The Hate U Give by Angie Sage

4/5 Stars

What’s the point of having a voice if you’re gonna be silent in those moments you shouldn’t be?

The Hate U Give explores duality, black culture, police brutality, and so much more. It follows Starr Carter, a girl divided between worlds and identities, and what happens after one of her childhood friends gets murdered by a cop. It explores the effects of this in the community, her family, and especially her.

Now, I realize I’m extremely behind on reading this. It’s one of those books that once you miss the original wave of reading it, you just keep putting it off. A scrabble challenge with my discord group finally made me get around to reading it, and I’m glad I did! Part of me was worried that the book might have been overhyped for me by now and that I knew completely what to expect going in, but that wasn’t the case at all. The book was still new and shocking, even with me having experienced the culture and news in the US, as the perspective is still something very different to me.

This novel also has a fantastic audiobook (I feel like I’ve been saying this a lot recently!), and I highly recommend listening to this book. It adds a new layer to the story, more emotion and fragility to Starr’s character, and some scenes were straight up heartbreaking to listen to thanks to how emotional the narrator was able to sound. It made the character of Starr extremely real to me, and therefore her problems even more real than they already were.

This is a hard book to critique because it is both written for me and entirely not. I’m part of the group of people (white, American), that needs more real knowledge of these situations, needs to see the human aspect of the stories we always hear on the news. At the same time, this book is written to be the voice of the marginalized group that exists in America, the group of people constantly harassed, threatened, and murdered by cops for the most flimsy of reasons. This is their chance to feel seen and heard, and I cannot criticize nor discuss that. It’s simply not my place to discuss how accurate or real this book is, whether I felt the plot was realistic or the characters relatable. This was not a story made for me to relate to.

As many others have said, and shown by the insane hype and publicity surrounding this book, The Hate U Give is an important novel that everyone needs to read. It is a multi-faceted book and therefore important for a variety of audiences. It showcases and starts the discussion on a variety of issues, all of which are extremely important to the world we live in today. From the idea of police brutality, a very American issue, to the idea of duality and fractured identity, a more global and growing ‘issue’, there is a lot to unpack in this book.

I’m excited to see the movie now, to see these voices and scenes visualized in a way the audiobook couldn’t, and I’m curious to see what Angie’s other books will bring!

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The Red Scrolls of Magic by Cassandra Clare and Wesley Chu

5/5 Stars

The Red Scrolls of Magic is a step back in the timeline of the Shadowhunter world, taking place a short while after City of Glass. It reveals the details of the mysterious European vacation Magnus Bane and Alec Lightwood took in between City of Glass and City of Fallen Angels. Full of romance, danger, and of course demons, The Red Scrolls shines a new light on Downworlders, the European Shadowhunters, and Magnus and Alec’s relationship.

When I heard about this new series, I was endlessly excited. Magnus Bane is hands down my favorite character in all of the Shadowhunter books, maybe even of all books ever. And Malec was one of my first ever true ships. And now there’s a whole series following him/them? It was my dream come true.

The first installment definitely lived up to my dreams. While I got off to a rocky start, as I had started with the audiobook of the book and ended up not liking how it made me feel about the characters and scenes, I ended up getting quickly hooked once I picked the book up physically. It was a short book, meaning a faster pace, and it was an easy book to get lost in. I very easily could have missed my stop while taking the train, and almost did!

It’s been a while since I’ve read the original series, so I can’t really tell how this novel compares to them in terms of focus (between plot and romance), but I felt this book balanced the plotline well with the romance. There was a lot of focus on Magnus and Alec and their new relationship, but I feel like that’s what a lot of readers of this book want, and it also just made sense in the context of the story. There’s a lot that Magnus and Alec are trying to figure out between them, as well as about themselves. It led to a quite emotional and romantic story, and I loved it.

The plot was also interesting by itself. I was worried it would be kind of a throwaway plot, as it’s being written into the past of this series, but I was worried for no reason. This book cleverly adds new insights into old events while also revealing information that might be impactful later on, all without making it feel like it came out of nowhere. I also loved how much more of the Downworlder experience we saw, as that’s something I’ve been wanting a long time.

I also felt that Clare did the gay relationship of Magnus and Alec justice without over-sexualizing or making it problematic. She mainly focused on their love for each other and how they navigated uncertainties, which is something that is relevant and relatable to a lot of people. She also focused a lot on the immortal vs. mortal issue, or shadowhunter vs. warlock issue, which was a purely fictional one, and therefore one she can draw from her own lore on. When it came to the sexual parts of their relationship, Clare didn’t go into too much detail nor focus on any acts themselves. This meant that Magnus and Alec weren’t sexualized purely for the audience, and the romance and desire felt intimate and meant for them, rather than the reader. It seemed to avoid the pitfalls of many other straight women trying to write gay relationships, though of course I am not the best judge of this and you should not take my word as the final say on the matter.

Overall this book just made me really, really happy, and anyone into Malec, Alec, or Magnus will definitely love this book. There’s just a lot to love about it.

I also wanted to mention the acknowledgments. It’s not something I generally review, but it almost felt like a part of the story. Clare gave some insight into Magnus and Alec and their creation as characters and as a couple, and what that meant for her career and the series. It was wonderfully interesting to read, and it definitely added to my opinion of the situation/characters.

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

4/5 Stars

It is the first day of November and so, today, someone will die.

The Scorpio Races is a story about an island. Every year, deadly water horses make their way on to this island, leading to the annual Scorpio Races. This story follows two main protagonists, both who end up racing for their own ideas of freedom.

This was another book I listened to the audiobook of, and although it wasn’t the best (female narrator seemed to always read dialogue as if they were shouting?) it did lead to me finally reading this book! I’ve loved all the other works by Stiefvater that I’ve read, and while I didn’t like this one as much, it still grew on me.

I’ll admit that while the writing style of this book is still good, it wasn’t what I’ve come to expect from Stiefvater. I know authors fluctuate in style between series and books, but I just didn’t like the simplicity this style had in comparison to the other books I’ve read of hers. I was a bit let down, and I think this led to me not getting into this book at all at first.

However, it grew on me. Something about the simplicity of the story, of two people with very pure goals racing for their futures, grew slowly on me, and I didn’t even realize until I hit the ending and it affected me as much as it did. I guess it was something about the characters, how compelling their stories were, how real their motivations and personalities were.

I also just fell in love with the racing and cultural aspect of the book. It felt overall really well done, and while there were definitely some gruesome scenes, it just ended up backing up the dark descriptions of the water horses. I just also loved the emotion the characters tied to the parts of the island they loved, and how their homes, whether that be in a place, people, or horse, were described and made the main focus of the novel.

I’m glad I finally got around to reading this book, and while I don’t think it’ll ever be one of my favorite Stiefvater works, I did end up enjoying it!

The Weight of the Stars by K. Ancrum

4/5 Stars

First off I would like to thank the author, the publisher, and NetGalley for giving me the chance to read and review this ARC. Please note that the version I read was an advanced copy, and certain events/language may be changed in the published edition. While the copy was provided for free, all opinions are honest and my own.

The Weight of the Stars is a lyrical story about two girls who reach for the stars, literally. Ryann dreams of eventually reaching them, continuing the legacy of her dead parents. Alexandria waits for news from the stars, from a mom that had to leave before Alexandria ever knew her. Both are struggling under the weight of loss, the responsibility to those they still have, and their large dreams. However, together, they may just find a way to carry the weight and bring their dreams to realization.

This is one of those books that sneaks up on you as you’re reading and you don’t realize how much it means to you until it’s over.

When I heard the description of this story, as well as some of the selling points of it (LGBTQ, slow burn romance, lyrical writing), I knew I had to request an ARC so I could read it ASAP. I will admit that at first this novel can be hard to get into, and I didn’t find myself liking it at first, but my love for the story was one that ended up growing slowly, and sneaking up on me in the end.

One of the hard parts of this book is the characters, as they are not easily likable characters. Ryann and her friend group, while known for their ability to befriend everyone and bring quiet misfits out of their shells, are often quite aggressive in their approach, to the point it’s practically bullying. It really puts you off of almost all the characters at first, and the victim of this behavior, Alexandria, is not someone you really easily pity either. However, slowly but surely, you end up accepting and liking these characters for all their flaws and bad behaviors, and the way their stories end up interweaving is quite beautiful.

The writing is also something I was originally disappointed in but found a great love for later. I had expected something slightly different, and while the writing was definitely lyrical, the short chapters and formatting of the story worked to make the story more choppy. However, once again, as you keep reading you learn to love this style and how well it meshes with the story. The ending was especially beautiful, and the emotions it ended up invoking in me were what made me realize that this story actually got to me. I will definitely read Ancrum’s other novel just to see how the writing style is used in that story.

The plot itself was also one of growing intensity and size, starting from a small classroom to an even smaller trailer park to eventually spanning the stars above. As the story goes on, more and more players end up having a role in everything that’s happened to Ryann and Alexandria. The winding style of the plot matches up to the characters and writing style perfectly in this sense, and it leads to everything coming together in perfect melody.

(Also, as a note, there is a large range of diversity in this novel, especially in terms of sexuality. A few of the side characters are gay, along with a girlxgirl relationship at the forefront of the novel).

All in all, it’s hard to describe how I loved this book because even I am not entirely sure of how I ended up liking it and how I ended up having my heart broken at the end. It’s a unique story in this way, as not many manage to sneak up on me. In the end, I highly recommend this book for those who dream of space, those who wish to read more diverse books, and those who love tales that slowly increase in intensity and emotion. I will definitely be reading more novels from Ancrum!

Wildcard by Marie Lu

2/5 Stars

Tearing something down isn’t the end; doing something great, or better, something right, is.

Wildcard by Marie Lu is the sequel and finale to Warcross, Lu’s 2017 sci-fi hit. It continues Emika’s story after the thrilling and surprising events of Warcross, revealing new allies, enemies, and secrets, and continuing the premise that not everything is as it seems in the tech world of Emika and her friends.

I wasn’t sure when I’d get around to reading Wildcard, as I didn’t end up preordering nor had plans to buy it soon, but when I saw it available on Libby from my library I snatched it up right away! Warcross was a quick read and I expected its sequel to follow the same pattern, and I needed a quick read right then. My reading friends were kind of split on whether they thought it was a decent sequel/conclusion, so I went in not really sure what to expect from it, and in the end, I’m kind of stuck in the middle.

My biggest issues were all with the first 60% of the book. There was nothing inherently wrong with it, no specific writing, character, or plot issues, it just felt like something was missing. The spark that Warcross had simply didn’t exist in the first half of the book for me, and I didn’t feel truly connected with the story. It zoomed by so quickly and so fast, that it forgot to take me along with it. I was reading the story and understanding the events and how all these pieces fit together, but I wasn’t connected, invested, in what that all meant. Most books grab you and that world takes over your own for a while, but that didn’t happen right away here, and for a sequel, it was a bit disappointing. I just plain didn’t care for the first part.

When the ending started really kicking in, and things were finally coming together and starting to make sense, I finally found the spark again, the reason I loved Warcross and Emika and all the others. I found the way things ended to be a perfect conclusion, both how the immediate plot was wrapped up as well as the distant future explained. But it just wasn’t enough to fully save the reading experience for me, and that’s why this book is only getting 3 of the 5 golden stars.

After reflecting, I’m more able to pinpoint the specific problems with the book that may have caused my original distance and why the final portion drew me back in. We spend the beginning portion of the book with fairly shallow feeling characters, as I never felt like Emika’s Warcross team and other friends ever got enough build up to mean something to me. Of course, I cared what happened to them, but I wasn’t necessarily too interested either. When you add this to the new characters added in the beginning, it feels too much like an entire beginning, with characters you’re supposed to know and love but just don’t yet. It keeps you at a distance, like you don’t fit in this circle with these people. However, as the book goes on and you learn more about Sasuke and Jax, one of the new characters, a connection starts to be built again, and this is where I started getting into the book. This in addition to the increasingly larger role Hideo plays, the secondary character who received most build up in book 1, I started to feel more at home in the story, and thus enjoyed it more. It all just came a bit too late.

All in all, I don’t regret reading this series at all, and I’ll always read whatever Marie Lu writes next! I just wish I had gotten back into this faster, and been able to enjoy the ending to its fullest.

You by Caroline Kepnes

3/5 Stars

If you knew what I went through to get into your home, that I messed up my back trying to know you, inside and out, you’d judge me for it.

You is Kepnes latest thriller, now a hit Netflix series. It follows Joe, a man endlessly obsessed with a girl, Beck, who walked into his bookstore one day. Curiosity turns to obsession as the progression of the tale turns dark and darker, revealing the lengths Joe is willing to go to make Beck his.

I expected a lot from You, from both the rave reviews from my friends and family about the show to just general internet reception. However, it just didn’t manage to blow me away. I didn’t dislike it, and the time I spent reading it wasn’t wasted, but it was an averagely thrilling book and nothing more.

In terms of plot, this book was actually pretty predictable and that’s one of the worst things for a thriller. The build-up and background of Joe in the beginning made it pretty clear what was probably going to happen later on, and when we finally actually got to it, I was already bored with the idea. Additionally, we know going in that Joe is a stalker, that he will go to great lengths to get to know every single part of Beck and to date her and love her. This makes what he does end up doing, which is extremely creepy if you think of it happening to yourself, feel almost normal since he’s doing exactly what you expected him to do.

Additionally, the situation with the characters themselves is also an interesting choice. No one is actually all that likable, so you never end up feeling for the people who suffer and for Beck, who is being ruthlessly stalked. They are all so petty and fake, revealed from all the “research” Joe is doing, and it leads to detachment from the event happening to the characters as well as lack of empathy for them. It removes the emotion and stakes from the book, as while you know what Joe is doing is bad and he definitely should not have done this or that, you end up not really caring since you don’t emotionally feel the consequences of his actions.

What is interesting about the book is the way is positions as the reader. The entire time you look through the eyes of Joe and are seeing things from his perspective only. It leads to a one-sidedness, a belief in what Joe is doing even though every part of you knows it is extremely wrong. This is only aided by the fact that you don’t actually like his victims, so a part of you doesn’t really care about what he’s doing and still hopes he gets the girl.

All in all, I don’t regret reading this book and I’ll probably watch the series in order to see how this gets transferred to tv, but it’s not my favorite thriller out there by a long shot.

If We Were Villains by M. L. Rio

5/5 Stars

Actors are by nature volatile—alchemic creatures composed of incendiary elements, emotion and ego and envy. Heat them up, stir them together, and sometimes you get gold. Sometimes disaster.

If We Were Villains is M. L. Rio’s debut, and a fantastic one at that. It follows a cast of 7 fourth-year theatre students at the prestigious Dellecher Classical Conservatory. Told in alternating perspectives of the past and present, it follows the fatal fourth year of these 7 students and the aftermath of one fateful November night.

It’s been a few months since I’ve read this book now and the story still sticks so strongly with me. This is more than just a murder mystery, an investigation of a friend group and how it all goes so wrong one night. It’s an exploration of emotion and identity, of the effect of playing a stereotype has on a character’s perception of themselves. It shows how volatile change can be, how upsets in power and hierarchy can cause even the tightest of bonds to crumble, the most innocuous of people to snap. It is utterly glorious and the addition of drama, both from the Shakespearean aesthetic and the setting of the characters, only heightens the study of these characters and emotions.

But this story is fantastic beyond the intriguing aspect of the story, it is more than just an investigation, more than just a peek into the world. You are immersed in the stories and characters as well, you become part of their world and their drama. Things stop seeming overdramatic, exaggerated, and you come to understand why these people act and why they talk mainly in Shakespeare. You create a bond with them, especially Oliver and James, and it will surprise you how strong this bond will be. The characters are far from perfect, they are utterly flawed and fragile, yet you will come to understand these flaws and love them more for it. This book is fantastic at transferring the emotions of the characters to the reader almost directly.

This is a book that I devoured in very few hours on a very long flight. I can’t usually read well on flights, always distracted by checking the time remaining or games on my phone. This book seems to have changed that in me. Never have I been so utterly absorbed and lost in a story while flying, and this story has stuck with me beyond that travel. I was lost in my thoughts while walking along security, waiting in lines, buying food. It was a book that I frantically texted to my friends about in the few hours I had for a flight transfer. It was a book that astounded me, and honestly still does.

It feels wrong to break the book down into its parts, as I feel that won’t do it any true justice. But I feel I must mention more than just the characters, as the plot, setting, and writing were all fantastic as well. While some might think they can figure out the plot quite quickly, the ramifications of these truths, of this answer, keeps you always second-guessing yourself on whether you actually believe this is possible, that this is the answer. The setting, an elite, competitive school, only enhances the drama and shines a light on the fractures happening the story, both between people and deep inside them. And lastly, the writing style wraps all of these parts up in a beautiful package, leaving you hooked even if you didn’t care about the rest.

All in all, If We Were Villains is a book that I will forever highly recommend. It’s great for fans of Shakespeare, for fans of thrillers/murder mysteries, for fans of flawed characters, and for fans of so much more. If this isn’t on your tbr, it definitely should be.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

4/5 Stars

How had it begun? Like everything: with mothers and fathers. Because of Lydia’s mother and father, because of her mother’s and father’s mothers and fathers.

Everything I Never Told You reveals the deep, dark secrets of a Chinese American family that led to the untimely death of the favorite child, Lydia. It explores the past and present of this family, the formation of the parents and how this affected their children quite strongly in the end. It is a study of the emotions, stereotypes, and pressures hidden within every family, and what happens when the cracks finally start to show.

I listened to this novel in a haze of sickness, so it’s hard to judge how I truly felt about this book because I spent most of my time listening to it hidden under covers and trying to work through the first sickness that kept me home from school in a while.

Everything I Never Told You is poignant and heartbreaking and fit the exact mood I was in at the time. It focuses both on the individual family but also how this message and story can be applied to a larger group of people and families. It discusses heritage, the choice to ignore it or cater to it, the pressures put on children by their parents, and the cracks that can form in a marriage when honesty is lost. It is an extremely emotional story seeped in culture and it makes you question beliefs you may have had, to ponder bigger questions in life.

The story itself is quite beautifully written (and narrated) as it spins the tales of generations and histories, and it keeps you hooked and intrigued into the story of this family. However, this writing also makes the story feel quite slow, as the story ends up being one that unravels and reveals itself slowly, rather than in one explosive burst. That means the 292 pages of this book feel much longer, in the end.

The characters themselves are all quite interesting, especially the parents. From the perspective of the children only, we would have quickly grown to hate and blame all the family’s problems on the parents. However, since we’ve learned their histories, as well as that of their parents, we sympathize with the mistakes the parents have made in the upbringing of their children, as we know the pressures they faced from their own parents, society, and their own heavy dreams. However, you are still made to understand the flawed aspect of the parents, since we do still see the suffering of the children. It makes the story feel quite heavy, and it leaves you questioning how to feel about certain characters and events and actions.

Overall, I quite enjoyed Everything I Never Told You, for the story it told and the questions it made me think about. I’ll definitely be reading Ng’s other books!

Defy Me by Tahereh Mafi

1/5 Stars

It’s not insane to imagine that sometimes even horrible people are searching for a way out of their own darkness.

Defy Me is the latest installment in the once again ongoing Shatter Me series. It continues the story of Juliette and Warner in Sector 45, and now adds the voice of Kenji to the mix.

God, I wanted to love this book. I was so excited for the addition of three more books to the series, as it’s one of my absolute favorites. So I’d thought I’d be the last to ever say this, but Mafi should’ve stopped the series with Ignite Me.

Mafi has a lot of strengths in writing, ones I’ve loved in all her works so far. She is magnificent at writing emotion, at fully showing what’s going on in a character’s head and the depth of what they’ve gone through or are going through. Her description, no matter the style she writes in, is always fantastic and heartfelt and is great at imparting scenes, imagery, and emotion on to the reader. Her characters are also amazing, they feel real and heartfelt, full of motivations and emotions and histories. It made me fall in love with the original series as well as her middle-grade Furthermore series. The latter also showcased her talent for imagination and the creation of wacky worlds.

It seems, after reading Defy Me, that I may have discovered one of her weaknesses. Plot. I’ve never really had issues with it before, but that’s mainly due to the fact that it’s not always the focus of her novels. It’s either emotion, romance, or a magical world that is at the front and center of the novel, so when Restore Me and then Defy Me brings the plot to the forefront, you start to see the cracks in Mafi’s writing and planning. I don’t think I can even get into all the holes that seem to occur in the second trilogy of books being added to the Shatter Me world. It would take too long and I just don’t have the energy for it. Mafi just tries to add way too much in both this book and already in Restore Me, and it just feels false. It seems to destroy or replace everything said in the first three books, blamed on things like memory manipulation, lies, and withheld information on every side. It just makes it feel like everything I read before didn’t matter, and I just don’t like that.

Additionally, by bringing the plot to the forefront, the series loses what I loved about the first three books. Yes, there’s still beautiful writing and scenes of utter emotion, but that’s just not what the book is about. There’s more descriptions of just events and scenes, less of the emotions surrounding it. There’s also just less of the character interaction that I loved, as the story seems to keep adding in more and more characters and adding distance between the friendships and relationships I loved, whether it be literal distance or purely mental/emotional.

I also feel like this book was just too depressing. Yes, this series has never been light, but it feels like this book has no hope until the very last few pages (which were just pure fanservice and utter bullshit, just saying). It just made me way too sad? And not in a way I enjoy at all. It was just a lot of missing and losing and torture and pain with no light at the end of the tunnel. No thanks.
I’ll be finishing the series, of course, I’ve come this far. But if I ever reread the series again, I think I’ll be stopping at Ignite Me.

Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi

4/5 Stars

“Sometimes light illuminates things that are better left in the dark.”

Aru Shah is just your average twelve-year-old wishing for an adventure to shake up her boring life. Only she actually gets her wish. After a grand villain of her own making reveals himself, Aru must risk it all to save it all. And she has to do it all while wearing Spider-Man pajamas.

I’ve always been a huge fan of Rick Riordan and his takes on mythology, so when I heard he was launching a line of novels spanning a larger variety of myths tackled by diverse authors, I was stoked! More mythology in the easy to consume format of middle grade novels? Sign me up!

Now, I didn’t necessarily expect that these books would follow the exact format and styling of Riordan books (the explicit questing, the strict time lines, the sort of humor), and I’m not quite sure how I feel yet about the fact that this one did. I honestly thought I was reading a Riordan book at first. (I still need to read Roshani’s other books, so I can’t compare this work with her others). However, as I got further along, I did notice some plot and stylistic choices that distinguished from Riordan, and that did make me enjoy it more. I was just surprised how similar this book was to Riordan’s own.

It also did take a while for this book to grow on me, but that may just be on me. It’s been a long while since I’ve read an MG (middle grade) novel, and the books I’ve recently been reading are more of the dark, emotional YA/Adult contemporaries, so this is a complete switch from that. In the end, the book did hook me anyways, and for a few key reasons.

  1. It seems to tackle the fine line between villain, hero, and anti-hero. You have multiple characters who have made distinct evil/bad decisions and are forced to question their inherent evilness because of these actions. The motives of characters also leave you wondering whether you can really consider certain characters villainous. I always love when books bring this into play.
  2. It plays with the idea of destiny. A strong theme in this novel, and probably series, is the idea of inevitable destiny and the choices people are forced to make either according to this destiny or in spite of it. It seems to reach every part of the narrative, from the narrator to her family to the villain. It opens a lot for Roshani to play with, and I’m super excited to see where this goes!
  3. Our narrator, Aru, is not the stereotypical heroine. Yes she wants to be a good person, yes she wants to be the hero of the story, but above all she wants to save the world, to rescue who she loves. In this book alone we see some questionable choices she makes in the pursuit of these goals, and I’m left wondering what else she’s willing to do to get what she wants.

My biggest issue, and the main reason this novel was bumped to 4 stars instead of 5, was due to how it ended. Now the ending of the narrative I quite liked, but this did not line up with the ending of the novel itself. The last 4-5 chapters are basically just the beginning of the next book, going so far to introduce new characters and new plot points. It’s far from a cliff-hanger, it’s practically one of those teaser releases of the first few chapters of a book. It’s rather frustrating that I don’t have time to process the book I just read before being forced into the next, and I generally don’t even read series in order. It just left a bad taste in my mouth and ruined the reading experience at the time.

However, even with my frustrations with the ending, I’m pleasantly surprised by Aru Shah, and cannot wait to read the next one!