corruption.

Davis and Cole find themselves drawn to each other, and may be each other’s only hope in the screwed up world they live in.

Feuds is the latest in the YA dystopian trend, and is unfortunately very similar to many more popular books. I think it’s probably very difficult to write a good dystopian novel now – it’s been such a trend for so long that you’d have to do something totally different to stand out. Feuds, I hate to say, does not stand out.

From the first few pages, it’s easy to see the similarities to other YA dystopias. On the first page of Feuds, Davis has a dream that she’s performing in her ballet aptitude test, the one that will determine whether she qualifies for the Olympiads, and she finds that Imps are watching her. Not just watching her, but laughing, howling even, at her mistakes. When she wakes up, her vitals monitor tells her that she’s well outside the normal range – she’s obviously had a nightmare. This obvious distrust, even fear, of outsiders, reminded me of a number of recent books.Under the Never Sky comes to mind, with Aria’s distrust of the “savage” Perry. I also thought of Divergent and the Factionless, who live on the edges of society and strike fear into the hearts of whoever happens to stumble across them.

I was also reminded of Divergent when Davis’s father tells her what it was like before segregation separated the Priors and Imps: Davis’s father had told her horror stories of what the city had been like back when the Imps were fully integrated. Crime – rapes, shootings, theft – it was through the roof until Kensington started pushing segregation. Sounds strikingly similar to the reason for establishing the factions, right? [click through to my full review for slight spoilers]

Other similarities were (obviously) Romeo & Juliet, but also the movie Gattaca and Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series. But enough on the similarities – I’m starting to bore even myself with these comparisons.

Onto the world building, my favorite part of dystopias, and another area that Feuds failed.

If my math is correct, the book takes place around 2137 (it had been nearly seventy-five years since Kensington’s death in 2062), yet not too much is different. People still drink Grey Goose, and froyo is still the snack of choice. Even technology hasn’t advanced that much – Priors use P-Cards for access (not too different from the ID badge I access my office with) and DirecTalks are really just tiny cell phones that can be worn as bracelets. Hospital staff still use computers to enter data, and it’s as easy as ever to hack in with just a username (printed on any staff ID) and password (written down next to the computer). Where is the retinal scan, the DNA test, the voice recognition that I’ve come to know and love? People really just use cards for access? Shouldn’t they at least be implanted somehow? We’re 123 years in the future!

But don’t get me wrong, not everything is bad. I liked Davis’s relationship with her friends, especially Vera, although it was sorely neglected in the book. I also liked Cole’s relationship with Worsley, the only Imp with medical training. Even Davis and Cole’s relationship was fine, though it progressed a little more quickly than I would have liked (although I have to admit, it did follow Romeo & Juliet nicely, what with the characters being absolutely devoted to each other after one kiss).

The thing that I probably liked the most was Davis’s relationship with Terri, her stepmother. Many books try to make the stepmother awful, evil, and out to get the stepdaughter. In this case, Terri is wonderful, loving, and arguably a better parent than Davis’s biological father. Terri genuinely cares about Davis and wants to make sure that she’s still able to go out and have fun with her friends, despite participating in her father’s campaign events. She offers to make her post-workout snacks and defends her when her father’s campaign manager insults her clothing choices or implies that she isn’t dressed like a proper lady. I honestly thought that Terri was going to intervene when Davis told her father that the government was covering up the sickness that had killed many of her friends, and her father basically told her to shut up and go to the hospital… But maybe that’s coming in the next installment.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for the free copy.

Final rating: 2.5/5 for a good story in theory with poor execution – rounded up to 

Currently Reading: Feuds by Avery Hastings

The latest in the YA dystopian trend, Feuds tells the story of Davis and Cole.  Davis is a Prior, genetically modified to be perfect in every way.  Cole is imperfect, otherwise known as an Imp, and lives as a second class citizen because of it.  Priors and Imps are not allowed to associate with each other.  They ride in different train cars, have different sets of rights, and live entirely different lives.

As one of their genetic modifications, Priors are immune to all disease. So what’s up with the mysterious illness that’s making its ways through Davis’ friends?  It’s up to her and Cole to find out.

Enter to win a free copy from Goodreads First Reads!