Book review: Vicious by V.E. Schwab

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Eli and Victor started out as college roommates. They had a shared interest in ExtraOrdinaries, those people you sometimes hear about who have superhuman abilities. If you’re familiar with the tv show Misfits, that’s the kind of people we’re talking about here. Only, Eli and Victor’s interest went far past your normal curiosity. They not only wanted to know how EOs came to be, but also how to create them.

Fast forward ten years, and Victor is getting out of jail. Eli is the town’s hero, having just taken down a bank robber. Victor knows that something is off with Eli, and he knows that he needs to be stopped. But if Eli is a hero, and Victor stops him, does that make him the villain?

There are no clear-cut answers in this book. Nobody is purely good or evil. Everybody seems to fall into a kind of gray area, where they might be doing bad things, but at least they’re doing them for a good reason. I can see how this might turn some people off, but I personally loved it.

If I say much more about this book, I’ll get into spoilers, and it’s better to go into this book without knowing what to expect. I’ll just end this by saying that the first half is definitely better than the second. I’d give the first half a solid five stars, while the second half is more of a three. It evens out to four for me, and I’m anxiously awaiting the release of the sequel, Vengeful.

Final rating: ★★★★☆

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Book review: Made You Up by Francesca Zappia

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I have been wanting to read this book for awhile now, and luckily for me, it was finally not checked out at my library!  I thought I’d like it.  It sounded like something I might enjoy.  I didn’t expect to fall head-over-heels in love with it.

Alex is a teenage girl suffering from paranoid schizophrenia.  She experiences delusions and hallucinations and often relies on her trusty digital camera to help her decipher what’s real and what she’s made up in her head.  After an unfortunate incident involving spray paint and the gym floor at her old high school, she heads off to East Shoal High School for her senior year.  It’s there that she finally finds true friends who like her in spite of her problems.

Miles is the teenage boy that everybody’s afraid of.  He’s made a name for himself by being willing to do just about anything to anybody… for the right price.  But that’s something he needed to do, because without that reputation, he’s just a skinny boy with a weird accent and no friends.  Miles isn’t just your stereotypical bad boy, he’s a complex character with his own backstory and his own motivations.

Now, I’m not a doctor, and I don’t have schizophrenia, so I can’t really tell you whether the portrayal is accurate.  But I can tell you that the emotions this book made me feel were insane.  My heart went out to Alex as she struggled to decipher what was real and what was in her head.  As she fought with her mother about how much freedom she should be allowed to have.  As her world was shattered when it turned out that one of the staples in her life wasn’t real.  Or when things she thought she had to have made up turned out to be real.  I think I went through a complete range of emotions while reading this book.  I consider that a good thing.

The thing that I think I loved the most about this book, though, was that there’s no instalove to be found.  It’s not like Alex and Miles lock eyes from across the room, and suddenly they’re meant to be.  Their connection builds slowly and realistically, and best of all, Miles doesn’t save Alex from her illness.  He doesn’t have a magical touch that cures her.  Sure, she feels safer when he’s around since she knows he’ll never lie to her, but he encourages her to get treatment and supports her when she does.  Imagine that.

Since we’re inside Alex’s head, we’re never sure what’s real and what’s not. I loved that. She’s the perfect unreliable narrator because she’s not purposely misleading us.  She’s not lying to further an agenda.  She’s telling her story as she sees it, even if how she sees it isn’t really how it is.  Are events as strange as they sound?  Are her classmates and teachers really how she describes them?  Did a snake really just pop down through the ceiling?  Some answers we get, and some we don’t.  And, the thing is, we really don’t need to know for sure.  Half the fun of this book was trying to figure out what was real and what wasn’t.

I’m sure that this book isn’t perfect, but I absolutely adored it.  I have to say, I feel sorry for the book that comes after this one.

Final rating: ★★★★★

ARC review: You’re Mine by Emma Spring

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As the daughter of the Irish mafia’s leader, Sophia Murphy is no stranger to violence. For years, she’s begged her father to initiate peace agreements, but she never thought that he’d agree. It comes as a huge surprise to her when she’s told that after her eighteenth birthday, she’ll be married off to Enzo Carbone, son of the leader of the Italian mafia. The Murphy family’s biggest rival.

Sophia is definitely attracted to Enzo, but she’s not at all on board with the idea of this sham marriage. She wanted to escape mafia life, not get involved even more deeply by marrying into another family. But soon, Sophia begins questioning her whole life as people she’s trusted betray her and people she’s been brought up to hate offer protection.

The first thing I have to say is that the blurb for this book really has nothing to do with the plot. This is a really big thing for me because the blurb is what’s going to make people decide to read your book. And this blurb is just wholly inaccurate.

Enzo thinks he owns me because I was forced to marry him.
Enzo is actually very respectful and protective of Sophia?

He’s harsh with his enemies and demanding at home.
Harsh with his enemies, sure. But demanding at home? He never forces her to do anything.

I don’t know how I can survive him.
Seriously? He’s like a puppy.

I mean, don’t get me wrong. I’m glad the blurb was wrong. I don’t think I could have made it through if Enzo was as horrible as it makes him sound.

The writing feels very immature, so I wouldn’t be surprised to find that this is the author’s debut. She had a good idea, but I don’t think it was developed as well as it could have been. The characters are poorly developed, very one-dimensional, and there seems to be little point to their actions. Sophia’s choices, in particular, don’t make a lot of sense and seem to exist only to get her into situations in which Enzo is required to save her. Both Sophia and Enzo explicitly state every emotion they’re feeling (often with a lot of exclamation points). The timing also felt a bit off, because it seemed to me that everything happened very quickly, but then we have Sophia saying things like “after all this time,” making it sound like they’re been together for years… or at least months.

I found the names a little confusing. Liam, for example, is a member of the Italian mafia. Liam is an Irish name. Why was he not part of the Irish mafia? Is there a story there? If so, we don’t hear about it. Similarly, Sophia is affiliated with the Irish mafia. I’m sure that Irish Sophias exist, but the name is definitely more Italian.

While I didn’t hate this book, it certainly wasn’t my cup of tea. It’s not the worst book that I’ve read recently, but I didn’t really enjoy it, either. I’m sure that there will be a lot of people who love it, though, given that it has a lot of action and plenty of steamy scenes. If that’s something you like, definitely give this book a try.

I received a free ARC of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Final rating: ★★☆☆☆

Book review: The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan

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Wow. Just… wow.

ersatz, n.
Sometimes we’d go to a party and I would feel like an artificial boyfriend, a placeholder, a boyfriend-shaped space where a charming person should be. Those were the only times when my love for you couldn’t overcome my shyness. And every degree of disappointment I’d feel from you – whether real or of my own invention – would make me disappear further and further, leaving the fake front to nod, to sip, to say, “Finish your drink, we’re leaving.”

I think you need to be in a specific mindset to appreciate this book, and I was there when I read it. I wish I could share all of the passages that made me smile, laugh, and cry. But, unfortunately, that’s more than half of this book, and I’m not too sure that it’s legal to share that much of a copyrighted work. So you’ll just have to trust me.

corrode, v.
I spent all this time building a relationship. Then one night I left the window open, and it started to rust.

Read this book if you’ve ever been in a long-term relationship. Read this book if you’ve ever wondered how amazing and wonderful and awful it is to share so much of yourself with someone else. Read this book if you’re heartbroken. Read this book if you’re desperately in love.

abyss, n.
There are times when I doubt everything. When I regret everything you’ve taken from me, everything I’ve given you, and the waste of all the time I’ve spent on us.

This book is so honest. It’s very, very short – only 211 pages, most of which only contain a few sentences. But it somehow captures all the highs and lows of a relationship.

voluminous, adj.
I have already spent roughly five thousand hours asleep next to you. This has to mean something.

This is the Levithan I remember from my teenage years. Sure, this book is aimed more at adults than teens. And, needless to say, the format it a bit different than his usual. But it’s 100% his style. Even with these short dictionary entries, he still has the ability to evoke such emotion.

reservation, n.
There are times when I worry that I’ve already lost myself. That is, that my self is so inseparable from being with you that if we were to separate, I would no longer be. I save this thought for when I feel the darkest discontent. I never meant to depend so much on someone else.

I’m glad that I waited to read this book. Had I read it in 2011 when it came out, I don’t think it would have had as much of an impact on me. I want to give this book a hug.

Final rating: ★★★★★

Book review: Forever by Judy Blume

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Katherine and Michael meet at a party and start dating soon after. They fall hard and fast for each other, and soon they’re trying to decide whether or not they should have sex. They think that their relationship will last forever, but their parents aren’t convinced. Will their love survive a summer apart?

Somehow, in all of my Judy Blume-obsessed adolescence, I missed this book. I mean, I’d obviously heard of it. (I think everybody’s heard of it.) But somehow I never bought it. I never even checked it out from the library. But I fixed that last weekend when I couldn’t sleep and found it on Overdrive.

It’s hard to rate a book like this. Because, on the one hand, I think it had to have been a really important book for its time. It’s so realistic.

Michael is kind of a jerk, like many teenage boys. (I probably wouldn’t have thought that if I read this as a teenager.) Katherine is kind of boring, like many teenage girls. (I probably wouldn’t have thought that, either.) They decide together that they want to have sex, and that’s pretty much what their relationship then revolves around. There’s a frank discussion of birth control and STDs. One of Katherine’s friends gets pregnant, and while she has the option of abortion, she decides to have the baby. One of Michael’s friends tries to deal with accepting the fact that he’s gay. Katherine’s grandmother is a huge fan of Planned Parenthood and leaves Katherine pamphlets about contraception. Much like real life, nothing dramatic happens as a result of these kids having sex. It just kind of happens. All of this is great.

But then, on the other hand, this book is really boring.

Maybe it’s the writing style. I don’t remember Judy Blume’s writing being so full… of ellipses… But they’re everywhere here. And it makes you feel like… maybe the characters… are kind of dumb… because they can’t… finish a thought… without trailing off.

There’s also zero chemistry between these characters. I can’t figure out what Katherine and Michael actually like about each other, aside from their apparent sexual attraction. They attend different schools. They don’t really have any friends in common. They don’t share any hobbies. I didn’t really date in high school, so maybe that’s what it’s actually like. I wouldn’t know. But this ended up being just another thing that added to my boredom. I just didn’t feel at all engaged while I was reading.

The only other Judy Blume book that I’ve read recently wasIn the Unlikely Event . And while I was reading that, I kept thinking that now that I live in New Jersey, I get a totally different vibe while reading her books. I don’t think I ever really noticed when I was little in Wisconsin, but Judy Blume brings New Jersey to life in her books! As I was readingForever, just like when I was reading In the Unlikely Event, I kept thinking, “Hey, I’ve been there!” And regardless of how much I enjoy a book, it’s really cool to read something that takes place somewhere you’ve actually been.

I think that, had I read this book when I was younger, I would have really liked it. I probably would have been heartbroken at how “forever” doesn’t always last forever. I probably would have known a little bit more about the ways of the world before I got out on my own. In the end, I guess I have to figure out if I should rate based on the importance of this book or based on how much I actually liked it. I think three stars would be a fair compromise.

Final rating: ★★★☆☆

ARC review: Body Shot by Kelly Jamieson

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It’s pretty rare that I don’t love something put out by Loveswept, but here we have a rarity.  It’s not that I hated it, or even disliked it, really.  It’s more that it was missing something that would have made me like it more.

The book begins as professor/scientist/cancer researcher Hayden’s best friend convinces her to finally take a night off work to check out a local tequila tasting.  Hayden is a workaholic who never takes any time to herself, so even stepping away from her work for a few hours is a huge challenge for her.  At the tasting, she meets ex-Navy SEAL Beck, a laid-back charmer who hopes to teach Hayden how to keep a better balance between work and her personal life.

Hayden quickly falls head-over-heels for Beck and then beats herself up for all the time she spends with him that she could have spent working.  I actually totally understood this, because I am also the type of person who feels incredibly guilty for taking any amount of time off.

The thing that I couldn’t stand in this book was all of her flip-flopping.  In one breath, she’ll say that she doesn’t have time to date.  Ten pages later, they’re spending the day at the beach.  She doesn’t want to take chances, wait, now she does, but… oh, now she doesn’t.  I felt like I was re-reading the same conversation over and over and over again as she explained how important her research was to her, how little free time she had, how she shouldn’t be spending time with Beck… and repeat.

Jamieson sure knows how to write a steamy scene, I’ll give her that, but I was missing the connection that’s usually so apparent in Loveswept books.  It was easy to see what Hayden saw in Beck.  He was a gentleman, he helped her relax, and he showed her what’s important in life.  But what Beck saw in Hayden I could never quite figure out.

A little more development of their relationship and a little bit of variety in their conversations could have taken this book from okay to great.  Nevertheless, it’s still a fun, quick read.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the free copy.

Final rating: ★★★☆☆

ARC review: Something I Need by Lena Lowe

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Jonte Williamson has always dreamed of being a country star, and she knows she has the talent to make her dream a reality.  Her big break comes in the form of a singing competition in Nashville, so once she’s saved up enough money, she flies there from her native Australia.  Everything is set to be perfect… until her housing falls through at the last minute.

Alone and suddenly homeless, Jonte wanders into a bar in hopes of figuring things out.  The bar belongs to Cash Bellini, a young guy with a big heart.  Cash and his twin sister Dolly take Jonte under their wing, helping her find a job and a place to stay.  It’s not long before Jonte and Cash start falling for each other.

I assumed based on the description that I would like this book, and I was right.  In some ways, it’s your typical New Adult story.  In other ways, it’s completely not.

It follows the usual progression of the hero and heroine meeting under less-than-ideal circumstances. The hero helps the heroine overcome some obstacle and then they have an intense and explosive relationship.  Hurt feelings.  Misunderstandings.  Inevitable break up.  So on and so forth.

This is the plot of about 97%* of New Adult books.
(*Not a scientific measurement or mathematically correct figure.)

But here we have some twists.  Because while, yes, Cash did help Jonte out of a bind, it turns out that Cash has all the issues to overcome.  Jonte is happy in the relationship.  She’s fine with commitment.  There’s no abuse or trauma in her past preventing her from getting close to someone.    Their relationship isn’t going to get anywhere until Cash gets over his baggage, but Jonte isn’t going to sit idly by waiting for him.

No, Jonte has her career to worry about.  Not only does she have a one-year visa to worry about, but she also promised her family that if things don’t work out within a certain timeframe, she’s coming back to Australia.  She doesn’t have time to wait around while her sometimes-boyfriend tries to decide whether he wants to be with her.  And more power to her!

Jonte also doesn’t fall at Cash’s feet when he realizes how much he likes her.  He’s actually a pretty huge jerk to her, and she calls him out on it.  She’s not going to pretend that everything’s okay just because he apologizes.  This is also great because so often in these types of books, the hero sweeps the heroine off her feet and all of his mistakes are forgotten.  Real life doesn’t work like that, and neither does Jonte.

There were a couple things keeping me from giving this book a full five stars.  My main complaint would be that everything seemed so convenient.  We have Dolly, whose sole purpose is basically to push Cash and Jonte together.  We have Cash’s Nannie, whose psychic inklings are the catalyst for all the drama between Cash and Jonte.  We have Seb, Jonte’s coworker who is actually (I think) a much better fit for her, who basically exists only so that Jonte will realize that she has feelings for Cash.  But these complaints are relatively minor and this didn’t bother me too much.

Let me just finish this review by saying that I really appreciated the inclusion of Dean’s character in the book.  Dean is Jonte’s friend.  He’s always there for her when she needs him.  He listens when she needs to complain.  He offers her suggestions when she asks.  He’s a good-looking, straight guy who is not attracted to Jonte in the slightest.  And Jonte isn’t attracted to him, either.  How refreshing!  A platonic friendship between a guy and a girl in a New Adult book!  One that doesn’t exist just to develop into a romantic relationship in later chapters!  Imagine that!

If New Adult is your thing, definitely check this book out. You won’t be disappointed.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the ARC.
This book’s release date is September 14, 2016.

Final rating: ★★★★☆