The Candidates

The Candidates (Delcroix Academy, #1)The Candidates by Inara Scott
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Author: Inara Scott
Genre: YA
Publisher: Hyperion
Year of Publication: 2010

Main Character: Dancia—3/5. She wasn’t a bad main character, but I didn’t necessarily connect with her. It happens.
Secondary Characters: Decent. Her friends all have unique personalities. The guys she likes are just different enough from each other for it to work (and they seem more mature than their ages).
Pacing: This book was a little slower than average. I feel like a moderate amount of the plot and writing could have been cut and the flow would have been more captivating.
Accuracy of Publisher’s Synopsis: The synopsis is accurate, but it gives off a completely different vibe from the book. The novel itself is a lot less mysterious and involves very little demonstration of Dancia’s power.
Resolution: Something about this ending just rubbed me the wrong way. I didn’t care for how abrupt it was. There wasn’t much transition from the rising action to the end. I felt like everything ended up like it was supposed to, but the road to get there was anticlimactic.

The Good: The characters are all interesting and developed for this type of plot. I liked Dancia learning to navigate new friendships and learn about herself. There was nothing necessarily wrong with the book, but it lacked that special x factor. Dancia’s power was pretty interesting and useful, although she only used it a few times in the book; I had thought her power would be a major factor. I really liked Esther and Hennie; I found them to be incredibly good friends for Dancia and I’m so glad they stayed supportive of her struggles. I also really liked Dancia’s grandma—she gave some solid advice and not much escaped her notice.

The Bad: I was expecting the plot to be a lot more about Dancia’s powers and her investigating the school’s nefarious intentions, so it was kind of a letdown that it was more about her developing relationships with other people. On a side note, of the three important people, they were all parentless in some way or other and had less than stellar upbringings; that made it really easy to confuse their stories. I had assumed that everyone at the school would have similar abilities, but most didn’t, which was really confusing and misleading. I feel like the author should have added more about the magical aspect and cut some of the events from the beginning to move up the part where Jack actually has something to support his theory. The villains themselves weren’t consistent at all in their malevolence. In fact, they stayed nameless and faceless the entire book and I’m not sure if they were supposed to be villains or what…. And not to spoil anything, but there was a loose end involving some stolen books and we never learned what information was in them.

Overall Impression: I purchased this book years ago expecting the classic Harry Potter–esque story about a girl getting whisked away to a mysterious school to learn about her power. What I got was a big letdown in that department, but the author somehow managed to create interesting characters anyway. They were pretty much the only reason I continued reading once I figured out I wasn’t going to get what I wanted from this book.

Would I recommend it? I wouldn’t go out of my way to tell someone about it, but I wouldn’t tell anyone not to read it.

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Firewalker (Worldwalker #2)

Firewalker (Worldwalker, #2)Firewalker by Josephine Angelini
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Author:Josephine Angelini
Genre:YA
Publisher:Feiwel & Friends
Year of Publication:2015

Main Character: Lily. I liked her less in this book, but she wasn’t completely unlikable.
Secondary Characters: The secondary characters in this were not as well developed. I get that Angelini had a different agenda with this book. Her focus was on everyone understanding Lillian and…Carrick. Why do I need to understand a psychotic torture-loving creep?
Pacing: Slower than average. The first portion of the book was unnecessarily boring. They spent so much time hemming and hawing over details that end up not mattering because everyone just runs back to magical atomic bomb land again!
Accuracy of Publisher’s Synopsis: The synopsis makes it seem like Rowan and Lily spend a long, happy time in Lily’s universe. In reality, it’s probably only a third of the book, which is a lot more about Lily claiming a handful of people, since apparently magic works in Lily’s world. Strange that nobody there uses it besides her….
Resolution: Aside from a character death I didn’t see the purpose of, I am intrigued by the way Angelini left off. It kind of seems impossible, and that’s what makes it so interesting.

The Good: There wasn’t anything particularly good about this book, but it wasn’t all bad either. I liked that Rowan got to live in Lily’s world for a little to learn more about her and that everyone established that Samantha’s issue was not simply mental illness. More than anything, Lily’s insistence upon studying the Woven piqued my curiosity. I feel like there’s something that ties the Woven to the witches who created them, but we’ll see. I think they’re more like tortured souls than pure monsters. I know we’ll solve that puzzle in the next book, so I’m excited. I also kind of liked how Lily ruined Alaric’s plans to radiate the whole East Coast. Shouldn’t the “scientists” understand that it’s not a contained weapon and you can’t punish only the cities without wiping out the nearby Outlanders?

The Bad: This was more of a “sophomore slump.” The way that everything around Lily falls apart and she makes choices out of desperation that she should have taken more time to consider brought back my nightmares about New Moon. Not only does Lily spend a little too much time with Lillian in her head, but she keeps it a secret. However, it isn’t only the knowledge she gains from delving into Lillian’s memories that strains her relationships with literally everyone. Lily’s problem arises as a product of her terror at understanding Lillian’s actions. That’s completely understandable; it would freak me out to get in the head of a monster and actually agree with their motives. But the girl needs to learn how to be a little more diplomatic. You can’t attack people you need or people who can hurt you and then expect it to go well. Of course it’s only after they are about to face life and death that Lily starts to realize that she is really not like Lillian because her choices are completely different. Other than that, I feel like this book had a lot of filler. Lily spent the first like hundred pages of the book helplessly nursing her burns while Rowan did everything for her entire family.

Overall Impression: This one can’t hold a candle to the magic of the first book, but the ending was just enough to make me commit to reading the third one. I stuck it out despite my misgivings and I feel like Angelini owes everyone a happy ending to this series after the torture I lived through Lily.

Would I recommend it? That entirely depends on how the third book goes. After this one, I’m skeptical, but the setup for the next book restored some of my faith.

What I need to see from the final book:

1. Lily needs to chill out and realize that she has no reason to feel guilty about Rowan’s father and just show him Lillian’s memory of the barn already. I’m hoping Rowan can live up to the man he was in the first book.
2. Lillian has got to die already. Lily is so preoccupied with not being Lillian that she can never become her own person if Lillian is still influencing her.
3. Everybody just pick a world and stay there.
4. I hope Alaric gets what’s coming to him. He pretends to be the good guy when really he’s just going to kill everyone.
5. Peace with the Woven. For all her talk about figuring them out, I really hope Lily follows through.

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Love & Gelato

Love & GelatoLove & Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Author: Jenna Evans Welch
Genre:YA
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Year of Publication:2016

Main Character: Lina—2/5. Yikes, this girl needs some maturity.
Secondary Characters: The secondary characters were pretty good people, but none of them really had flaws. Kind of unrealistic, but I’ll still take it.
Pacing: The sassy main character (at least narratively) made the novel entertaining in spots, but half of the book I felt like the story was dragging.
Accuracy of Publisher’s Synopsis: After reading the book, it’s actually entirely inaccurate, but there’s no way to describe how it’s inaccurate without spoiling the entire book. However, the premise is also misleading. I didn’t know that Lina was going to Italy against her will.
Resolution: This one ended how it should have, but just barely. The rising action was heavy and I felt like the grand finale didn’t balance it out.

The Good: I haven’t read many YA books that were set abroad, so I really appreciated Welch’s firsthand knowledge about Italy and its history. Also, I got to learn a little Italian! Although I did have to keep an Internet tab open to a translator to figure out what it meant. The next best thing about this book was Lina’s relationship with Ren. It was cute, although strained at some points due to Lina’s lack of social intelligence. But overall, his affection for her was touching and I liked the influence he had on her.

The Bad: Lina, although bright and brave, has some growing up to do. I realize that she’s only sixteen, but I had a hard time believing she could stand up for herself to keep the people who love her at arm’s length, yet was incapable of defending her mother’s honor. If someone had said to me some of the things people said to Lina about her deceased mother, they would rue the day. The thing that truly bothers me is how rude and disrespectful Lina is to Sonia and Howard. If someone close to you passes, you would normally be grateful to meet someone who knew them and spoke highly of them. And if that person had mementos of them, I think most people would be interested in them. Lina did not handle these situations gracefully. But the biggest confusion for me lies in how a minor who has no legal father and is therefore basically an orphan is allowed to reside in and enroll in school in a foreign country under the guardianship of strangers.

Overall Impression: Once in possession of her mother’s journal, Lina’s entire mission is to learn about her mother’s life in Italy, which is in direct contrast to her initial reluctance to be in Italy at all or spend time with Howard. She becomes increasingly obsessed with discovering why her mother left Italy (although she never seemed curious while her mother was alive). The best feature of this book is the puppy love story between Lina and Ren. The rest of the book is interesting, but somewhat far-fetched.

Would I recommend it? I might recommend it to someone just for the intrigue of learning about Italy.

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Trial by Fire (Worldwalker #1)

Trial by Fire (Worldwalker, #1)Trial by Fire by Josephine Angelini
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Author:Josephine Angelini
Genre:YA
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Year of Publication: 2014

Main Character: Lily—4.5/5. I admired Lily. She was a little annoying about her diet and her stances on science and nuclear power, but I forgave that in favor of her better qualities. She was exactly what I wanted from a good heroine: spirited, brave, and strong enough to overcome her weaknesses.
Secondary Characters: I was totally in love with the secondary characters Angelini created. They had distinctive personalities without drawing the focus from Lily. Juliet was such a sweet, caring person that I wish I could pull her out of her universe and into mine. And Rowan….Rowan speaks for himself.
Pacing: The pacing on this one fluctuated, especially at the beginning.
Accuracy of Publisher’s Synopsis: It was pretty accurate.
Resolution: The resolution here was kind of a sudden development. All of the sudden, they were going into a battle with no warning and hardly any precedent. Overall, it made sense, but I wanted some form of buildup to it and I wondered why there hadn’t been any.

The Good: Angelini put some serious thought into how magic could possibly exist and where the power would come from (though it was a bit much to go into such detail about it). I didn’t like the presence of the Woven, but they were appropriately terrifying. I also really enjoyed the fact that magic was based on the principles of the very subject Lillian hated. Now let’s get to the part that really made the book: Rowan. Lily and Rowan’s relationship is not necessarily traditional. He used to be in love with Lillian, Lily’s self in the alternate universe she is now stuck in. (Even weak and bedridden, Lillian makes a decent enough villain.) Rowan had to overcome a lot of pain to accept his feelings for Lily because of his unfortunate past with Lillian. And I adored him for it. Well, if I’m being honest, I adore him for a lot more than just that. He’s a strong, intelligent, brave hero. Lily is strong-minded and no stranger to struggle, so only someone really capable could make a good match for her. Rowan just happens to be it.

The Bad: I can’t help but think that Lily just having a natural propensity for magic is taking it a bit too far. If she’s really a crucible, then why was she born in a world without magic? Are all people who have allergies actually crucibles? I don’t think Angelini thought that part through. If Lily can use magic in Lillian’s world, why can’t she use it in her own? Can she use it in her own world? It’s just too confusing. And what happened with Gideon in the end was anticlimactic. Had I not been reading thoroughly, I might have missed it entirely.

Overall Impression: I enjoyed this book. The world and concept were pretty unique. I really liked the main characters. Lily was a great heroine and Rowan was nearly perfect; together, they were dynamite. Also, they weren’t perfect people. They both had flaws and worked through them for each other. If not for the fact that the logistics of this world are a bit farfetched and disjointed, I would have had no problems.

Would I recommend it? I think I’m keeping this one. But if the rest of the series disappoints me, I will probably give it up and pretend it never happened.

What I want to see in the next book:

1. Lillian, please explain your maniacal behavior. I would really like to believe there’s a good reason for putting half of your citizens on death row.
2. So Samantha isn’t crazy after all. I would love to find out what she actually knows. Can she help them figure it all out?
3. I really want to see how Tristan reacts to Lily.
4. I need to know more about the magic and how much more Lily has to learn.
5. Rowan and Lily better stay together. I won’t have a repeat of that New Moon garbage in another series.
6. Will Lily be able to use her magic in other worlds? If so, that’s kind of annoying, because she could have been using it all along if it was that easy to learn.

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The Handmaid’s Fail

The Handmaid's TaleThe Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Main Character: Offred. Oh, goodness. I’m not sure how she survived anything she went through to get to her current post at the Commander’s. I understand the choices she made, but she was not the strong heroine I would have liked to see.
Secondary Characters: These people don’t have a terrible amount of depth to them. Then again, I think it was a deliberate move on Atwood’s part that they don’t seem quite as real or human as Offred. No person with legitimate feelings could allow such things to happen around them and maintain a good conscience.
Pacing: I would say the pacing here was average. It skipped around a lot. Despite (and perhaps because of) the choppy chapters, I felt compelled to keep reading just to see what Offred had experienced in her life before.
Accuracy of Cover Description: Let’s just say it wasn’t the best selling point. I bought the book based on what others had told me about it, not the summary.
Resolution: Good or bad, everyone has strong feelings about cliffhanger endings. Personally, I did not think this was the best way to end the novel, but I understood why it was done. It was meant to convey the uncertainty that Offred felt throughout the book until that point. Why provide a cut-and-dried ending for a book that has been anything but?

Favorite Quote: “Better never means better for everyone, he says. It always means worse, for some.”

The Good: The one thing I learned from this book is completely unrelated to the actual book. The entire time I was reading, I could not fathom something so demoralizing and all-encompassing occurring in my country. Even if a group were to plan some sort of coup d’état, there wouldn’t be many people left to rule over by the time they got their way. The one thing I can say for this book is that it had shock factor. I was shocked and sickened by every bit of brainwashing, every law, every ceremony and process.

The Bad: I really expected more from this book. I realize that the book is called The Handmaid’s Tale, and that should have been my warning that Offred’s experience would be all I got and nothing more. I just wish this account had been more comprehensive. I had so many questions about what the world was like outside of Gilead. What did other countries think? What did being an Unwoman entail? Nobody ever really said what had happened to the children either. Besides that, there are so many holes in Offred’s tale. For instance, we know that Offred has had posts other than the Commander’s home, but she never gives us a glimpse into it, even for comparison. There were things I had a hard time believing, such as why the Commander would break the rules he himself made. Offred’s weakness for Nick was what really set me off at the end, though. She was willing to degrade herself and risk her life like a lovesick teenager for someone who probably didn’t feel the same. She was suddenly content with her life as a piece of property/baby vessel so long as she could sneak off to Nick’s bed. Not a proper ending for such a highly touted piece of literature.

Overall Impression: Using a combination of quasi-religious propaganda and patriarchal brainwashing, a group of men supposedly hijacked a country of three hundred million people for the purpose of turning women into pets because they get off on seeing women subservient and powerless.
Keep or Toss? This is not one I will keep. After hearing so many glowing reviews of this book, I am disappointed that it did not live up to the hype.

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The Pearl

The PearlThe Pearl by John Steinbeck

Main Character: Kino (3/5)
Secondary Characters:The secondary characters barely seem to appear.
Pacing:Slow at first, increasing in pace toward the end.
Accuracy of Cover Description: Accurate
Resolution:Shocking, but well executed. Pun not intended.

The Good: Kino was a strong character. I could identify with his frustration and struggles. When he had opportunities stolen from him, I felt his pain. When he was cheated by the pearl buyers, I sympathized with his humiliation and understood his outrage. This book made me feel things that most don’t, especially at the end. Steinbeck expertly depicted the unfortunate transformation that the pearl caused in Kino.

The Bad: I felt very bored by this book. There were moments when the action picked up only to drop off again. I think it could have used less detail and more details about the characters. It just didn’t live up to my expectations of Steinbeck’s work.

Overall Impression: As a Steinbeck fan, I had high expectations when I picked this book up. I was determined to like it simply because it was written by him. Had this been written by anyone else, I might have given up before finishing—a travesty when the book is not even 100 pages. While I learned a bit about culture and hardships faced by a group that rarely gets a nod of recognition for their past suffering, I felt like there was so much more that could have been imparted. Steinbeck showed the struggle and a small glimpse of the solidarity of the community, but that was all.

Keep or Toss? I borrowed this one from the library, but I wouldn’t keep it anyway. I just felt that most of the book could have been cut and nothing would have been missed. It’s not worth keeping a whole book for just a handful of scattered enjoyable pages.

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One Was Lost

One Was LostOne Was Lost by Natalie D. Richards
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Main Character:Sera—5/5. I actually connected with Sera a lot and could relate to her problems. She wasn’t as immature as most characters in the young adult genre.
Secondary Characters: I loved the secondary characters as well. They were compelling, relatable, and realistic—perfectly three dimensional.
Pacing: Amazing! I can’t say enough about how perfectly paced this book was. With short chapters that had compelling endings and an interesting plotline that didn’t let up, I could not put this book down.
Accuracy of Publisher’s Synopsis: Pretty darn accurate.
Resolution: I really liked the resolution. The culprit was exactly who I expected it to be. The characters acknowledged that things would be different between them for having shared in such a death-defying experience, which they proved in the final pages. I do wish that there had been a flash forward to show how the terror they faced in the woods changed them or their relationships, but I can’t say that the ending was necessarily lacking because of where it cut off.

The Good: I don’t usually pick up books that could be classified as thrillers or suspense, but can you blame a girl for wanting to support a local publisher? I took a chance on this one and I was pleasantly surprised! Even when the action let up, the threat of more was always lingering just under the surface. All of the major characters underwent such significant growth that I’ve started to wonder why other authors can’t accomplish what Richards made seem effortless. The writing was so captivating and succinct. Not a single word was superfluous and the flow was flawless. I was so impressed by this book, especially because most other YA books fall short of being remarkable in their writing and/or plotlines. This book is a testament to the fact that a YA novel can be more than just puppy love and clichéd coming-of-age blunders.

The Bad: I’m sure I’m not the first person to say this book is reminiscent of The Blair Witch Project. I really do think that some of the tricks used, like the dolls made of sticks, could have been replaced by something more original. Once I finished, though, I saw that One Was Lost presented a unique twist on a well-known story; the plots had completely diverged by the middle of the book and I found myself much preferring Richards’ tale. One thing I do wish is that there had been more to the beginning of the book instead of being dropped into the middle of the story. The book could have used a little more of a setup and insight into the characters outside of the main four, but the lack thereof only encouraged the mystery.

Overall Impression: This is a captivating thriller that brings out the true nature of the characters involved, breeding intimacy and personal growth. Just don’t read it in the dark or at night….

Keep or Toss? I’m still not sure. I can’t see myself reading this book again, but I don’t know how I can enjoy something and then get rid of it.

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