Book Review: Opposite of Always by Justin A. Reynolds

Opposite of Always by Justin A. Reynolds
Rating: ★☆☆☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: March 5, 2019
Source: Borrowed

Jack Ellison King. King of Almost.

He almost made valedictorian.

He almost made varsity.

He almost got the girl . . .

When Jack and Kate meet at a party, bonding until sunrise over their mutual love of Froot Loops and their favorite flicks, Jack knows he’s falling—hard. Soon she’s meeting his best friends, Jillian and Franny, and Kate wins them over as easily as she did Jack. Jack’s curse of almost is finally over.

But this love story is . . . complicated. It is an almost happily ever after. Because Kate dies. And their story should end there. Yet Kate’s death sends Jack back to the beginning, the moment they first meet, and Kate’s there again. Beautiful, radiant Kate. Healthy, happy, and charming as ever. Jack isn’t sure if he’s losing his mind. Still, if he has a chance to prevent Kate’s death, he’ll take it. Even if that means believing in time travel. However, Jack will learn that his actions are not without consequences. And when one choice turns deadly for someone else close to him, he has to figure out what he’s willing to do—and let go—to save the people he loves.

I’d been interested in reading Opposite of Always ever since I saw it on a list of 2019 debuts, and I was pretty excited when I saw that the audiobook was available through my library. After reading it, you could say I’m angry angry, because this book was some nonsense.

Look, I understand that you need to suspend some disbelief in a lot of novels. I also understand that you need to suspend a lot of disbelief when it comes to time travel novels. But this book? There is not enough disbelief in the entire world for me to suspend and have this book make any sense.

But I’ll get there.

First I want to talk about everything else.

I guess I’m going to start with what seems to be a trend in YA literature these days — romantic relationships between high school and college students. I know that it happens all the time, both in real life and in fiction, but for me, there’s no way around it. It’s creepy. Even if it’s just a one-year difference in age, there is a huge difference in maturity between someone who lives with their parents and someone who is in college, living in a dorm, away from home.

The second thing I want to talk about is the pacing. This book is 464 pages. That is insanely long for a YA contemporary. It’s also about twice as long as it needs to be since so much of the book is repetitive. And I was bored the entire way through. It’s just one irrelevant thing after another happening, and even when relevant things happen, they don’t make sense.

And now we get to my third point — the blatant medical inaccuracies in this book.So, you really expect me to believe that a doctor has the cure for sickle cell anemia just hidden away in his office and the FDA hasn’t come looking for it? You really expect me to believe that a doctor would violate HIPAA just because he feels bad for some random kid who has an emotional investment in a college student’s case? You really expect me to believe that this doctor happily takes calls from this random kid to discuss the specifics of his super secret super expensive sickle cell treatment? That’s not how medicine works, and the way that Kate describes the financial piece of her treatments? That’s not how insurance works. As the former billing manager of a medical office and someone who now literally works for a major insurance company, I think I’d know. I just read the author’s bio and saw that he’s actually a registered nurse and I am even more upset, because he should know better.

So back to what I said at the beginning about suspending disbelief.

I’m not sure what’s going on with the random time travel in YA books recently, but I, for one, am sick of it. What was the point of it in this book? Jack repeats the same three months over and over again so that he, the high school student, can try to save Kate’s life. Because, yes, the high school student is clearly going to save Kate when a bunch of trained physicians could not.

I feel like, if you want to write a book like this, with the love interest being very sick and on the verge of dying, you have to be very careful to not come across as a rip-off of hundreds of similar books that have come before you. Personally, when I see the words “because Kate dies” in a synopsis, I’m already rolling my eyes. This particular plot has been done so many times that it’s going to be hard to make it unique. Similarly, the “living the same day over and over until you get it right” thing has been done to death. There was nothing particularly new or interesting about the time loops in this book, so it really just came across like the author knew that books about sick kids, books about time travel, and YA contemporary romance are selling well, so he decided to combine them all together to make a surefire hit.

Also…When Kate’s dad lectures Jack that he needs to break up with Kate because she’s dying, I did two things. First, I rolled my eyes, because how many times has a YA dad told his daughter’s boyfriend to break up with her because he just didn’t like their relationship? But, second, it kind of came across like, “Yeah, Kate’s dying. Let’s take away this one piece of happiness she has while she’s still on this planet.” Like, honestly. Where is the logic here?

All in all, I felt that this book played out very stereotypically. Everything that happened was predictable, even the twists. The fantastical time-travel aspect kind of comes out of nowhere and isn’t particularly well-done. The book is overly long and I just couldn’t bring myself to care about the characters or what happened to them. There was a ton of odd dialogue and weird choices, like Jack’s best friend’s father being referred to as “the coupon.” (What??)

I was excited about this one, but now I’m just disappointed.


Have you read Opposite of Always? Do you know of any books that did these tropes well?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Book Review: Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: April 17, 2012
Source: Borrowed

For fans of Tina Fey and David Sedaris—Internet star Jenny Lawson, aka The Bloggess, makes her literary debut.

Jenny Lawson realized that the most mortifying moments of our lives—the ones we’d like to pretend never happened—are in fact the ones that define us. In the #1 New York Times bestseller, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, Lawson takes readers on a hilarious journey recalling her bizarre upbringing in rural Texas, her devastatingly awkward high school years, and her relationship with her long-suffering husband, Victor. Chapters include: “Stanley the Magical, Talking Squirrel”; “A Series of Angry Post-It Notes to My Husband”; “My Vagina Is Fine. Thanks for Asking”; “And Then I Snuck a Dead Cuban Alligator on an Airplane.” Pictures with captions (no one would believe these things without proof) accompany the text.

It might be odd that I’ve now read not just one, but two, books by a blogger whose website I’ve never even visited. And yet here I am reviewing a second book by Jenny Lawson. In addition to never having read her blog, I also read her memoirs in the wrong order. But that’s not really a problem. Jenny’s life — or at least the way she tells it — is funny, and that’s all that matters.

The thing about Jenny Lawson’s memoirs is that they’re funny. Like, laugh out loud at your desk even when you’re trying to be discreet about the fact that you’re listening to a hilarious audiobook while you work. There are many stories in this book that I enjoyed, but the one that’s stuck in my memory the most is Jenny recounting her days working in HR. I’d like to say that the kinds of conversations she had to have surprised me… but they didn’t.

I enjoyed this book very much. I don’t know if Jenny Lawson is planning to publish any more books, but if she is, I’ll be over here waiting to read them.


Have you read Let’s Pretend This Never Happened? Do you follow Jenny’s blog?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Book Review: Neverworld Wake by Marisha Pessl

Neverworld Wake by Marisha Pessl
Rating: ★☆☆☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: June 5, 2018
Source: Borrowed

Once upon a time, back at Darrow-Harker School, Beatrice Hartley and her five best friends were the cool kids, the beautiful ones. Then the shocking death of Jim – their creative genius and Beatrice’s boyfriend – changed everything.

One year after graduation, Beatrice is returning to Wincroft – the seaside estate where they spent so many nights sharing secrets, crushes, plans to change the world – hoping she’ll get to the bottom of the dark questions gnawing at her about Jim’s death.

But as the night plays out in a haze of stilted jokes and unfathomable silence, Beatrice senses she’s never going to know what really happened.

Then a mysterious man knocks on the door. Blithely, he announces the impossible: time for them has become stuck, snagged on a splinter that can only be removed if the former friends make the harshest of decisions.

Now Beatrice has one last shot at answers… and at life.

And so begins the Neverworld Wake. 

Let me tell you something: I’m really sick of reading books that I’ve already read. And Neverworld Wake? I’ve read it several times. This book is a haphazard conglomeration of a lot of trends, but it especially reminded me of a few very popular YA books:

It would be fine if this book offered something new or interesting, but it doesn’t. We have the days repeating over and over again like in Before I Fall. We have the murder mystery with nobody wanting to share what they know like in One of Us Is Lying. We have the mysterious super rich children like in We Were Liars. Neverworld Wake borrows so many tropes and yet it somehow manages to do absolutely nothing.

The concept of the book is fine — Beatrice is hanging out with her old friends when a man knocks on the door and tells them that they have to decide who will live and who will die. Crazy, right? They brush it off and go on with their lives, but then they find that they’re living the same day over and over again. As the day repeats itself again and again, they try to find their way out of the Neverworld and solve the murder of Beatrice’s high school boyfriend.

The problem is that the book tries to do a lot of things and doesn’t end up doing any of them well. The writing itself is awkward, filled with ridiculous similes like “swirls of blond hair like sugar garnishes on thirty-four-dollar desserts” and metaphors like “we are all anthologies.” Like, I get what the author is trying to say, but writing like that just comes across as pretentious and unnecessary. Half the pages of this book could have probably been cut if they’d just gotten rid of all the unnecessary comparisons.

There are also continuity issues. You see, there’s a different between an unreliable narrator and forgetting what the heck you’re supposed to be writing. Neverworld Wake finds that line, crosses it, and keeps running. You can’t brush off a huge inconsistency in the plot as an unreliable narrator and just expect me to accept it. It doesn’t work like that.

I was so, so disappointed at the end of this book for multiple reasons, but one of those reasons IS A HUGE SPOILER, so click here if you want to find out what it was!So, basically, we follow these five characters for about three hundred pages as they try to piece together what happened to Beatrice’s beloved (or was he?? we may never know) boyfriend on the night that he died. They break into a police station to try to examine case files. They interrogate his family at gunpoint. They uncover a conspiracy to hide a totally unrelated murder from years before. Despite all of this detective work, at the end of the book, we find out that EVERYBODY ALREADY KNEW HOW JIM DIED BECAUSE EVERYBODY WAS SOMEHOW INVOLVED IN HIS DEATH. What a waste of my time. It’s been days since I finished this and I’m still mad.

This book was clearly not for me. I’ve heard good things about Pessl’s other books, so I might give her another try at some point. For now, though, I’m just going to move on to something that’s the polar opposite of this book.


Have you read Neverworld Wake? What’s a book that did an unreliable narrator well?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Book Review: Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered by Karen Kilgariff & Georgia Hardstark

Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered by Karen Kilgariff & Georgia Hardstark
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: May 29, 2019
Source: Borrowed

The highly anticipated first book by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark, the voices behind the #1 hit podcast My Favorite Murder!

Sharing never-before-heard stories ranging from their struggles with depression, eating disorders, and addiction, Karen and Georgia irreverently recount their biggest mistakes and deepest fears, reflecting on the formative life events that shaped them into two of the most followed voices in the nation.

In Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered, Karen and Georgia focus on the importance of self-advocating and valuing personal safety over being ‘nice’ or ‘helpful.’ They delve into their own pasts, true crime stories, and beyond to discuss meaningful cultural and societal issues with fierce empathy and unapologetic frankness.

Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered might be an odd book choice for someone who had previously never listened to My Favorite Murder and had no idea who Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark were, but something about it called to me and I decided it would be a nice audiobook to listen to at work. And you know what? It was. I had a great time listening to this one and it was so much more than I expected.

Even as someone who had no background whatsoever on the authors, I really connected with this book. I thought that the authors’ stories were really interesting, but, above all, their advice to “fuck politeness” really resonated with me. The whole idea of fucking politeness is to set aside societal norms and the idea that women have to be nice and friendly in favor of keeping yourself safe. I mean, when I think about it, the number of times I’ve been in a less-than-ideal situation just because I didn’t want to offend someone is scary.

Aside from that, I appreciated all of the authors’ stories. The one about Karen’s mom’s Alzheimer’s was heartbreaking, and I loved how both Karen and Georgia encouraged doing whatever you have to do for your mental health. I’ve never really been into true crime, but the next time I go on a long road trip, I might have to listen to My Favorite Murder.


Have you read Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered? Have you listened to the My Favorite Murder Podcast?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Book Review: Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens by Tanya Boteju [SPOILERS]

Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens by Tanya Boteju
Rating: ★☆☆☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: May 7, 2019
Source: Borrowed

Perpetually awkward Nima Kumara-Clark is bored with her insular community of Bridgeton, in love with her straight girlfriend, and trying to move past her mother’s unexpected departure. After a bewildering encounter at a local festival, Nima finds herself suddenly immersed in the drag scene on the other side of town.

Macho drag kings, magical queens, new love interests, and surprising allies propel Nima both painfully and hilariously closer to a self she never knew she could be—one that can confidently express and accept love. But she’ll have to learn to accept lost love to get there.

Like many people, I was drawn to Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens because it sounded like it would be a great celebration of diversity and inclusion. At a 3.81 average on Goodreads, it’s not doing amazing, but it’s a pretty solid average. And I can see why people have enjoyed this book. It’s about acceptance, both of yourself and those around you. It features multiple characters coming to terms with aspects of their lives that they can’t change, from the way their parents act to their gender identities.

And I want to make it clear that I think that all of that is great. I think those are really important themes for young adult books and I think it’s even more great that this book features characters of color and introduces teens to the drag community in a really positive way. My problems with this book are in its subtler messages.

Everything from this point on may include spoilers, so proceed with caution.

Alright, so there were a few things about this book that really bothered me.

The one I’ll start with left me thinking, “wait, did that actually just happen?!” Some context: I am in my late 20s. Aside from relatives and conversations in a professional context, I have not associated with any high schoolers in almost a decade. When I was in high school, I thought I was basically an adult. I was not, and the actual adults around me knew that. In this book, Nima is seventeen years old. She befriends, and later that same night has a sleepover with, a thirty-five year old woman. Deirdre is portrayed as this really benevolent maternal figure, bestowing advice upon Nima and her friends and giving them a place to stay when they need it. I want to clarify that Deirdre doesn’t do anything illegal throughout the course of the book. But what thirty-five-year-old woman wants to go home with a seventeen-year-old girl? What thirty-five-year-old woman thinks it’s appropriate to crash on said seventeen-year-old’s couch? What parent wakes up to this and thinks, “Yeah, this is normal, let’s make pancakes?” It just felt icky and gross and set off every alarm in my mind.

The second thing I want to bring up is the message that it’s okay to be a terrible person just because you’re going through some stuff. We all know that teenagers can be terrible. I probably had my fair share of terrible days when I was a teenager. But there are some characters in this book, Gordon in particular, who are terrible about 98% of the time. And yes, Gordon is going through some stuff. He’s struggling with his gender identity (a plot point that is never really resolved, by the way) and seems to live with an abusive father (another point that is never really resolved). He’s angry at everything, he lashes out, he makes fun of people to make himself feel better, he constantly cracks jokes about Nima being a lesbian, and he’s just all-around that guy you would have avoided in high school. And yet, once Nima finds out that he’s struggling with his gender identity (he’s never referred to as trans, so I’m not really sure how to describe it other than that), all is forgiven. Gordon is allowed to be a terrible person. At one point, after she’s been hanging out with Gordon for a bit, one of Nima’s friends asks her if he’s still a terrible person. She says yes. Gordon is never really called out for his behavior, other than an offhand comment from Nima asking him to stop calling her names.

The third thing is the age difference between Nima and Winnow. It’s not nearly as dramatic as the age difference between Nima and Deirdre, but it’s still icky. As I said, Nima is seventeen. She’s in high school. Winnow is a girl that Nima meets at a drag show and falls in love with, completely forgetting her previous crush, Ginny, who she’d been constantly pining over up until that point. (More on Ginny later.) Winnow is also twenty-one years old. I have no problem with an age difference between consenting adults, but a seventeen-year-old who is still in high school should not be trying to hook up with a twenty-one-year-old who has their own apartment. Or, at least, that twenty-one-year-old should not entertain those efforts, invite the seventeen-year-old to a party, provide them with alcohol, and try to kiss them. Nima is so clearly uncomfortable hanging out with Winnow’s friends, and yet she continually tries to be cool to win Winnow’s affection. Winnow doesn’t do anything overtly creepy, and she does try her best to make sure that Nima feels included, but Nima is so out of her comfort zone that she can’t even articulate what’s wrong to Winnow and just ends up getting drunk a lot. There’s such a difference in the level of maturity between Nima and Winnow that I wondered how on earth those two thought they’d make a good couple.

The fourth thing is the book’s message that if you’re a good person, you’ll forgive everything that anybody does to you with no questions asked. I’ve talked about a lot of the more questionable aspects of this book and a few of the pretty questionable things the characters do. One of the messages of the book seems to be that the good people in your life will allow you to do bad things with no repercussions. Now, I’m a pretty forgiving person. I tend to put up with more than I probably should from the people in my life. (I’m working on that, though.) But the characters in this book are just on a different level. Get super drunk and throw up on someone you’ve just met? No big deal, they’ll just take you home with them! Make out with a girl you don’t even have feelings for just because? Totally fine, you can still be friends! Make fun of someone for no other reason than they’re gay? As long as you have your own issues, it’s all good. It’s portrayed as totally reasonable to just blindly forgive people, because that’s what good people do, and that is a toxic mentality to present to teenagers, the target demographic of this book. I am here to tell you that if someone makes you mad or does bad things to you, you do not have to forgive them. If you want to forgive them, you can, but you should not force yourself to get over things because it’s “the right thing to do.”

A subpoint here is Ginny, a straight girl who knows that Nima has a crush on her. As the book opens, Nima is crushing hard. She knows that Ginny doesn’t like girls but she also knows that her crush on Ginny isn’t going anywhere. She attempts to ask Ginny out and is promptly shut down in the nicest way possible, because Ginny is described as being the nicest person possible. Nima’s crush on Ginny mostly disappears after she meets Winnow, but makes a brief reappearance during an odd scene in which Nima is trying on clothes and requires Ginny’s assistance with a shirt that gets stuck. All of a sudden, Nima and Ginny are full-on making out in the dressing room… until Ginny abruptly pulls away, talking about how she got carried away and isn’t into girls and was just experimenting. I’m sorry, how is that supposed to be okay? Why is Ginny’s behavior never called out?

The last thing is not so much a problematic aspect, but just an annoying one: the fact that Nima falls into that typical YA trope of “beautiful girl who doesn’t know she’s beautiful.” Nima constantly mentions how she’s so unattractive, nobody could ever want her, so on and so forth, and yet every single person who meets her refers to her as “adorable.” It made me roll my eyes every time!

All in all, I wanted to love this book for its diversity and its message of acceptance, but I had too many issues with the actual content to rate it any higher than one star. I’m really disappointed in a lot of things that happen in this book and just hope that any teenagers who read it will question its more problematic aspects.


Have you read Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens? Do we agree or did you love it?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Book Review: Lumberjanes, Vol. 2 by Noelle Stevenson

Lumberjanes, Vol. 2 by Noelle Stevenson
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: October 13, 2015
Source: Borrowed

What a mystery!

Jo, April, Mal, Molly, and Ripley are not your average campers and Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady-Types is not your average summer camp. Between the river monsters, magic, and the art of friendship bracelets, this summer is only just beginning. Join the Lumberjanes as they take on raptors and a sibling rivalry that only myths are made of.

This New York Times bestseller and Eisner Award-nominated series is written by awesome all-star Noelle Stevenson and brilliant newcomer Grace Ellis, and illustrated by the tremendously talented Brooke Allen.

Lumberjanes, Vol. 2: Friendship to the Max includes issues 5-8 and the first fourteen pages of Giant Days, Vol. 1 by John Allison.

The second volume in the Lumberjanes series is just as fun as the first one! This series is so, so cute and this volume had so much action! I love the characters, I love their friendships, and I love all of their adventures and antics. The feminist touches (the characters like to yell the names of famous women from history when they get exasperated or excited) were also nice.

Quite honestly, I don’t have a ton to say about this one. I really liked it, I read it in one setting, and I’d definitely recommend it. Also, “I wish everyone had a kitten” is definitely me with superpowers.


Have you read Lumberjanes? Is it on your TBR?
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Book Review: Doll Bones by Holly Black

Doll Bones by Holly Black
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: May 7, 2013
Source: Borrowed

Zach, Poppy and Alice have been friends for ever. They love playing with their action figure toys, imagining a magical world of adventure and heroism. But disaster strikes when, without warning, Zach’s father throws out all his toys, declaring he’s too old for them. Zach is furious, confused and embarrassed, deciding that the only way to cope is to stop playing . . . and stop being friends with Poppy and Alice.

But one night the girls pay Zach a visit, and tell him about a series of mysterious occurrences. Poppy swears that she is now being haunted by a china doll – who claims that it is made from the ground-up bones of a murdered girl. They must return the doll to where the girl lived, and bury it. Otherwise the three children will be cursed for eternity . . .

I’ve read a few of Holly Black’s books now and I think that I can safely say that I really enjoy her writing style. Her books are always really readable (or, in this case, listenable? is that a word? I’m a linguist and I just made it one) and Doll Bones is no exception. I found this book while scrolling through my library’s Overdrive and figured it would be the perfect book to listen to during Spooky Season.

I was pleasantly surprised that Doll Bones is about more than just, you know, the doll bones. More than anything else, it’s a coming-of-age story about Zach, who, along with his friends, loves crafting stories featuring his action figures, until his father decides he’s too old to play like that and throws out all of Zach’s toys. While Zach’s flat-out refusal to communicate with his friends about why exactly he wouldn’t be playing anymore was frustrating, I had to keep reminding myself that he’s literally twelve years old. I couldn’t expect him to act like an adult, and I don’t know many twelve year old boys who are tuned into their feelings enough to openly discuss them with their friends. (That said, I admittedly don’t know many twelve-year-olds in general.) There’s some really good commentary on what it means to grow up and how scary it can be.

Then there’s the actual spooky story about a bone doll made out of the bones of a little girl who was murdered under mysterious circumstances. A number of things happen that could be real or imagined, and it’s never really clarified, which just makes things spookier.

One small critique is that I don’t think the romance was even remotely necessary and I was a little bit disappointed to see it even factor in to the plot. I guess a few people had paired off when I was twelve years old, but it definitely wasn’t a big part of my middle school life. More than anything, I think that particular plot felt a little forced.

Overall, I think this was a really well-written middle grade book! As an adult, there were a few things that rubbed me the wrong way, but I really can’t hold that against the book since I’m far from its intended audience.

Previously: The Cruel PrinceThe Coldest Girl in Coldtown


Have you read Doll Bones? Can you recommend any spooky MG books?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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