It's a Wonderful DeathIt’s a Wonderful Death by Sarah J. Schmitt
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Author: Sarah Schmitt
Genre: YA Fiction
Publisher: Sky Pony Press
Year of Publication: 2015

Main Character: RJ (2/5)—this girl is a spoiled brat who only has a few shining moments of humanity. Too bad it takes death to bring out the best her, and only then because she’s angry.
Secondary Characters: The secondary characters were enjoyable enough, but very one-dimensional. The only ones that were developed were Madeline and Daniel.
Pacing: It takes about over one hundred pages for her to even go back in time to the moments she has to fix. Up until then, the whole book is just banter and arguing between ethereal pious beings. The moments she relives go by quickly before the angels of the afterlife resume their bickering again.
Accuracy of Publisher’s Synopsis: There was a heck of a lot left out. The portion where RJ actually gets to relive a few moments of her life (AKA the premise of the entire book) makes up a relatively small portion.
Resolution: I can’t even say how annoyed I am by how this book ended. Had I liked RJ or the story more, it would have really upset me.

The Good: At least RJ does exhibit some personal growth during the moments she revisits. If not for those moments, I may not have finished this book. I enjoyed a few of the characters, mainly Madeline, Daniel, and a couple of the angels. It was lighthearted, despite the subject, and was good for a few laughs.

The Not So Good: I can break this entire book down into about four events. The first hundred pages consist of her arriving in heaven and causing an unprecedented upheaval with her diva fit. The next handful of chapters consists of real plot in which RJ appears to learn the difference between right and wrong. Then we’re right back to an obnoxious court case. **Spoiler Alert** Then RJ spends a few chapters being dropped back into her old life for a total of one day. **End Spoiler Alert**Seventy percent of this book is just banter and arguing between fictionalized versions of religious figures.

When I read about some of the things RJ had done, I could understand perfectly why hell was an option for her. Some of the things she did, while not illegal, were definitely immoral. If I had to read one more time about how RJ wasn’t “the person [she was] meant to be,” I was seriously going to chuck this book at the wall. To top off the circus that was this storyline, the justification for RJ’s return to her life rests on her influence on someone who will eventually cure cancer. Really? There is literally nothing more clichéd or less cool than using the cure for a terrible disease as a plot point. And did I mention how terribly disappointing the ending was?

Overall Impression: This book was a misguided attempt to satirize the proceedings of the afterlife. In actuality, it was equal parts ridiculous and boring.

Would I recommend it? I wouldn’t really recommend this one if you’re looking for a meaningful, serious story. It would, however, be a perfect waiting room read if you’re in need of distraction.

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Split Second (Pivot Point, #2)

Split Second (Pivot Point, #2)Split Second by Kasie West
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Author: Kasie West
Genre: Paranormal YA
Publisher: HarperCollins
Year of Publication: 2014

Main Character: Addie (3.5/5)—Addie was a bit weaker of a character this time around, but overall still relatable. Laila (3/5)—With some added depth from getting her POV, she gains some credibility.
Secondary Characters: There were a few new faces this time around. None of them were exceptional, but they served their purposes in the book well.
Pacing: The pacing was average, but not quite as fast as Pivot Point.
Accuracy of Publisher’s Synopsis: Pretty accurate
Resolution: This book ended how it should have, but I do wish there had been more closure than was given.

The Good: This book is more or less a chance for Addie to relive the Search she experienced in the Norm world and forget the life she actually lived in the Compound. Probably the biggest shock is reading the truth about the Compound and the lengths they will go to to protect their secret. West also reveals a few small secrets from both of Addie’s parents that clarify the reasons for their divorce a bit better. Plus, Laila finally proves herself a worthy friend, even though it takes a while. She even comes out at the end with a decent boyfriend. Heck, even with Duke’s moral shortcomings, he does eventually do the right thing, which was satisfying to see.

The Not So Good: The end of Pivot Point made me so excited for Addie to establish her life in the Norm world for real. Unfortunately, it just couldn’t compare to the first time she was there. Her feelings about some of the characters were different than before, which made me scratch my head. Meeting someone in a different way doesn’t change who they are and how apt you are to like them. And yet…this version of Trevor was so suspicious that he was nearly impossible to like at first. He seemed like he wanted to capture Addie and sell her to the government for experiments. It took a while for me to trust him enough to enjoy their relationship again. Another annoyance was that we see both Bobby and Duke again. Duke just refuses to go away and causes problems for everyone. I also wasn’t crazy about Laila’s perspective. She’s a bit too shallow and immature for me to relate to, but I at least got to understand her motives and her flippant personality better. Although this book was satisfying enough overall, it didn’t live up to its predecessor.

Overall Impression: The two prevailing goals of this sequel are to expose the stalkerish tendencies of the Compound and to give Addie her second chance with Trevor. And it accomplishes both of those goals, but with a little less oomph than Pivot Point.

Would I recommend it? I would recommend this book, especially to fans of Pivot Point. If anyone were to read this as a standalone, they’d be confused.

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Pivot Point (Pivot Point, #1)

Pivot Point (Pivot Point, #1)Pivot Point by Kasie West
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Author: Kasie West
Genre: Paranormal YA
Publisher: HarperCollins
Year of Publication: 2013

Main Character: Addie (4/5)—For once, YA fiction has provided the world with a well-rounded heroine, complete with strength, courage, and compassion. She even thinks before she acts—a former given for characters in YA that is now so rare it’s remarkable.
Secondary Characters: For the most part, you’ll like the ones you’re supposed to like and hate the ones you’re supposed to hate. The only one who gave me pause was Laila. She’s a bit selfish and causes more problems than she solves, but she doesn’t mean any harm.
Pacing: With short chapters alternating between her two possible futures, this book compels you to keep reading.
Accuracy of Publisher’s Synopsis: While the synopsis was completely accurate, the book was more interesting than the publisher made it sound (also rare). The crime Addie’s father is investigating is one of the central plotlines, and I wish that had been clearer from the summary.
Resolution: I was a little upset by the life Addie chose, but I would have made the same choice for the same reasons. The last few pages will reassure you that not all hope is lost and then set you up for the sequel, Split Second.

The Good: When I saw what Addie’s choices were for her future, I thought for sure that one path would outshine the other. And since the chapters alternate between each life, I also assumed that I would be stuck pushing through boring chapters to get back to the good ones. Thankfully, none of those things happened. Both lives were equally interesting, especially because they kept to the same timeline and often showed the same events from different perspectives. The intersections between the two lives are remarkable. As the story winds down, the stakes get higher and Addie is faced with a decision much more difficult than she bargained for. All I can say is that you’ll close the cover wondering just how much of an impact you have on each little thing around you.

The Not So Good: I suppose there were a few things about this book that I didn’t like. Truthfully, I wasn’t a huge fan of the football injury plotline or the criminal case. What I enjoyed about this book had a lot less to do with the literal plot and more with how the book was composed. I also wasn’t crazy about Addie’s mother or Laila. Neither of them seemed like they truly cared about Addie. Her mother only talked to her to yell at her and all Laila cared about was guys.

Overall Impression: This is the type of book teens should be reading. In a market teeming with novels written solely to tackle heavy social issues, this one is a breath of fresh air. The lessons inside aren’t just relevant to one group or even one age—they’re timeless and universal.

Would I recommend it? You bet I would!

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Fireblood (Frostblood Saga, #2)

Fireblood (Frostblood Saga, #2)Fireblood by Elly Blake
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Author: Elly Blake
Genre: YA fantasy
Publisher: Little, Brown
Year of Publication: 2017

Main Character: Ruby—3/5. Ruby could have been a good heroine, but she was so plagued by self-doubt and her own demons that she made for a poor narrator.
Secondary Characters: Kai was probably my favorite character, but I felt like he was always putting up a front. Nonetheless, his wit and surprising depth were the only things that induced me to finish this book. Arcus was a shadow of himself, only rarely becoming the outspoken, upstanding man from Frostblood. The rest of the characters were chess pieces, serving a purpose more than truly adding anything to the storyline.
Pacing: The pacing of this book was slow, but the most important parts were rushed and the necessary details glossed over in favor of descriptive prose more befitting of poetry than a novel.
Accuracy of Publisher’s Synopsis: Once again, this book’s synopsis outshines the actual novel.
Resolution: The resolution was decent, but I have to be honest and say I had not the slightest clue what was going on. They were setting sail to go chase after someone who wasn’t even part of the mortal world. It made no sense.

The Good: It took a while, but Ruby finally checked some things off her to-do list. Kai was an entertaining addition to the cast of characters, and I am so grateful for him. If I read the final book, it will only be because he’s there. Some of the events at the end were interesting, but didn’t make much sense when I started to dissect them.

The Not So Good: When I read the summary of the plot, I was so excited to get my hands on the sequel, convinced that the action would pick up. I waited with bated breath to read about the mysterious Sudesia and meet the queen. In my mind, there was a complex web of plots and new characters that held so much potential. I couldn’t have been more disappointed in what actually happened. The main events (the trials) ultimately comprised about thirty of the book’s four hundred pages. What happened in the rest of the book, you ask? Literally nothing. It was a bunch of speculation and a series of pointless verbal sparring matches between the Sudesian Queen and Ruby. By the end, I found myself skimming rather than reading, because what I was reading made very little sense anyhow.

Overall Impression: Ultimately, Ruby accomplishes a few things and learns truths about herself that set up the last novel in the series perfectly. However, after what I had to go through to see her reach those goals, my enthusiasm had waned almost completely.

Would I recommend it? No, I really don’t think I could. I wish I had given up on this one and spent the month-and-a-half that I wasted actively avoiding this book on something I would have enjoyed more.

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Mystic City (Mystic City #1)

Mystic City (Mystic City, #1)Mystic City by Theo Lawrence
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Author: Theo Lawrence
Genre: Supernatural YA/Dystopian YA
Publisher: Delacorte Press (Random House)
Year of Publication: 2012

Main Character: Aria (2/5)—Aria is an otherwise likeable character who remains at the mercy of her own ignorance for the entire novel.
Secondary Characters: Aria’s “family” and “friends” are ridiculously vapid and one-dimensional. However, they create great foil characters for the Mystics, who are the only people worth anything in this book, no matter how frustratingly little we see of them.
Pacing: The pacing skipped around a lot with this one. There were parts that would drag and others that moved so quickly that skipping a sentence would leave you lost.
Accuracy of Publisher’s Synopsis: Completely accurate.
Resolution: While there was nothing expressly wrong about the ending, I wasn’t satisfied with it.

The Good: The world within this book is an entirely unique (and not terribly farfetched) take on the future, complete with all the workings of a classic dystopian novel. But this time, the perspective given is of someone at the top. In another break from tradition, the group with magical powers is the group being oppressed. Though the truth remains frustratingly obvious from the start, I will give Lawrence this: by the end, he was answering questions I hadn’t known to ask. There were several surprises in the form of character loyalties that caught me off guard (in both good and bad ways). The world he created was intriguing and complex. He also addressed common issues like peer pressure or the war between following the path set for you and forging your own.

The Not So Good: By the third page, you’ve figured out the who, what, when, where, and why. The only thing missing is the how, and that gets filled in toward the end. In all honesty, I was fed up with Aria and her obliviousness by the time the story really picked up. She can clearly see that something is rotten in the state of Denmark, but can’t manage to put two and two together. I kind of took that as an insult to my intelligence by Lawrence. And I can’t believe that Aria let her family treat her so poorly. For someone with grand ideas of justice and passion for improving the world, she sure lacks that conviction in her personal life. She just wasn’t a very believable character for me.

Overall Impression: This book had good bones. The premise was interesting, the villains were perfectly evil, and the world was well thought out. Portions of it were quite enjoyable, but the inconsistency in pace and Aria’s complete paralysis in the face of her family’s betrayal transformed the book into a mockery of itself.

Would I recommend it? I’m more likely to recommend it than I am to convince someone not to read it.

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Hotel for the Lost

Hotel for the LostHotel for the Lost by Suzanne Young
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Author: Susanne Young
Genre: Supernatural YA
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Year of Publication: 2015

Main Character: Audrey (3/5)—Audrey was a very average narrator. The most tangible thing about her was her range of emotions. She had a lot of misplaced angst. I would like to think that without the grief she perpetually grappled with, Audrey would have been more focused on and more successful in discovering the secrets of the Ruby sooner.
Secondary Characters: I found myself getting annoyed with Audrey’s family. Her brother was a bit too much of a know-it-all control freak for my taste. Her aloof and unsympathetic father severely lacked parenting skills and I couldn’t help but shake my head in wonder the whole time. No wonder she missed her mother so much—her father was hardly a stable source of anything but frustration.
Pacing: The pacing of this book was about average.
Accuracy of Publisher’s Synopsis: What you see is what you get with this one. There’s not a lie to be had in the whole summary.
Resolution: The resolution was not at all what I expected and I found myself scratching my head as to why it turned out the way it did. It wasn’t necessarily a poor choice—just not what I was looking for.

The Good: From the second they arrived at the Ruby, the hotel’s swanky ambiance leapt off the page and enveloped me in the most bizarre combination of anticipation, apprehension, and intrigue. The setting was ripe for a mystery and I found myself drawn in eagerly at the beginning. I really liked some of the secondary characters and found them more relatable than any of the Casellas (Audrey’s family). The staff’s relationships weren’t all clear cut and perfect, which made them all more realistic. They were probably the most genuine part of the novel.

The Not So Good: This book, while imaginative in plot, ended up following every classic move in the most unexciting way possible. The only thing I didn’t anticipate was the decision Audrey would make once she figured it all out, and that was only because I was disappointed in her choice. Maybe what she chose would make sense to other readers, but I’m not big on throwing away my life for no good reason. I also have to be blunt and say that Young’s feeble attempts to explain the mystery of the Ruby only bred confusion in me. I wish she hadn’t tried to rationalize the supernatural elements. It was too far of a stretch for me. After all, the draw of the supernatural is its unpredictable, inexplicable nature.

I feel kind of insensitive for saying it, but the subplot about Audrey’s grief didn’t contribute anything to the plotline. This could just as easily have been about a normal family road trip and the plot would have been more focused for it. By the end of the novel, I wanted to reach through the pages and strangle Audrey for how clueless she was; the evidence was all around her, but her oblivion and ceaseless mourning interspersed with her boy obsession prevented her from noticing the neon signs. Had Young focused on the mystery of the Ruby rather than a bunch of completely irrelevant flashbacks, this story would have had a more meaningful plot.

Overall Impression: There was a great buildup of mystery, but I have to be honest and say I totally saw it all coming early on. As far as some of the key elements she included, Young’s choices left me scratching my head, as I know that the right ones could have made this novel popular.

Would I recommend it? I wouldn’t discourage anyone from picking up this book. I firmly believe that it could be more than satisfying for anyone who wants a little lighthearted mystery on their bookshelf.

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The Books I Couldn’t Finish

Magonia (Magonia, #1)
Author: Maria Dahvana Headley
Genre: YA Supernatural
Publisher: HarperCollins
Year of Publication: 2015

Characters: The only character I stuck around long enough to meet was Aza, the main character. Her “clever” thoughts were more than enough to convince me to put the book down.

The Good: There was a glimmer of hope that Aza’s snarkiness might get me to continue reading. The premise was so unique that I really wanted to like this novel enough to read it.

The Not So Good: The narrative prose was about as focused as if someone took all the thoughts they’d ever had, wrote them on slips of paper, and then drew them out of a hat to write a story. I tried to make it through the first chapter, but the writing style was so disruptive that I skipped to the second chapter in the hope that adding dialogue would change up the writing. It was no better.

Why I Didn’t Finish It: I couldn’t stand this character. The writing style was choppy and disorganized, and not in an artful way. Manipulating grammar and punctuation once in a while to make a line stand out is one thing, and I definitely encourage it if it’s the best way to get your idea across. Needlessly breaking convention with every other sentence is a huge problem, and can be highly off-putting to readers. I’m honestly surprised anyone was able to finish this book. I suppose there’s a reader out there for this type of writing, but it just isn’t me.

The Lost Girl of Astor Street

The Lost Girl of Astor Street
Author: Stephanie Morrill
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: HarperCollins
Year of Publication: 2017

Characters: The characters grated on my nerves. The main character (Piper) couldn’t stop dwelling on the past long enough to see what was going on around her. These characters were boring, even in moments when they should have been intriguing. They each had a very specific role to play and that was simply all the depth they had. They were not relatable and their relationships and conversations felt contrived.

The Good: The concept would have made an interesting novel. I can tell that the author put some effort into the concept, especially building the world and the backstory for each relationship.

The Not So Good: This book was set in Chicago during the Jazz Age. As a Chicagoan, I thought I would love reading a book set in my city, as that has been a major draw for me with other novels. There was not a single Chicago-like thing in this novel within the first seventy-five or so pages that I managed to read. There was a reference to the Chicago River, but that was the extent. Also, there were far too many characters introduced too soon. I didn’t even have time to get a read on one before another was thrown my way.

Why I Didn’t Finish It: I had no connections to any of the flat characters the author created. The plot never picked up, and the setting felt so stilted that I knew the book would not hold my interest. I do see the thought that the author put into creating the main plotline, but the subplots were littered with clichés and she failed to bring the story to life. I saw that this book was rated highly, so I am disappointed that I didn’t enjoy it. Perhaps I just didn’t stick it out long enough to get to the good part.

The Accident Season

The Accident Season
Author: Moira Fowley-Doyle
Genre: Supernatural YA
Year of Publication: 2016

Characters: I could not stand the characters in this book. All of the children were brats and the adults were irresponsible and worthless, especially the school staff.

The Good: This was a great setting for a spooky novel. The air of mystery was right on cue, and the timeline only increased my anticipation.

The Not So Good: Maybe I’m overreacting, but the one thing that bothered me outside of the major plot was the main character’s budding romance with her step-brother. A girl deciding to start a relationship with someone who was raised as her sibling in the same home by the same set of parents was not something I enjoyed reading. I’m sure that some people wouldn’t bat an eye, but it made me uncomfortable. As far as Elsie, her role was disturbing and the girls’ inability to leave Elsie alone passed weird and ended up at stalking. Once I took a sneak peek at the end, I rolled my eyes. It was a strange concept that didn’t appeal to me and actually kind of creeped me out, so I decided this one wasn’t worth my time.

Why I Didn’t Finish It: Simply put, this book just kept giving me reasons why I was uncomfortable reading it.