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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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.


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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