Book review: Down and Across by Arvin Ahmadi

Down and Across by Arvin Ahmadi
Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Links: AmazonTBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: February 6, 2018
Source: Purchased

Scott Ferdowsi has a track record of quitting. Writing the Great American Novel? Three chapters. His summer internship? One week. His best friends know exactly what they want to do with the rest of their lives, but Scott can hardly commit to a breakfast cereal, let alone a passion.

With college applications looming, Scott’s parents pressure him to get serious and settle on a career path like engineering or medicine. Desperate for help, he sneaks off to Washington, DC, to seek guidance from a famous professor who specializes in grit, the psychology of success.

He never expects an adventure to unfold out of what was supposed to be a one-day visit. But that’s what Scott gets when he meets Fiora Buchanan, a ballsy college student whose life ambition is to write crossword puzzles. When the bicycle she lends him gets Scott into a high-speed chase, he knows he’s in for the ride of his life. Soon, Scott finds himself sneaking into bars, attempting to pick up girls at the National Zoo, and even giving the crossword thing a try–all while opening his eyes to fundamental truths about who he is and who he wants to be.

So let me start by saying one thing: I love crossword puzzles. My mom is a crossword puzzle fanatic and I’ve been doing them since I was in elementary school. When I heard about this debut novel featuring a girl who wants to write crossword puzzles and a high school kid on an adventure, it immediately shot to the top of my TBR. This should have been a book that I loved, but I just… actually hated it.

To start off, Scott is the worst. He’s a whiny, entitled brat who literally runs away from home because he doesn’t want to do the internship that his father got for him. At sixteen years old. What kind of kid has the opportunity to do an actual internship at sixteen years old? And then throws it away because of a temper tantrum? Takes a bus to Washington, DC? Lies about who he is to get a room in a hostel? Pesters a famous psychology professor until she gives him a different internship that he actually wants? Constantly lies to everyone around him? I mean… THE WORST. I actually hated Scott.

And Fiora? Normally I’m not that hard on manic pixie dream girls, but come on. What was the point of Fiora? She just kind of flits around being quirky and like… weirdly flirting with this sixteen-year-old kid even though she’s in college. And don’t even get me started on Jeanette, because any girl who introduces herself by saying “all girls are crazy except me” is actually crazy and you should stay away from her. I didn’t see a point to any female character in this book except maybe Dr. Mallard, and even that’s pushing it. Also, no offense, but I just pictured a duck every time she was mentioned.

I just felt like this book was so poorly constructed. Nothing made sense. How exactly does this sixteen-year-old kid get away with all of this? I don’t want to get into spoilers, but he is consistently treated as if he’s at least eighteen years old (and frequently as if he’s 21) and… have you seen a sixteen-year-old recently? Because I have, in the medical office where I spend at least forty hours of my week, and let me tell you… I am not mistaking any sixteen-year-old for a legal adult.

This is maybe a book that I would have enjoyed more as an actual teenager who didn’t have experience as an adult in the real world. It felt like every YA stereotype that drives people crazy was haphazardly thrown into one book with some crossword puzzles added in for good measure. I’m just so, so disappointed.

Two stars because at least it wasn’t as bad as Troll.

#mm18: new or old
#killingthetbr: 4 months on shelf

Have you read Down and Across? Which book has most disappointed you recently?
Let’s talk in the comments!

Find me all over the internet: Goodreads | Twitter | Bloglovin’

Book review: Heretics Anonymous by Katie Henry

Heretics Anonymous by Katie Henry
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: AmazonTBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: August 7, 2018
Source: Borrowed

Michael is an atheist. So as he walks through the doors at St. Clare’s—a strict Catholic school—sporting a plaid tie, things can’t get much worse. His dad has just made the family move again, and Michael needs a friend. When a girl challenges their teacher in class, Michael thinks he might have found one, and a fellow nonbeliever at that. Only this girl, Lucy, is not just Catholic . . . she wants to be a priest.

But Lucy introduces Michael to other St. Clare’s outcasts, and he officially joins Heretics Anonymous, where he can be an atheist, Lucy can be an outspoken feminist, Avi can be Jewish and gay, Max can wear whatever he wants, and Eden can practice paganism. After an incident in theology class, Michael encourages the Heretics to go from secret society to rebels intent on exposing the school’s hypocrisies. When Michael takes one mission too far—putting the other Heretics at risk—he must decide whether to fight for his own freedom, or rely on faith, whatever that means, in God, his friends, or himself.

I wanted to read this book as soon as I saw the title and read the synopsis. As someone who doesn’t have particularly strong religious beliefs even after thirteen years of Catholic school, it just sounded like something I should read. I was, of course, denied for an ARC (because when am I not), but somehow I put two separate holds on this book at my library? I don’t even understand how that happened, but I got the ebook and then a day later got the physical book.

I think my favorite part of this whole book was the sex ed section. It took me right back to high school and all of the absolutely ridiculous videos and presentations I had to watch. I think that every line in that section is one that I heard at least ten times throughout my high school years. And the tape thing? We were definitely forced to do that in health class.

The book was hilarious and relatable and I really enjoyed it. The overall message is acceptance and understanding, and it just warmed my heart so much.

#mm18: new or old

Have you read Heretics Anonymous? Is it on your TBR?
Let’s talk in the comments!

Find me all over the internet: Goodreads | Twitter | Bloglovin’

Debut Author Challenge Check-In

The Debut Author Challenge is a yearly reading challenge hosted by Jana @ That Artsy Reader Girl. Participants are encouraged to read twelve or more middle grade, young adult, and new adult debuts. To count toward the challenge, the books must be published in the year they’re read. Jana provides a helpful list of debuts if you’re interested in participating!

It’s almost the end of September, so that means it’s time to do another Debut Author Challenge check-in. I last checked in back in June and I’d read eight debuts. Now I’ve read thirteen, which means I not only met my goal of twelve, but I actually surpassed it with three months still left in the year!

I’m still planning to read more debuts this year, so I can’t wait to see how many debuts will be on my list by the end of December.

Read so far: 

Debuts I actually own that I’m hoping to read soon:

  • The Queen’s Rising by Rebecca Ross
  • The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan
  • Down and Across by Arvin Ahmadi
  • Ignite the Stars by Maura Milan

Books I might get from the library if I get a chance:

  • You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone by Rachel Lynn Solomon
  • Nice Try, Jane Sinner by Lianne Oelke
  • Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed
  • Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann

Have you read any debuts this year? What’s been your favorite so far?
Am I missing any great debuts or should I strike some of these from my list?

Book review: People Like Us by Dana Mele

People Like Us by Dana Mele
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: AmazonTBDGoodreads
Publication Date: February 27, 2018
Source: Borrowed

Kay Donovan may have skeletons in her closet, but the past is past, and she’s reinvented herself entirely. Now she’s a star soccer player whose group of gorgeous friends run their private school with effortless popularity and acerbic wit. But when a girl’s body is found in the lake, Kay’s carefully constructed life begins to topple.

The dead girl has left Kay a computer-coded scavenger hunt, which, as it unravels, begins to implicate suspect after suspect, until Kay herself is in the crosshairs of a murder investigation. But if Kay’s finally backed into a corner, she’ll do what it takes to survive. Because at Bates Academy, the truth is something you make…not something that happened.

People Like Us was my most anticipated YA thriller of 2018. I love boarding school books, I love books about cliquey mean girls, and I love reading debut novels. The plot of the book gave me some real Pretty Little Liars vibes, and let’s be honest, I was so into that show that it’s actually a little embarrassing. So what did I end up thinking about this book? Not a lot, actually.

If anything, the book is a little too PLL for my tastes. It feels like it would make an awesome CW show, but as a book? I don’t know. It’s a little disappointing. I was entertained and I would never call this a bad book, but I never really got a sense that Kay was all that concerned about the threatening website or that she really cared too much about being blackmailed. I also tend to dislike books with love shapes, and this was more of a love… hexagon? I don’t even know. It’s a tangled web, that’s for sure.

I appreciated the representation and that nobody really made a big deal over Kay’s sexuality (or anybody else’s, for that matter), but that wasn’t enough for me to love this book.

#mm18: vacation reads

Have you read People Like Us? Is it on your TBR?
Let’s talk in the comments!

Find me all over the internet: Goodreads | Twitter | Bloglovin’

ARC review: Darius the Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram

Darius the Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: AmazonTBDGoodreads
Publication Date: August 28, 2018
Source: ARC from First to Read

Darius doesn’t think he’ll ever be enough, in America or in Iran. Hilarious and heartbreaking, this unforgettable debut introduces a brilliant new voice in contemporary YA.

Darius Kellner speaks better Klingon than Farsi, and he knows more about Hobbit social cues than Persian ones. He’s about to take his first-ever trip to Iran, and it’s pretty overwhelming–especially when he’s also dealing with clinical depression, a disapproving dad, and a chronically anemic social life. In Iran, he gets to know his ailing but still formidable grandfather, his loving grandmother, and the rest of his mom’s family for the first time. And he meets Sohrab, the boy next door who changes everything.

Sohrab makes sure people speak English so Darius can understand what’s going on. He gets Darius an Iranian National Football Team jersey that makes him feel like a True Persian for the first time. And he understands that sometimes, best friends don’t have to talk. Darius has never had a true friend before, but now he’s spending his days with Sohrab playing soccer, eating rosewater ice cream, and sitting together for hours in their special place, a rooftop overlooking the Yazdi skyline.

Sohrab calls him Darioush–the original Persian version of his name–and Darius has never felt more like himself than he does now that he’s Darioush to Sohrab. When it’s time to go home to America, he’ll have to find a way to be Darioush on his own.

I might have let out a little yelp when I got the email from First to Read that I’d been chosen for an ARC of Darius the Great is Not Okay. I’d been looking forward to reading it for a while and I never really know what’s going to happen when I try to get books from them. It was also on Becky Albertalli’s list of LGBTQ recommendations, so there’s another ringing endorsement. I was all set to love it, and I did… mostly.

I loved the friendship between Darius and Sohrab. Darius is a lot of things. He’s awkward, he’s nerdy, and he’s self-conscious. He’s overweight, he struggles with depression, and he gets bullied a lot. He doesn’t really have any friends except for the one Persian girl in his school that he sometimes has lunch with. But when he gets to Iran, he instantly bonds with Sohrab. Sohrab is a guy who doesn’t really fit in, either. He’s different from the other kids in his town, but he knows from the minute that he meets Darius that they’ll be best friends. Their friendship is so sweet.

The actual LGBTQ aspect is very subtle. I don’t recall Darius ever actually addressing his sexuality. There are times when a family member will ask him why he doesn’t have a girlfriend and he’ll kind of dodge the question. There are little hints that Darius feels more than friendly toward Sohrab, and maybe Sohrab feels the same toward him, but this isn’t a romance. (And that’s totally fine.)

Now, for what kept the book from a full five stars. There were two things that kind of ate away at me while I was reading. First, the book relies pretty heavily on Star Trek references to move along the plot. This isn’t necessarily a problem for me in general. I’ve never been a huge fan of Star Trek, but I usually love pop culture references in books. It just felt a little over-the-top here. And second, there were so many similes. Everything had to be compared to something else. My protected PDF wouldn’t let me make highlights, so I’m just going based off my memory here, but I recall Darius referring to his voice as “squeaky like a cheese curd,” and that was just really interesting. All in all, though, those are two really minor complaints about a book that was otherwise really well-written.

In the end, I’d say that Darius the Great is Not Okay is a really great character-driven debut that I’d easily recommend to just about anyone. There’s one point, near the end of the book, where I almost burst into tears in the middle of a crowded airplane. I felt so bad for Darius and just wanted to give him a big hug.

#mm18: vacation reads
Goodreads summer reading challenge: read the world

Have you read Darius the Great Is Not Okay? Is it on your TBR?
Let’s talk in the comments!

Find me all over the internet: Goodreads | Twitter | Bloglovin’

Book review: Running With Lions by Julian Winters

Running With Lions by Julian Winters
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: AmazonTBDGoodreads
Publication Date: June 7, 2018
Source: Purchased at BookCon!
Bloomington High School Lions’ star goalie, Sebastian Hughes, should be excited about his senior year: His teammates are amazing and he’s got a coach who doesn’t ask anyone to hide their sexuality. But when his estranged childhood best friend Emir Shah shows up to summer training camp, Sebastian realizes the team’s success may end up in the hands of the one guy who hates him. Determined to reconnect with Emir for the sake of the Lions, he sets out to regain Emir’s trust. But to Sebastian’s surprise, sweaty days on the pitch, wandering the town’s streets, and bonding on the weekends sparks more than just friendship between them.

So, basically, I’ve been counting down the minutes until this was released ever since I first saw it pop up on a list of Becky Albertalli’s diverse YA recommendations. I also saw early reviews and was denied for it on Netgalley (still crying, honestly) but it’s all good because I bought it at BookCon! Ahead of publication, even!

While I was at BookCon, I met Julian Winters. He’s the only author I actually interacted with there, and he was so nice. He personalized my book for me, we had a little conversation about how I’m Sara with no H, and he told me to tag him in my review if I love it and just throw away the book if I hate it. I’m not throwing away the book, Julian. It was so cute.

I’ll be honest, it took me a minute to adjust to the writing style. I’m not really used to third person present tense narration, but it’s okay. I got used to it. And, honestly, this is what a YA sports romance should be like. None of the petty arguments and random physical altercations that plagued my last attempt at the genre. I’m not a big sports person (much to the dismay of every elderly man that tries to talk about the Green Bay Packers with me), but I’m like 99% sure this is how a team is supposed to function. These kids make such a great team. Even the conflict (Emir not quite fitting in) feels really realistic and I thought the whole thing was just very well-done.

The romance itself was super cute, and I guess we can safely say that I have a thing for friends-to-enemies-to-lovers romances, because I almost always enjoy them. Sebastian and Emir were so cute together (how many times can I say cute in one review??) and I was rooting for them the whole time. I loved how accepting the whole team was and how much they stood up for each other.

The last thing I want to say is that I loved all the music references! The team is always listening to some kind of good music, be it Fall Out Boy or The 1975 or fun. There are also a couple Taylor Swift references, and if that’s not the way to my heart, I don’t even know what is.

I would definitely recommend this book if you’re looking for a cute (there’s that word again!) M/M YA romance.

Goodreads summer reading challenge: sports-a-holic

Have you read Running With Lions? Is it on your TBR?
Let’s talk in the comments!

Find me all over the internet: Goodreads | Twitter | Bloglovin’

ARC review: The Raging Ones by Krista & Becca Ritchie

The Raging Ones by Krista & Becca Ritchie
Series: The Raging Ones #1
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: AmazonTBDGoodreads
Publication Date: August 14, 2018
Source: ARC from publisher (via Netgalley)

In a freezing world, where everyone knows the day they will die, three teens break all odds.

Franny Bluecastle, a tough city teen, dreams of dying in opulence, to see wealth she’s never known. Like the entire world, she believes it’s impossible to dodge a deathday.

Until the day she does.

Court Icecastle knows wealth. He also knows pain. Spending five years in Vorkter Prison, a fortress of ice and suffering, he dreams of life beyond the people that haunt him and the world that imprisoned him.

Mykal Kickfall fights for those he loves. The rugged Hinterlander shares a frustrating yet unbreakable connection with Court—which only grows more lawless and chaotic as their senses and emotions connect with Franny.

With the threat of people learning they’ve dodged their deathdays, they must flee their planet to survive. But to do so, all three will have to hide their shared bond as they vie for a highly sought after spot in the newest mission to space. Against thousands of people far smarter, who’ll live longer, and never fear death the way that they do.

Back in the day, I used to read a ton of YA sci-fi and fantasy. I think I kind of burned myself out on it because, recently, I really haven’t had much of a desire to read most books that fall into that category. But it’s no secret that Krista & Becca Ritchie are two of my favorite authors of all time, so The Raging Ones ended up at the top of 2018’s most anticipated list. I honestly wasn’t expecting to be approved for an ARC of this book, but it happened and I can’t thank St. Martin’s Press and Netgalley enough for the opportunity. I also went ahead and preordered it anyway because this is a book that I need to have on my physical bookshelf.

To start off, let me just say that I love the aesthetic of this world. It’s freezing cold, it has a lilac sky, and everybody knows exactly when they’ll die. Half of the world lives in opulence while the other half is fated to live fast and die young, all of this decided by their predetermined deathdays. This is such a concept and not one that I’ve really seen before. Leave it to these authors, I swear to god. Everything they write is gold.

One thing that I really dislike in a sci-fi/fantasy book is a lot of infodumping. It’s overwhelming, it takes me out of the story, and it’s often just unnecessary. I much prefer to be immersed in the new world and left to figure it out for myself. That said, I might’ve preferred a bit more information here because even after finishing the book, I’m unclear on how exactly a lot of things work. I mean, no spoilers, but I’m not sure that I 100% understand why the Saga 5 thing had to be a competition, how the emotional and physical link between our three main characters works, and how the whole deathday thing came about. Really, though, that’s a pretty minor criticism when you consider how much I truly enjoyed this book.

If you’ve read anything else by the Ritchie sisters, you’ll know how talented they are at writing three-dimensional characters. They could make me care about anybody, and that’s really saying something. I loved Court (I got a bit of a hybrid Moffy/Farrow vibe from him) and Franny, but Mykal was my favorite. I always root for an underdog, and I just wanted to protect this big, burly kid from all of the pain and suffering in the world. I love that this book focuses on a friend group of two males and one female and there’s no love triangle whatsoever. THANK YOU.

It’s so weird to me that this is considered Krista & Becca Ritchie’s debut novel when I’ve previously read fifteen of their books, but I guess that’s how it goes since this is their first traditionally published novel. For me, this really showed in the editing. It’s not that Krista & Becca’s books are usually poorly written or anything (they’re really not!) but everything in this book felt so much more polished. I’m not sure if it’s because it’s traditionally published and has therefore probably gone through a lot more rounds of edits or if it’s just because I’m used to reading a totally different style of book from them.

My mind is blown by that ending and I don’t know if I can reasonably be expected to wait until next year for the sequel. This book completely reignited my spark for fantasy and I honestly can’t recommend it enough.

Previously: Addicted To You • RicochetAddicted For Now • ThriveAddicted After All • Kiss the Sky • Hothouse Flower • Fuel the Fire • Long Way Down • Some Kind of Perfect • Damaged Like Us • Lovers Like Us • Alphas Like Us • Amour Amour • Infini

Have you read The Raging Ones? Are you a fan of Krista & Becca Ritchie?
Let’s talk in the comments!

Find me all over the internet: Goodreads | Twitter | Bloglovin’