ForbiddenForbidden by Eve Bunting
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Author: Eve Bunting
Genre: Historical YA
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Year of Publication: 2015

Main Character: Josie—(3/5) Josie was a little naïve, but what she lacked in intuition, she made up for in bravery. Although Josie picked up that something was off about her new home, she was oblivious to the clues that are obvious to readers.
Secondary Characters: None of the secondary characters were very engaging or interesting, but they each served their function within the story quite well.
Pacing: The pacing on this one is difficult to explain. The story itself was set at an anxious pace, the plot moving along hurriedly and unceremoniously. Within the scenes themselves, the narrative would sometimes drag. You’d have to read it to understand.
Accuracy of Publisher’s Synopsis: The synopsis was dead on, though the narrative was lackluster in comparison.
Resolution: This was hands down the best part of the book. The last major scene resulted in embarrassing laughter and vindictive cheering on my part. And I am not ashamed.

The Good: The setting, particularly Bunting’s description of it, was very well conveyed and made the story seem tangible. One of the odd points was that the overall timeline of the book moved rapidly, although the narrative within each scene felt drawn out. Overall, this book had an interesting concept that I haven’t read before. The combination of supernatural elements with historical fiction was surprisingly delightful and original.

The Not So Good: On the whole, the plot was underdeveloped and failed to live up to the excitement and mystery promised by the synopsis. The story, which takes place in a mere forty-eight hours, was set at a rapid pace, which was offset by the lengthy descriptions that interrupted scenes frequently. This all would have been fine by me had I felt that Bunting had brought the story to its full potential. However, how much character development can be done in just two hundred pages over the span of two days? The love interest aspect was downright neglected. Eli and Josie only met maybe two or three times. Perhaps Josie’s constant thoughts of Eli were supposed to make him seem more present? But fantasy and worries are no replacement for scenes and real interaction. To be in love with someone you just met yesterday is a little farfetched for even a YA fantasy book.

Overall Impression: I had hoped this book would be a mysterious, action-packed quick read. For me, only one of those points was truly met. If Bunting had slowed down and given the plot its due, this could have been a fairly good novel.

Would I recommend it? I probably wouldn’t recommend this one. Not because it was poorly written or a bad story, but because it felt like an outline rather than a published book. Nevertheless, it’s well suited to anyone who loves to read, but doesn’t have much time.

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In Dreams

In DreamsIn Dreams by Erica Orloff
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Author: Erica Orloff
Genre: YA
Publisher: Penguin
Year of Publication: 2014

Main Character: Iris— (3.5/5) This girl got some major points from me for her strength and determination. Not even the threat of her complete demise could convince her to give up fighting.
Secondary Characters: I’m not even sure what to say about Aphrodite. I thought she seemed suspiciously overbearing and I kept waiting for her to turn out evil, but she didn’t. Annie was probably my favorite secondary character. She had a true understanding of and care for Iris.
Pacing: The pacing was good.
Accuracy of Publisher’s Synopsis: The synopsis isn’t actually inaccurate, but it narrows the scope of the plot to only one of its many offerings. I would have been more drawn to the book if it was described as its entire premise and not just her dream about a boy.
Resolution: The ending was kind of awkward to me. It felt like the whole book was gearing me up for an epic Underworld showdown, but all I got was a fistfight.

The Good: I hadn’t known that Greek mythology was going to guide the major plotline. The presence of gods and goddesses definitely added a layer of intrigue. It was a lot less about the boy in Iris’ dreams and a lot more about Iris’ secret family. I was more inclined to read just to see where it went. I liked all of the characters and their interactions.

The Not So Good: The book is purportedly all about Iris finding a way to be with Sebastian. The more accurate description would be that Iris struggles to come to grips with her newly revealed identity as a demi-goddess after realizing that her dream world is real and is being wielded as a weapon against Iris by her evil uncle. That’s kind of a significant discrepancy in my book, but it wasn’t unwelcome. However, since a series I love was based on a similar plot, I tried to project my feelings toward that series onto Orloff’s book; it just wasn’t the same kind of book, though, so I was thrown off.

With the actual book, though, I only had a couple of moments that tripped me up. One was the moment when Iris’ mother let slip that she willfully abandons her for weeks at a time as she visits Morpheus in her sleep. But when Iris reacted, her mother was quick to say that wasn’t what was happening. Also, I was really hoping to see Iris end up trapped in the Underworld or something, fighting against Epiales, begging Hades for help, and dragging Sebastian through the River of Sorrows. But none of that happened. I was underwhelmed by the direction the book went in, especially with all the potential there was to take it to the next level.

Overall Impression: This book was not at all what I expected, but it was a quick, easy read. There was a unique plotline filled with characters that don’t normally get a spotlight in Greek mythology. My only true dissatisfaction was that the book fell short of the expectations I had for it.

Would I recommend it? In Dreams is light and quick, a perfect weekend read.

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Frostblood (Frostblood Saga #1)

Frostblood (Frostblood Saga, #1)Frostblood by Elly Blake
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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

Main Character: Ruby—4/5. She was tenacious, determined, and logical. She was willing to fight and willing to sacrifice anything she had to accomplish her mission.
Secondary Characters: The most major characters were well developed, complete with backgrounds, motives, emotions, etc. The rest of the secondary characters were just distinct enough to have personalities.
Pacing: Average
Accuracy of Publisher’s Synopsis: Not completely accurate, but close. For one, Ruby was not in hiding, but in prison. The people she was aligned with were monks, not rebels, and most of them did not support her residence in their monastery or her mission.
Resolution: It seemed a little too simple how they got there, but everything is set up for the next installment already.

The Good: I really liked Ruby. Most heroines have huge weaknesses and character flaws that make them frustrating to read about, but not this girl. Ruby had her goal in mind and was completely unwavering in her dedication to it, no matter what it cost her and no matter how many times her plan was forced to change. She wasn’t sidetracked by her love for some guy, either. Ruby’s setbacks were never due to her making a mistake. Now that’s a heroine I can applaud.

Arcus and Brother Thistle were the only other major characters. They were very useful to Ruby and likeable. They tolerated her antics with impeccable patience. The villains were portrayed in the most human way possible, meaning that they’re not great people, but their actions are understandable once you learn more about them. These antagonists are not purely malevolent, but complete with the full spectrum of emotions.

The mythology Blake created was interesting, but underutilized. I hope it becomes more central to the plotline in Fireblood. The Minax and the gods could add so much to the story if they became more involved.

The Not So Good: I had two main complaints about Frostblood: the superfluous descriptions and the simplicity of the plot. I had a hard time focusing in parts of the book because there would be way too much narrative, especially within conversations. I would forget what was being said while the author was busy describing the way something looked, and get lost when the dialogue resumed. Also, the plot in this book was somewhat simple and guided by common clichés. I saw Arcus’s big secret coming from the moment he was introduced, so that was a letdown. The secrets that Marella revealed seemed implausible and like they were just thrown in at the end for shock factor. By the end, it didn’t feel like much had happened.

On a side note, I felt like not everything was explained. There was no map to help the readers sort out where everything is. Plus, I had no idea that there was still a Fire throne! Everyone made it seem like Ruby was an endangered species, but there are probably a lot more Firebloods out there in the surrounding area.

Overall Impression: Frostblood is a novel that breathes a little life into classic YA tropes with a strong, focused heroine. With some fine tuning and more main characters, the rest of the series will hopefully gain some natural complexity.

Would I recommend it? While it wasn’t my favorite book, I think this series will be worth reading overall.

What I want to see in the next book:

1. These characters are a great foundation, but they can handle a lot more than they’ve been tasked with. I want to see them face some worthy adversaries and come into their new power.
2. More of Arcus and Ruby actually spending time together, please!
3. I don’t really trust Marella and I think she’s hiding a lot. I can’t subscribe to her words until she shows her true colors.
4. There wasn’t a lot of information given about the Minax or how it works. I would really appreciate more background on its power and how it relates to the prophecy Brother Thistle keeps talking about.
5. Let’s go find that Fire throne!
6. More characters, please. It felt like there were only really three people in the book. Ruby needs more allies than that.

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Now I Rise (The Conqueror’s Saga #2)

Now I Rise (The Conqueror's Saga, #2)Now I Rise by Kiersten White
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Author: Kiersten White
Genre: YA Historical Fiction
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Year of Publication: 2017

Main Characters: Lada—just as ruthless as ever, and somewhat foolish. Radu—breaks my heart in every chapter.
Secondary Characters: I fell in love with several of the secondary characters in this book. First and foremost, we finally meet Hunyadi! I was expecting him to be unkind (he is a pretty fierce guy), but I was surprised by how normal and compassionate he was, even to the son who wanted nothing to do with him. Nazira is the best thing that ever could have happened to Radu. She was indispensable to his mission and a great partner, although I wish we could have followed her more. Last, but not least, we have Cyprian. I adored Cyprian, and think he is a perfect match for Radu. He is brave and caring, and can offer Radu everything Mehmed refuses to.
Pacing: Having two perspectives in the first book added another layer to the plot. In this book, I felt that it was disruptive, because Lada and Radu were in completely different settings. Also, the alternating chapters were not taking place at the same pace, so I felt stuck in a time warp. The only things connecting the siblings were their thoughts of Mehmed and Constantinople.
Accuracy of Publisher’s Synopsis: This synopsis was rather vague, but the last sentence about empires toppling and thrones being won and lost summed everything up succinctly.
Resolution: Now I Rise ended the only way it could while remaining true to history.

The Good: I got some good laughs out of this book. I particularly enjoyed Radu’s interactions with Mehmed at the end. Radu was not about to let Mehmed resume their relationship like he hadn’t just put Radu through hell. I am so proud of Radu for everything he accomplished and his commitment to doing the right thing, no matter what the cost. In that way, he is far braver than Lada. I thought it was a nice touch for Radu and Lada to think about how much each missed the other and could use their expertise. I appreciated White’s evoking the sibling bond despite the physical distance. There is an unkind part of me that enjoyed Lada’s inner struggle with her femininity. She was forced to tackle a lot of normal female issues and come to terms with the fact that while her femaleness is not avoidable, it is something she can learn to exploit.

The Not So Good: Lada was a disappointment to me in several ways. I already thought it was reckless to try and take back her old country with just a small band of soldiers, but her meeting with Mehmed proved her immaturity to me more than anything else. If Mehmed knew the only way to lure Lada was by offering her what she really wanted, why would he even bother to come if he wasn’t prepared to offer it to her and only wanted to ask her to marry him again? I need to understand it from his viewpoint, because it seems like a waste of his valuable time. Also, Lada killed everyone. Some of those killings were unnecessary and made me cringe. One would think that with the trail of bodies she leaves behind her, her reputation would have preceded her into Tirgoviste; I was confused that while the guards were quaking in their boots at seeing her, the boyars treated her like a petulant child. On a side note, I do not approve of Lada using Bogdan to replace Mehmed.

The war was a little monotonous to me. I wish Radu had spent less time fighting and more time scouting and sneaking around, or maybe getting a little closer to Cyprian. I was disappointed that Radu didn’t really build any strong relationships with anyone in this book. He cared for Cyprian in his own head, but he only acted on his attachment briefly, when Cyprian’s life was in danger.

Overall Impression: Predictably, Lada acted without thinking and Radu sacrificed his happiness and safety for a man who couldn’t return his feelings. There was a lot of pain and suffering, but there was also hope and love. Now I Rise had fewer layers than the first book, but more potential, as if it were building up to something. The ending held the promise of a great final installment.

Would I recommend it? I could go either way. I enjoyed this one more than And I Darken, but I felt that there was very little going on for Lada and Radu in their personal lives. They were more soldiers than people, and their growing weariness was palpable.

What I would like to see in the final installment:

1. I was just dying to read some part of this book from Mehmed’s perspective. I hope White either adds him in to the last book or writes a novella from his point of view. Otherwise, I can only guess at his thoughts and motives; he never shares his true reasoning.
2. Lada, for goodness’ sake, learn to be diplomatic. If you just kill everyone you meet, you will have no one to rule over.
3. Radu needs his love life sorted out. That includes talking to Mehmed about his feelings and making amends with Cyprian, provided Cyprian made it out safely.
4. Mehmed, it’s time to give up on Lada. Mehmed is a weakness for Lada, but she will never give him what he wants, so it’s a moot point. And please, stop using Radu for your dirty deeds; he deserves so much more than that.
5. I need Radu and Lada to see each other again. They are polar opposites who truly make a whole when put together.

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Every Day

Every Day (Every Day, #1)Every Day by David Levithan
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

2.5/5 Stars
Author: David Levithan
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Random House
Year of Publication: 2012

Main Character: A (4/5)—I appreciated that A had such a strong sense of right and wrong, even though there were no real consequences for A on a personal level. A was determined to do the right thing and not disrupt anyone’s life, even if it might have been tempting. I did get annoyed with A sometimes, but it was never extreme.
Secondary Characters: The only real secondary character was Rhiannon. I didn’t like her much at first, but I decided to give her a chance anyway. Still, I honestly just didn’t see much in her by the end of the book.
Pacing: The pacing of this book is inherently strange because of the way it is written. But since each day is very different for A, and the people whose lives he occupies are very different, it wasn’t disruptive to the plot. Regardless, this was a very quick read for me.
Accuracy of Publisher’s Synopsis: This synopsis was accurate. It was more of a synopsis of the first chapter than anything, though.
Resolution: I’m disappointed and a little put off by the ending. The answers aren’t necessarily there, but I can clearly see the groundwork for new beginnings. I understand A’s decisions, even though mine would have been a little different.

The Good: Levithan made sure that A encountered a very diverse group of people, so it was great to read about so many different lives and situations in one novel. This was such an original concept, and the exploration of it brought up a lot of thought-provoking questions. A has lived completely alone without another soul being aware of his/her existence. The plot forces A to make personal connections for the first time ever and then navigate the ins and outs of managing relationships and conflicts.

The Not So Good: I have two things about this book that I didn’t like: Rhiannon and A’s sense of self. We’ll start with Rhiannon. She was filled with morals, but remained so inconsistent about what was and wasn’t right that I couldn’t stand her half the time. It’s not okay for A to judge Justin as being a jerk, but it’s perfectly okay for the way she treats A to be contingent upon the attractiveness of the body A is in that day. It’s not okay to invade someone’s body and spend their money to feed them, but it’s perfectly fine to invade someone’s body and use it for sexual activity that they can’t consent to. I don’t understand this girl’s “logic” and I don’t like her. I also can’t comprehend A’s lack of a concept of who they are. I can’t imagine a consciousness existing that is not asexual, but has no sense of gender. It was just confusing to me.

Overall Impression: Every Day was written based on a highly original concept that was executed in a dull, one-dimensional manner. I appreciate Levithan’s perspective and the character he created, but I feel that for such a thought-provoking concept, he did not explore it to its potential. The heavy presence of Rhiannon hinders A’s ability to fully explore the meaning of his/her existence and instead forces A to discover life and develop a self-concept through the scope of his interaction with her. Essentially, the book is more about A learning to make personal connections than the existential questions that inevitably arise from waking up in a different body and life every day. Levithan did not ponder the questions I wanted to explore, so I am left less than satiated.

Would I recommend it? I think this book is a great starting point for a teen looking to explore their identity, understand the world and people around them, and learn how their actions create a ripple effect.

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Frozen Charlotte

Frozen CharlotteFrozen Charlotte by Alex Bell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Author: Alex Bell
Genre: YA thriller
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Year of Publication: 2014

Main Character: Sophie—(3/5). I liked Sophie, but her decisions didn’t always line up with what I thought was the logical answer.
Secondary Characters: The best character in this book was Lilias; she was the most consistent and the most helpful to Sophie. Cameron was decent, but too reclusive and unwilling to participate.
Pacing: Perfection. There was always something happening, even if it was only subtle.
Accuracy of Publisher’s Synopsis: The synopsis is accurate, but the tone makes the book seem a lot less creepy than it actually is. This book was pretty dark compared to what I normally read, but the summary didn’t set that tone.
Resolution: This was one of the best book endings I’ve read this year. Everything came together perfectly for a happy ending to a tumultuous book. I actually got the closure I needed. Everyone who mattered ended up in one piece, the antagonist got hit by the karma train, and the last few pages contained nothing but hope.

The Good: In spite of the creepiness, which is in excess in this book, the plot was compelling and drew me in from the first few pages. The setting couldn’t have been more perfect for the plot: an old schoolhouse that closed under mysterious circumstances right near a cliff on a remote island. The characters were complex and kept me guessing I was so relieved when Sophie began to have a confidant in the house, but I wish it had come sooner. Nonetheless, the story was intriguing and the mystery was unique; it wasn’t a book I had figured out by the third chapter, which was a relief.

The Not So Good: My only true criticism here is that the most important aspects of the mystery unfolded a little too far into the plot. There was plenty of creepy action and Frozen Charlottes galore…but there’s very little information on how all of the tragedies occurred and the involvement of the dolls until the last third of the book. I also wish that there had been more characters and the family had been more helpful to Sophie. They’ve had a lot of strange occurrences at their home. One would think that they’d be pretty open to Sophie’s theories. This book was honestly much creepier than I had been counting on, so that threw me off a bit. The Frozen Charlottes terrified me. Rebecca terrified me. Even the parrot terrified me. But I guess that was kind of the point.

Overall Impression: If you’re seeking a creepy tale to keep you up at night, then look no further. This book is filled with all the classics: angry little dead girls playing with evil dolls and singing haunting music. And it’s all complete with a mysterious family in a remote old house. This book played on all of the classic fears of extraordinary circumstances that will end in at least one person’s imminent doom, but the wheel set in motion can’t be stopped until someone else believes them.

Would I recommend it? I could go either way with this one. I wouldn’t read it a second time, but maybe I would recommend it to someone who has an affinity for thrillers.

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And I Darken (The Conqueror’s Saga #1)

And I Darken (The Conqueror's Saga, #1)And I Darken by Kiersten White
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Author: Kiersten White
Genre: YA
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Year of Publication: 2016

Main Character: Lada—(3/5) She started out as an impressive (somewhat terrifying) heroine. Unfortunately, she got a little lost and I stopped agreeing with her choices. Radu—(4/5) Surprisingly, half of the book is written from his perspective. I sure didn’t mind, as he was more realistic and relatable than his sister, and his choices were wiser.
Secondary Characters: The secondary characters were highly distinct and multi-faceted, as would be expected from a book this complex. And then Mehmed….I’m kind of ambivalent about him. As a young boy, I thought he was sad and lonely, so when he and the siblings developed a charming bond, I was all for it. As they all aged and both siblings became obsessed with Mehmed to the point of abandoning their own goals to stay at his side, I found myself resenting him. Lada and Radu have too much potential to squander their lives fighting each other for a place in Mehmed’s bed (which is apparently somewhere every woman has been. EW!).
Pacing: This book was long and complex. All the same, everything White included served a purpose, which was what kept me engaged.
Accuracy of Publisher’s Synopsis: Misleading, but not inaccurate. Most synopses only focus on the first third or so of the book, but this one skipped the entire setup of the plot. I spent two hundred frustrating pages reading about Lada and Radu as children and wondering when I would hit the main action.
Resolution: I suppose it’s a good starting point for the next installment, but I have to say I was a little disappointed in Lada. She wasted years that could have been spent achieving her own goals instead developing her relationship with Mehmed and sacrificing for him. Then when she finally gets the opportunity to reap the benefits of her new life, to be powerful and rule beside a man who would do anything for her…she does the dumbest thing she ever could and throws that away, too. So now she’s no longer safe or secure and she has abandoned her family. Just when she starts to see the value in moving forward with the new life she chose, she decides to go back to the old one that doesn’t want her.

The Good: Although this book was long, every event had meaning to it. There was no point when I simply wanted to throw the book across the room screaming about senseless chapters filled with unnecessary narration. Every character was important, each act had a consequence, and everything came full circle. I can’t say much bad about this book because the aspects I disliked had more to do with the premise than the plot or the characters. The villains in the book were properly nefarious without being unrealistic; they were just selfish people who had too much power. As for the main characters, I so loved Radu and found both his struggle for purpose and his war against his nature to be heartbreaking and endearing. Lada was fierce, but we got to see the doubt and fear underneath it all. The siblings even managed to maintain their strong family bond in spite of their differences, and they sacrificed so much for each other. For people so young, they were tough and determined in a way most adults never are.

The Not So Good: I understand that the author wanted to retell history. However, when you can take liberties with the social and political realities that defined that time period, it becomes less authentic. Given that, a couple of aspects of Radu’s narrative bothered me because they simply seemed implausible. Firstly, given religious tensions at the time, I find it hard to believe that Radu would so easily be swayed to the faith of a country he grew up watching his family fighting against. I’m glad that Radu found it easy to settle into a different culture and that it gave him the sense of purpose he was missing, but I don’t see how it could have ever happened so quickly and willingly. I also question the prevalence of discussing homosexuality during the time. I doubt that Radu would have come across so many who shared in the same struggle as him and that they would actually admit it. But, I am willing to overlook those couple of confusing points, because there is one thing about this book that made me feel ill. Why on earth was a thirteen-year-old boy hanging around in a harem having sex? There is no explanation that will lessen the disgust I felt when reading about Mehmed and his many women. And the fact that he had two children with his concubines even though he had someone he actually loved within reach repulsed me. I felt terrible for Lada. It cost her so much to admit her love, even indirectly, and he was impregnating other women all the while. I hope things change, because I can’t root for a strong female character to end up with a misogynist.

Overall Impression: This book was complex and has the foundation for a popular series—the kind that gets adapted for a movie or TV show (which I would totally watch). The characters were well defined and resilient, while the plot was rife with shock and controversy. The amount of sacrifices made is not to be believed. I appreciate the historical aspects of the setting, but would like the characters and plot to stay truer to the time. There is so much potential for this series, if it’s played out strategically.

Would I recommend it? Tough question. I wouldn’t say that this book met my expectations. Most books that are this highly publicized are more compelling than this one. However, I do see potential for this series to grow, so I would have to say it depends on where White takes the story.

What I would like to see in the next installment:

1. I would like to avoid a love triangle between Lada, Mehmed, and basically any other character.
2. I really hope Radu either gets the attention he deserves from Mehmed or finds it elsewhere, preferably in someone trustworthy.
3. Lada better get a chance to prove herself on the battlefield. I didn’t spend so many pages reading about her arguing with every man for the right to fight just for her to never see a war.
4. Halil Pasha has to go. I don’t really care how or when, but I am so over him.
5. Radu and Lada need to find identities for themselves that are not derived directly from their relationships with Mehmed.
6. I don’t really want Mehmed to target Constantinople, but I also really would like to stop hearing about it. He either needs to let it go or get it done before the end of the next book.

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