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In Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Boy Next Door, we got two very slow-building romances. In fact, one half of each couple was with someone else for the majority of each book. In Isla and the Happily Ever After, we start off with romance.

Isla, hopped up on painkillers after getting her wisdom teeth removed, heads out to a cafe called Kismet, where she runs into Josh, her long-time crush. While Isla is normally very shy, the painkillers take away some of her inhibitions that night, and she ends up having a very fun night with Josh. Back at school, Isla and Josh’s relationship unfolds beautifully and realistically… until it also implodes, also quite realistically.

I read this book in one sitting on a Saturday afternoon. I am a big fan of Stephanie Perkins’ work, but Isla really surprised me. Anna and Lola had a very similar structure, very similar themes of unrequited love and leaving the one you might be comfortable with, but who isn’t necessarily right for you. Isla is very different in that it’s about finding yourself and not letting your insecurities get the best of you.

In that way, it’s actually a very frustrating book to read, because it’s clear that Isla and Josh are so good for each other. They balance each other out perfectly. But Isla’s insecurities and her uncertainty about what her future might hold end up putting a strain on her relationship with Josh until she snaps and breaks it off. Break up with him before he realizes he can do better than you. It’s heartbreaking, and I almost cried reading it, because it’s just so realistic.

In Anna and Lola we saw what it takes for two people to realize they’re meant for each other. In Isla, the story was more about what it takes to make that relationship actually work. And I think that’s a good thing for teens, the target audience of these books. Yes, it’s great to find someone you love. It’s all sunshine and roses at the beginning. But as that relationship goes on, you have to work at it. And that’s not often shown in YA novels. But yes, couples fight, and past relationships can come back to haunt you, and there will be days where you’re not sure that it’s going to work out. And that doesn’t mean that your relationship is bad, or that you should break up, or that there’s something wrong with you. It means that your relationship is normal, and I have to give Stephanie Perkins a lot of credit for doing a great job at showing that.

Isla is so different from its predecessors, but it’s still a really great book. Highly recommended for fans of Stephanie Perkins’ works.

Final rating: ★★★★☆

Goodreads recently released a list of The Top 100 YA Books.

The average person has read 24 of them.

How many have you read?

I clocked in at 32, but thought I’d do better than that!  I own a number of them and just haven’t gotten to reading them yet, so I’m going to try to knock them off my TBR this year!

What’s that?  Another new feature this week?

Killing the TBR is my way of holding myself accountable for books I’ve purchased but haven’t read.

Each month, I’m going to pick three books that I’ve had for longer than a year, but haven’t yet read.  I’ll need to finish these books within 30 days, or no buying new books that following month.

This month, my picks are the His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman.  I have literally owned these books since I was in high school (I graduated over seven years ago), and I’ve still never read them.  They also tie in to the Banned Books Week feature that I’m planning, so there’s no time like the present to finish them.

I have until October 17, 2015 to finish.

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Victoria Darling dreams of becoming a world-renowned artist.  Sent to France by her parents to attend a fancy finishing school, she secretly paints with an all-male atelier.  One day, their nude model doesn’t show, and Vicky volunteers to pose for her classmates.  Word of this reaches her parents back in England, and she’s whisked home amid the scandal.  The only way to salvage her reputation, and that of her family, is a quick marriage to the son of a wealthy businessman.  But Vicky’s not worried about reputation; she concerns herself only with furthering her art career.

So, the first thing I have to mention?

VICKY IS THE WORST.

Does she care that she might singlehandedly dismantle her father’s career? Not really.

Does she see her future husband as anything more than a bank account? Nope.

Does she consider cheating on said future husband with her muse? Absolutely.

She falls into the company of some suffragettes, but does she think of them as anything more than a possible art school recommendation?  What do you think?

There are flawed characters, there are charmingly imperfect characters, and then there is Vicky, who is the literal worst.

For a girl of her social class in this time period (1909), and with all the education she received, you may think that Vicky would understand societal pressures.  She might understand that she’s literally ruining her father’s career with her shenanigans.  But she doesn’t seem to understand that.  She rebels for the sake of rebelling.  For the time period, she had a lot of freedom, but she’s not satisfied.  She won’t take no for an answer, and ends up making stupid mistake after stupid mistake.  Throughout most of the book, I just wanted to grab her by the shoulders and tell her how much worse she was making things for herself.  You can be an artist, Vicky!  Just stop being dumb about it!

Vicky finds herself intrigued by the women’s suffrage movement, but, of course, not because she believes in it.  Not really.  No, it’s because there are famous artists affiliated with the movement, and she thinks that if she can get her artwork in their promotional materials, if she can get her artwork up on the murals, if she can get one of those artists to write a recommendation for her… maybe she can get into art school.  That’s it.  That’s her motivation.  Because Vicky is the literal worst.

Through the women’s suffrage movement, she meets Will, a gorgeous policeman who agrees to pose for her art school portfolio.  Will obviously falls for Vicky, who consistently fails to mention that she’s engaged, and even brings Will to her future home because it has good light for painting, or something like that.  Did I prefer Will over her actual fiance?  Yes, of course.  Her fiance spends most of the book drunk or gambling, or discussing being drunk or gambling.  But did I think she was being fair to either one of them?  No.

Vicky seems to find no issue with using people for whatever she needs.  She uses the suffragettes to further her application to art school.  She uses Will as inspiration for her paintings.  She uses Edmund, her fiance, because his fortune will pay for her admission to art school.  I can’t think of one honest relationship Vicky has in this book.  She even uses her brother, her best friend, and her lady’s maid.  It’s awful.

The book is entertaining, and I read through it pretty quickly.  But it’s also infuriating, because I wanted so badly to find some redeeming quality in Victoria, and there was just nothing there.

I’ll file this one under main characters I just didn’t click with.

Final rating: ★★☆☆☆

Today’s Top Ten Tuesday is a freebie, so I thought I would go with one that I missed posting a couple weeks ago: ten characters you just didn’t click with.

I can usually find something redeeming in most characters.  Even if they’re awful, at least we know why.  But sometimes, the character just falls flat.  Or they’re terrible for no reason.  Sometimes they devolve over the course of a series.  There are a lot of reasons not to like a character.

Here are ten characters that immediately came to mind:

  1. Ani FaNelli from Luckiest Girl Alive: You know how, in Gone Girl, you can understand why Amy is so angry about her life and so done with her husband?  Yeah, Ani has all that negative energy, but it comes off as really petty.  Like, she’s taking her horrible high school experience out on her fiance, who has literally nothing to do with it.  And she wants to make her high school classmates “pay” like ten years later, when really 99% of her problems in high school were her own fault, so her whole character just doesn’t work.
  2. Aislinn from Wicked Lovely: How do I even begin to explain my problems with Aislinn?  Her grandmother consistently warns her to be careful.  She is not.  Bad things happen.  She strings along her best friend.  She strings along the faery who falls for her.  And, aside from that, she really just… exists.  There’s nothing special about her.  No spark.  I just couldn’t find any way to connect to her.
  3. Victoria Darling from A Mad, Wicked Folly: Oh, Vicky.  You think you’re so special, but you’re so annoying.  I get it, you’re an artist, and you’re so creative, and you just can’t be held back.  But that doesn’t mean that you can use people, literally every person you meet, for your own purposes, completely disregarding their feelings.  Come on, Vicky.  You’re better than that.
  4. Mia Wentworth from Falling Fast: Mia is one of those characters that I think you’re supposed to pity.  She was hurt in a car accident.  Separated from the love of her life.  Kept under lock and key by her controlling parents.  Her beloved grandmother died, leaving her alone.  This is all very sad, but most of Mia’s problems stem from her overprotective parents, and she is an adult.  She can tell them to leave her alone, to let her live her own life.  She just doesn’t.
  5. Logan Montgomery from Big Girl Panties: A big name personal trainer falls for an overweight widow, and then spends the entire course of the book trying to make her lose weight so she’ll look like she belongs with him.  No thanks.
  6. Ruby Rose from the Ruby Rose series: Granted, I’ve only read the first book, but Ruby is a disaster.  I think she’s supposed to be a Veronica Mars-type character, but she’s just so dumb that I could barely keep reading.
  7. Tris Prior in Insurgent: Tris is pretty cool in Divergent, but I could not connect with her in Insurgent.  She went from being a strong, powerful, intelligent leading character to an emotional, whiny, unreliable teenager who purposely lies and deceives for no good reason.
  8. Tobias Eaton in Allegiant: Much like Tris, Tobias also devolves as a character throughout the course of the series.  At the beginning of the series, he’s this cool, tough guy with a hidden heart of gold.  In Allegiant, he is no longer the strong leader from Divergent.  Now he’s this stupid, easily manipulated, petty, jealous teenager.
  9. Kestrel from The Winner’s Curse: Please don’t sell me a book with the promise of a strong, feisty heroine when what you’re actually giving me is a spoiled brat who flails around at the slightest hint of trouble.  I might have liked Kestrel more if I didn’t have preconceived notions of what she would be like.
  10. Frenchie Garcia from Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia: Frenchie is one of those characters that’s supposed to be like, really intriguing and interesting and edgy, but she comes across as really mean, and I was entirely unsympathetic to her.  I thought I would really like her character, but I could not get on the same page.

Tell me: What characters have you had trouble connecting with?  Do you agree or disagree with my picks?