Review: Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

Genre: Young-Adult, Contemporary, LGBT, Romance
Pages: 239
Series: None
Release Date: August 27, 2013
Publisher: Knopf Books

5 Stars

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Two Boys Kissing is another gem by David Levithan. Yeah, I’ve only read two other books by him, but I loved those two other book as well. I’m considering that a good sign.

Now, instead of doing the synopsis near the beginning like I usually do, it’s going to be an ongoing thing. I’ll start off by mentioning the narrative because it’s a peculiar one.

The novel is told from the perspective of AIDS victims of the late 1900s, before the disease had been identified and before there was research for medicine. I didn’t initially connect the dots to the history of AIDS, but the narrative is kind of the collective voice of the initial victims, most of whom were homosexual men. AIDS was even called Gay-Related Immune Deficiency (GRID) for a brief period of time.

The story is told in a way that seems as if those men are overlooking the lives of people living now, homosexual men especially, to see how they’re doing. This method of storytelling may not be everyone’s cup of tea but I liked it. It took a few chapters to get used to but it was an interesting, and good, choice.

The book follows multiple characters. The novel’s namesake are two boys, Harry and Craig, and they’re kissing because they want to set the world record for the longest kiss (which is over 32 hours long, by the way). They used to be a couple but they’re not anymore. Their story is them trying to navigate they relationship and, you know, the whole… kissing for 32 hours thing.

Then we have Peter and Neil. They’re a couple and have been for a year. Their parts show us what a normal relationship is like, on a regular basis. It’s not something we get to see often in YA because the stories featured are of the how-they-got-together variety. And I gotta say, while it wasn’t something exciting or dramatic, it was engaging. I loved seeing them together and reading what is possibly one of the most realistic representations of a romantic relationship.

The third pair we have are (is?) Avery and Ryan. They’ve just met and this is the classic meet-cute. And it really is very cute. So we have three pairs in different stages of a relationship.

Last, we have Cooper. He’s on his own, he’s lonely and he’s depressed. He’s trying to figure things out but he has no hope that he’ll ever be okay. His family isn’t the kind to be supportive of his sexuality, and that made Cooper’s story difficult. His narrative (which David Levithan does a fantastic job with) is sad and he will totally make you cry.

Overall, we have four stories that aren’t really connected but still feel like they are thanks to the way the book is written. I found this novel to be beautiful and I highly recommend reading it.

Review: Hotel Valhalla Guide and Camp Half-Blood Confidential, by Rick Riordan

I read Camp-Half Blood Confidential a couple of days ago but I felt weird reviewing just a short companion novel which you can’t even read unless you’ve read eleven other books, so I read the Hotel Valhalla Guide as well and now I’ll review them together.

The genre for both books: Fantasy, Middle-Grade/Young-Adult, Mythology (One Norse, other Greek)
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

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Title: Hotel Valhalla Guide to the Norse Worlds
Pages: 156

Series: Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard
Release Date: August 16, 2016
Rating: 4 Stars

Review:

This is a novella you can read without having previously read anything by Rick Riordan. It contains no spoilers for any of the series. It mentions a little detail about Thor’s hammer which you find out in The Sword of Summer, book 1 of the series, but it’s nothing major in my opinion.

It has a fun and simple narrative, illustrations, and introduces you to Norse Mythology. If you don’t know much about Norse deities (like I didn’t) than this book will help you become familiar with the gods and goddesses, the various creatures, some important stories, and the nine realms. It’ll definitely help when you’re read The Sword of Summer, which also has very little in the name of Percy Jackson spoilers. There’s a Hammer of Thor (book 2) sneak peek at the end, but that you can easily avoid.

So if you’re unsure about reading the series, start with this. You’ll become familiar with the myth and Rick Riordan’s writing. Then you can make your decision.

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Title: Camp Half-Blood Confidential
Pages: 181
Series: …it’s complicated
Release Date: May 2, 2017
Rating: 4 Stars

Review:

Yeah… you can’t read this one if you haven’t read a lot of other book, not unless you want to get spoiled for a whole lot of things. To read this book, I recommend reading the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, the Heroes of Olympus series, and book 1 of The Trials of Apollo series. It just won’t be as fun, or make as much sense, otherwise because there are a lot of easter eggs and details related to those books.

But if you’ve read them, then you can read this just fine. You get a little intro from Percy and he checks in every now and then, but this novella contains chapters and stories from many of the other campers, mainly the Cabin heads.

You also get a chapter from Chiron, interviews with recurring characters and descriptions of all the places in the camp. You get some history on Camp Half-Blood and, in true Rick Riordan fashion, it’s told hilariously. There are illustrations and little tidbits from the orientation film Apollo made for the camp about (I think) a 100 years ago. The orientation film is the reason from the book. It was so bad that the campers decided they needed something better to inform new campers of how things worked.

It’s worth the read in my opinion. But if you’re one of those people who are going to whine about Rick Riordan trying to “squeeze more money out of the Percy Jackson franchise”, just steer clear. Let us others have our fun.

Review: Wild Reckless by Ginger Scott

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Genre: Young-Adult/New-Adult, Romance
Pages: 400
Series: Harper Boys #1 (Standalone)
Release Date: March 17, 2015
Publisher:  Little Miss Write

1 Star

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This is a special-case one star. Usually, my one stars are of the nothing-in-this-book-works variety. But here, it’s a case of one thing bothering me so much that I can’t, in good conscience, give it a higher rating. Even though the writing and story are okay.

The story is told in first person, from the perspective of Kensington Worth, who’s just moved to a small town from the city and is having trouble adjusting without her friends. Her neighbour is Owen Harper, a boy who goes to her highschool and has a bad-boy reputation. He’s trouble, basically. Initially, Kensi and Owen do not get along. But slowly Kensi sees that there’s a different side to Owen, a deep and hurt side. Which is why she simply gets over him being a dick, and the romance kicks off.

As you might be able to tell by the way I phrased the previous sentence, I was not overjoyed. But the problem goes beyond that.

In the beginning, Owen is a total ass and is very mean to Kensi for no reason. Like seriously, we never get a real reason as to why Owen decided to fuck with her especially, other than maybe to move the book along. Boy-meets-girl has to happen some way, right? So what if it makes your male protagonist look horrible?

Anyway, after the little meet-not-so-cute was done and the two could interact without a plot device, Owen was suddenly no longer a douche. He never apologised and that bothered me, but I observed over time that he’s more of an apologetic gesture kind of guy than the traditional ‘saying sorry’ person. I could get behind that. Kind of. And I could get behind him being hot and cold all the time because even though it made me want to hit him, after he really committed to the relationship, he was pretty solid. That’s progress.

All that can be attributed to the character development (for the most part) and that’s not the reason for the one star. The reason is the relationship, mainly from Kensi’s side, because we only read from her perspective. Basically, it was obsessive.

After the first 5-10%, Kensi’s every thought was of Owen. Her thought process was, in a nutshell: Is Owen awake? Is Owen asleep? Is Owen at home? Is Owen playing basketball? Did Owen come to school? Where is Owen, if he’s not at school? Is Owen okay? What is Owen thinking? Is Owen angry? Is Owen sad? Is Owen hurt? Why is Owen not here? Did I accidentally upset Owen? Is Owen mad at me? What’s the expression on Owen’s face? I should go visit Owen. I want to be with Owen. I want to help Owen. I love Owen. Owen is everything. Owen owns me. Owen is this, Owen is that. Owen. Owen. OWEN.

If that’s not obsession, I don’t know what is. All Kensi wanted was to be with Owen and to make sure he was okay. Even when he hurt her, she made excuses for him and found a way to blame herself, that maybe she did something that made him to ignore her. It was very unhealthy. Talking of how he owned her and breaking apart because he was upset with her, I could say it was his fault but it was really Kensi’s obsession.

The whole thing, from how the book started to how the relationship was, it was very Twilight. Which, believe me, is NOT a good thing. Thankfully though, Owen was not a creep like Edward and he definitely did not sparkle. Not even a little bit. Didn’t even use glitter for fake sparkly-ness.

But sparkly jokes aside, the relationship was a problem. It already would have been with how dramatic it was shown to be. But when it got obsessive and took over every other plot point, things got really bad. Kensi was more broken up over an argument with Owen than she was over the whole shit-fest that was going on with her parents. In fact, everything that wasn’t the relationship was simply a plot device to help the relationship along. And to think that this book has gotten so many positive reviews because people think that this kind of toxic relationship is romantic? I truly do worry about people. You know, when I’m not thinking that people suck and should be avoided at all cost.

In the end, we have another long review, but this was necessary. The kind of relationship depicted in this book is unhealthy and people need to see that. There are more important things in life than getting a boyfriend/girlfriend. Spread the word, please.

Review: Caraval by Stephanie Garber

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Genre: Young-Adult, Fantasy, Romance
Pages: 407
Series: Caraval #1 (Can be read as Standalone)
Release Date: January 31, 2017
Publisher: Flatiron Books

2.50 Stars

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Were you to read this novel in one sitting, and very quickly, without giving it too much thought, I’m pretty sure that you’d love it. And I don’t necessarily mean that in a bad way.

This is a novel that’s all about the fantastical aspect and not much about the details. The prose is very pretty and, contrary to what I’ve come to expect from books with pretty (aka purple) prose, it’s not pretentious. The pace of the novel is good and it’s not difficult to be engaged in the story. The author has put a lot of effort into making it magical and unexpected, and it shows. This is not a book that you would want to put down. But if you do put it down and just think about it for a while, the magic start to flicker and fade.

Seriously, if you’re invested, you might not even notice that there’s absolutely no world-building to be found other than a few short paragraphs about conquered isles, that I barely remember. We’re never told what really happened. But before I get into that…

Caraval is a circus/carnival of sorts, but more of a game. In the beginning, it’s mentioned that the Caraval only takes place once a year and at one place, one time. It’s a magical game that, if you win, you get a prize. The protagonist has wanted to go there her entire life. Wanted it almost as much as she wanted to escape her cruel father, with her sister. When she finally gets that opportunity, she has to decide whether she’s willing to risk her father’s wrath to go.

Obviously, she does reach the Caraval. There, it turns that the game is to find her sister, who’s been kidnapped. Dun dun dun…

Caraval is on an island. What that island is, we don’t know. How come one person owns and controls it, we don’t know that either. We don’t know anything, really. Like if the island is such a huge secret, how do people know of its existence? What’s the story of the island? What about the people of the island? If the Caraval master owns a fucking island, then why does the Caraval travel at all? Does it even travel? Because after those first few chapters, no one even mentioned the travelling part. Basically, the book is a stereotypical blonde; very pretty, but with no real substance.

And I can’t help but think that the author was trying to achieve what Erin Morganstern did with The Night Circus. It feels so much like it. But where the Night Circus was truly beautiful and magical, this is ephemeral.

The characters too, not much to them. The MC, Scarlett, didn’t have much of a personality beyond worry for her sister and fear of her father. Other times, she is what the plot demands her to be. Julian, the love interest, is the typical bad boy with heart of gold, who has secrets. He’s the love interest. The sister, Tella, I fucking hate. I can’t tell you why (NO SPOILERS!). But I just LOATHE her and all the shit she pulled, which Scarlett just overlooked.

The plot could have been interesting. It involved looking for, and solving, clues to win the game. But the clues were all solved by accident. There was no brain-work to be seen.

The romance, I felt, had a good starting point. But it became a rushed, insta-lovey mess very soon. The final 10-15 percent I hated. The were many character motivations and revelations that were very stupid. The epilogue was… intriguing, but enough to read the sequel? I can’t say for sure. It’s not coming out until next year anyway so I don’t have to decide right this second.

Overall, this wasn’t a novel that particularly bothered me (other than the shit with Tella) and I did enjoy it in a superficial way, but I can’t recommend it. It’s not very good. Honestly, read The Night Circus.

Review: The Hammer of Thor by Rick Riordan

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Genre: Middle-Grade/Young-Adult, Fantasy, Mythology (Norse), LGBT+
Pages: 471
Series: Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard #2
Release Date: October 4, 2016
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

5 Stars

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You know those rare moments when you’re in the mood to read a very specific kind of novel and then you find it and read it and everything is completely awesome? Yeah, that happened to me, and I can’t tell you how great it feels.

You see, I saw a map somewhere and there was a place labeled ‘Bali’ on it. That made me think of the Bali from Norse myth (Norse mythology doesn’t have a Bali; his name is actually Balder; Loki killed him) which made me want to read a very specific type of Norse mythology-related book. Then I realized that I hadn’t read Hammer of Thor yet so, on a whim, I paused my current read and picked this one up. Cue the best one and half day of the month. I never wanted the book to end.

It did end, obviously, and now I have to wait for the next, and last, book of the series, but that doesn’t take away from how much I enjoyed reading it.

The book picks up six weeks The Sword of Summer ended. Magnus has had time to adjust to being an undead warrior and has had some training. But while he was acclimating, bad stuff was still going down in the nine realms. Loki is up to his evil schemes again (when is he not?) and the giants are preparing to invade Midgard. The only way to stop them is with Thor’s hammer, which is still missing. So Magnus has to find the hammer before the giants destroy the world, while dealing with whatever Loki is up to. Easy peasy, right?

Yeah… not so much. But he’s gonna try his best. And he, of course, has lots of help. The old gang is back together!

We have Blitzen and his fashion expertise, Hearthstone with his rune magic and his uncanny ability to make everyone want to “wrap him in a blanket and shield him from all the bad in the world” (that’s a quote from a comment left on my Sword of Summer review on GR), and Samirah with her Valkyrie brilliance. There’s also a new character, Alex, but I want you to get to know this character yourself, so I won’t comment.

But yeah, everyone’s on a mission, the narrative is fun and hilarious as always, the characters are wonderful, the pace is relentless and the story is endlessly engaging. On top of that, Loki is so freaking awesome. I mean, he’s evil but he’s so clever that you can’t help but love him even though you kinda hate him too.

So, if not for all else, read the book just for Loki …And Magnus’s haircut. I don’t why, but I can’t get over the fact that Magnus got a haircut and Thor got one as well in the upcoming movie, Thor: Ragnarök); so now, in my head, Magnus looks like a younger Chris Hemsworth. I know that’s not relevent to the novel but it just keeps popping up in my head. My head’s weird.

Overall, I realize that half of the review was just me rambling but I’m hoping it was enough to convince you (if you even need convincing) to read the book. If not, read it anyway.

P.S. I forgot to mention Jack, the talking, flying, and singing sword, who is totally get back into the dating scene in this novel. You can’t miss that.

Review: This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab

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Genre: Young-Adult, Fantasy, Dystopian, Paranormal
Pages: 464
Series: Monsters of Verity #1 (Duology)
Release Date: July 5, 2016
Publisher: Greenwillow Books

4 Stars

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I have recently become a huge fan of Victoria Schwab (aka V.E. Schwab), so I had certain expectation when it came to this novel. And I have to say, it didn’t disappoint.

Before I start the review, I just wanna get it out there that there’s no romance in this novel. The author said this very specifically before the release because usually, even when the romance isn’t the main plot, it’s still there. In this case, there is none of it. And while I love romances, it’s kinda refreshing to go into a YA novel knowing there will be no romantic arc. I liked it.

That aside, it took some time to really get into the book. There was a new setting, two protagonist, the history of the city and the country, as well as explaining how the monsters worked. The first quarter, for me, was slow going. I wasn’t invested in the characters yet and the world was unveiling slowly. I had to push those chapters. But after that, things went smoothly.

The city of Verity is like Gotham. There’s a lot of crime. But instead of Batman saving the day, the crimes of the people manifested into literal monsters. Like, you kill someone and few hours later, a monster pops up at the scene of the crime.

Kate Harker and August Flynn are the heirs to the divided city of Verity. August is a monster who wants to be human. He wants to help his father protect innocent people. Kate wants to be just like her father, who lets monsters roam free and makes people pay (money; no blood or revenge plots) for his protection against them. When the chance arises to keep an eye on Kate, who’s just been kicked out of her sixth boarding school and returned home, August jumps at it. But Kate discovers August’s secret, and after a failed assassination attempt the pair must flee for their lives.

And yeah, I took some of the synopsis from Goodreads. I tried to make it short but this is about as short as it gets. It’s a unique world.

Now that I’ve gotten that out-of-the-way… I love the book. After getting through the difficult chunk in the beginning, I couldn’t put it down. The world is endlessly fascinating, thanks to Schwab distributing information throughout the novel instead of writing a bunch of exposition scenes.

Kate and August are both very different, and their contrasting personalities pull you in. And then seeing them both grow keeps you hooked. August needs to learn to accept himself as a monster and Kate needs to realize that maybe wanting to be just like her father is not the best idea. And seeing their relationship develop is the best. August is a good, but he’s also a monster; Kate is human, but her father is an evil maniac. Safe to say, trust does not come easy.

The book is beautifully written, has a great plot, great world-building, awesome characters and is one that I hundred percent recommend. I’m quite excited to read the sequel, Our Dark Duet (which came out today!). You should definitely give this one a read.

Review: The Love Interest by Cale Dietrich

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Genre: Young-Adult, Contemporary, Romance, LGBT
Pages: 384
Series: None
Release Date: May 16, 2017
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends

3 Stars

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This book is set our world, but it features a secret organization that trains teenagers (since they’re little kids) to be Love Interests. Each person that’s likely to be important in the future is given two Love Interests, one Nice, and one Bad, boy. Caden and Dylan are sent to win the heart of Juliet. The one who loses will die. They’re both very determined to stay alive but things take a complicated turn when they start to fall for each other.

And I just want to take a moment, before I have to get into the review part, to appreciate how cool this synopsis is. I mean… just… I loved this book before I even read it, that’s how much I adore the premise. And for about two-thirds of the novel, things were going good.

I loved the premise, like I said, and the way the author played with the various YA tropes. For example, Dylan is the “tortured-soul Bad” and they have set pieces for situation where girl gets attacked by thugs and the boy comes in as the knight-in-shining-armour or for when the girl meets the boy for the first time, where she stumbles, falling into the boy’s arms. It’s all so awesome. And we finally find out why so many boys in YA novels have green eyes! They’re probably all Love Interests whose eye colours have been altered.

The pace of the book, for the most part, is good and so is the writing. Where the pace falls short is toward the end when things happen way too fast and easily.

The writing falters at the same moment or, to be exacts, in scenes involving action. Normal conversation or internal contemplation scenes are fine, but when we need a scene packed with emotion or one that demands a sense of danger or urgency, it falls flat. That was the reason the end of the novel was a big disappointment. I was tempted to cut the book some slack because it’s very difficult to find a standalone of this variety, but I couldn’t do that. Technicalities are important.

If you’re going to base a novel on an organisation, then you need to flesh out the details and working of said organization. And if you’re going to show this organisation to be so difficult to defeat, them it can’t be so freaking easy to break in to! You need to show danger and you need to show us how and why this organization has been functioning without a hitch for centuries. On top of that, the ending was so dissatisfactory and… convenient. Some of the character motivations were also unexplained, and side characters were not given the time they should have.

Then the epilogue happened, which did nothing to tell us of the consequences and aftermath of the ending and… things fell apart. There was too much that couldn’t be overlooked.

In the end, this is a novel that had a lot of potential and could have easily become a favourite, but due to the poor execution of many of the crucial aspects, it did not. I still think it’s worth a read for the good parts but you shouldn’t expect much or take it too seriously.