Hello everyone, and welcome back!
Since we’re just starting spring, I thought it’d be a good time to talk to you about some of my best reads from this winter season—and some of the books that disappointed me. In no particular order, because I’m feeling chaotic neutral.
Pretty self-explanatory, so let’s get into it!
History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera
(Obviously with the superior UK cover, because yes.)
I don’t know if I have a ~thing when it comes to books about dealing with grief—no, that’s a lie, I know that I’m inordinately interested in that, and it seems to be a real trend in YA lately.
That aside, this is a heartwrenching YA read about a protagonist, Griffin, who’s dealing with the loss of his ex-boyfriend and ex-best friend, Theo, who has also left behind his new boyfriend, Jackson. (Griffin is also a character with OCD, and it’s nice to see that representation.) This wasn’t a perfect book (none of the books I’m going to list are, to be honest), but it was raw and it felt real: the plot was driven largely by sympathetic characters making not-great but relatable decisions, which was refreshing.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Every once in a while, despite being super hyped, a book manages to not let you down. The Hate U Give is that book.
The Hate U Give was pitched very much as #BlackLivesMatter in book form, which is not inaccurate. It’s the story of Starr, a black teen girl who witnesses the death of a childhood friend and sees the effect of that event ripple across her community—and into her school life at her mostly-white prep school.
Speaking from my own (white) perspective, I thought this was timely, an important read, and a well-told story, although I could’ve used more character development in some spots to make some emotional beats hit home. (More on that in my actual review.) That said, I was really engaged in this novel and cared about Starr’s family so I’d definitely recommend this one.
Scythe by Neal Shusterman
Are you sick of dystopian lit? Yeah, it gets to me sometimes, too. So how about a utopian setting?
Scythe takes place in a future where any kind of circumstantial death has been eliminated—so death is meted out by a human type of reaper, Scythes, to keep the population under control. Our main characters, Citra and Rowan, are two teenagers tapped by a Scythe to train as his apprentices. Only not all Scythes agree on how to mete out death.
This book had some flaws, an over-the-top villain among them, but it was entertaining with good pacing, a great balance of worldbuilding without too much exposition, intriguing characters, solid writing, and some fun plot twists. I’m 100% ready to pick up the sequel.
Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick
This book surprised the heck out of me because it’s a pretty unique read. It’s a set of stories about people meeting over and over again in different times on this one strange island? It’s the type of book I don’t want to describe too much because it’s better to allow it to baffle you and draw you in. It’s at once romantic, a mystery that unfolds, a bit spooky and tense, but also a book about a place. I don’t even know what it is.
But it helped me keep reading during a marathon reading challenge I ended up failing spectacularly, and I still feel like I’ve taken images away from it and can think about it, so that’s something special.
A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas
I keep including this in lists and Instagram posts and whatever, but I must. I cannot remember ever having another experience where a second book so profoundly outclassed the first. (I was more into Catching Fire than The Hunger Games, like most people, but that wasn’t so dramatic a change.)
The lowdown: A Court of Thorns and Roses is, in essence, a Beauty and the Beast retelling. Grittier with faeries and fantasy tropes and war, but yes. A Court of Mist and Fury goes: “Okay, but what happens to Beauty after the ‘end’? How does she feel? What does she want?”
It’s not quite as simple as that (because of course, these books take place in a world where fae and humans hate each other, and the fae are all at odds, and etc.), and there’s a lot more supernatural power stuff and loads of characters and corny sex scenes and so on, but yeah. This book bothers to try to give us a satisfying answer and let Feyre (“Beauty”) figure out who she is now that she’s free from her prior circumstances. And it’s flawed at times, but entertaining for sure.
These books weren’t necessarily the worst, but they let me down this season for various reasons. (Sometimes I rhyme.)
The Beauty of Darkness by Mary E. Pearson
A lot of people were on about how this series gets better and better after The Kiss of Deception, so although I was up in the air about continuing that series or not, I decided to go on. (And after a while, I kind of liked the weird conceit where we couldn’t tell in book one which love interest was who.)
The Heart of Betrayal got me, because it was very mired in Venda as a setting, did some fascinating worldbuilding, and relied on the protagonist’s non-martial strengths (allowing her to shine), but I felt just…not so much about The Beauty of Darkness. There was too much reported speech, the confrontations with villain(s) felt anticlimactic, there wasn’t the same amount of worldbuilding for the other two kingdoms (so their fates being at stake felt less dire), there was a weird pair-off for the rejected love interest, and so on. This conclusion to the trilogy was not my bag.
The Diabolic by S.J. Kincaid
The hype surrounding this was so strong. And I was so excited to get back out into space, because there’s just not enough sci-fi in my constant-train-of-YA-reading life. And I was totally down for the premise of a manmade supersoldier bred and trained to have no feelings having to learn how to pose as someone else and negotiate a subtle world of politics.
This book let me down in so many ways. I defy you to find someone who enjoys the ending of this book. (Okay, harsh. But dang, that ending.) The web of politics was…full of moustache-twirling villains whose actions you couldn’t have followed if you wanted to, because their motivations made no sense and they had no loyalties and whatever. The fight scenes were generally too brief. Good characters who are cool friends for the protagonist disappear and maybe reappear. Just. I wanted to love this, but no.
Caraval by Stephanie Garber
We just talked about this, so I don’t want to spend too long harping, but what happened, Caraval?
You were so hyped. (Admittedly, I’ve never read The Night Circus, so all comparisons of that type elude me. Still, people loved that book. Right?) And there were reviews about your beautiful descriptions, and your plot twists, and your mystery, and your dreamy romance! Surely I could find something within your pages to love, right?
Sadly, no. Not a single dang thing. I guess the pacing kept it going, even if, this one time (well, not just this one time, but as an exception to many books I’ve reviewed as dragging), I would’ve found it totally acceptable to slow down and be contemplative and exposition-providing for a bit. (Since we get thrown into the middle of a fantasy world and a mystery and just keep moving.)
I am very sad, Caraval, and now I have a hardcover to pawn off. I hope you’re happy.
Well, friends, that’s the end of this chapter (and season). Honestly, although I’ve had some letdowns, I feel like 2017 has been decent to me so far? Quite a few books above 2.5 stars (which is, as might make sense out of 5, my middle ground), so that’s all right by me!
I’ll catch you again with some reviews this Friday—and at the end of spring with another seasonal wrap-up. Talk to you soon!