And on to the second part of this ridiculously long list. Hopefully by this time next year I’ll have some actual reviews up, so I can just link things. Without further ado, though.
Book 18: The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life by T. Altebrando
How I found it: Ollie’s again. Always kind of a crap shoot, always interesting.
Summary: The banned senior scavenger hunt is Mary’s last chance to prove she’s not a nobody, and she’s wiling to do anything to make sure her team wins. Unfortunately her parents are dead set against it, and her little sister is partying at home base, increasing her chances of getting caught. To top it off, half of her team is busy worrying about relationship drama, distracting them from the game, and Mary’s own crush is on a rival team. With tensions running high before everyone leaves for college, the scavenger hunt isn’t the only thing at stake.
Thoughts: This one is actually super cute. On one level, it’s a fairly standard Revenge of the Nerds high school story, but everything about it felt real enough that I didn’t have to roll my eyes at it. There are the standard oppressed losers and jerky jocks, but Mary herself isn’t always a nice person and the novel winds up to an ending that doesn’t force anybody into the typical villain role. All in all, it’s fun, light, high school shenanigans: everything you’d want in a feel-good teen movie in novel form.
Book 19: Red Queen by V. Aveyard
How I found it: I forgot to bring my book to work again. Really need to stop doing that.
Summary: Mare lives in a rigidly divided world. Silvers, with their superpowers, rule over everything, while Reds languor as their servants and playthings. Even Mare and her brothers, for all their cleverness, can’t escape it. They can either wait for conscription to the army to fight the Silvers’ wars or get jobs to work the Silvers’ households. But when, in an accident at her job in the palace, she displays powers herself, Mare is forced to play the role of lost Silver heiress. To survive she must navigate the ruthless court and hide her own red blood, all while keeping her knowledge of a long-brewing revolution from the mind-reading queen.
Thoughts: This book is astoundingly YA, astoundingly tropey, and astoundingly predictable. Characters would show up on page and I would be able to call most of their arcs within sentences. Still, for all of that, it’s surprisingly engaging. It’s hard to defend against the people who hate it for being so generic, because it is, but I like this world and these characters. And besides, if Aveyard is doing what I think she’s doing with it, it’s going to get a lot more interesting soon. The sequel just came out, and I know I’ll probably be picking it up.
Book 20: Brother/Sister by S. Olin
How I found it: Ollie’s again.
Summary: Yes, they know he’s dead. Yes, they were there. Yes, they know something about it. If you’d only let them explain though! It will all make sense, they promise, just let them tell their side of the story. Really, they were only two kids trying to have a normal life. Is that so wrong?
Thoughts: The main thing I remember about this one is that it was surprisingly disturbing for a goofy teen book. There’s no way to get into why without getting into spoiler territory, so if you’re actually planning on reading it, stop now. I got that the novel was about this pair killing people, but from the genre and the summary on the back, I know I thought that most of the deaths would be in some way accidental or due to extenuating circumstances. But no, it’s just these two committing murder because they’re messed up kids, and the end suggests it’s all absolutely deliberate. More than liking it, even, I admire it’s willingness to go there. Definitely not a bad read, but I’m not sure how much of its appeal was in its unexpectedness.
Book 21: Extraordinary by N. Werlin
How I found it: Ollie’s
Summary: Mallory, the strange new girl in Phoebe’s class barely even knows how to dress herself like a human being, but still, Phoebe is intrigued. She makes a first overture at friendship, leading to a years-long connection, a bond that seems completely unshakeable. Unshakeable, that is, until Mallory’s hot and cold, older brother shows up and Phoebe begins to doubt everything show knows about herself, her friend, and her world. There’s a fairy realm that needs saving, but between Mallory and her brother who has the right way to do it?
Thoughts: The most I can say about this is that it in no way lives up to its title. Werlin is trying to do some interesting things the whole “mysterious stranger leads our protagonist into a magical world” idea, but the characters don’t connect and the story rambles a lot. I admire what she was trying to do, but the actual product needed a lot more polishing.
Book 22: The Colossus Rises by P. Lerangis
How I found it: The last of my attempts to figure out what looks least bad on the Walmart shelves for this year. Hopefully my last attempt in general.
Summary: When Jack passes out at school it leads to the strangest week of his life, as he is whisked away to an island hospital with no contact to the outside world. Is this kidnapping? Illegal experimentation? What in the world does the strange white patch on the back of his head have to do with ancient Atlantis? And why is he the only one on the island who seems disturbed to have been stolen away?
Thoughts: Some books for children can be read by adults without problem; this is not one of these books. I spent most of my reading time annoyed for some thing or another, and the only overarching reason I can pin down is that it all seems very, well, kiddish. Which is a thing it’s ridiculous to be angry at a children’s book for. File this one firmly under not meant for me.
Book 23: The Orange Houses by P. Griffin
How I found it: Ollie’s
Summary: Surrounded by poverty and decay, deaf Mik is only happy when she’s drawing, hearing aids turned off and world tuned out. Though she could find a place with them, war refugee Fatima and shell-shocked veteran Jimmy can only drag her into the real world so much. It’s a last step she has to take to truly create something beautiful, but it’s one she has to decide on alone. Unfortunately their little world may not be ready for the three of them working together.
Thoughts: This is really not my sort of book at all: too grounded, too slice of life, too real world issue. I actually really loved it, though. It’s timely, the characters hit home, and in spite of being shorter than two hundred pages it builds its tension beautifully. It’s a nice little novella that feel as much like slam poetry as it does like prose, and it manages to be hopeful and heart-wrenching at the same time.
Books 24-27: The Chronicles of Faerie (Hunter’s Moon, The Summer King, The Lightbearer’s Daughter, and The Book of Dreams) by O. Melling
How I found them: Oh book blogs, will you ever not lead me astray?
Summary: An ancient evil awakens to threaten Faerie, the land of dreams, and as always mortals must quest to save it. Three heroines will embark on their own journeys, one for her cousin, one for her sister, and one for her mother. Their personal successes will begin to rebuild Faerie little by little; each, in working toward her own goal, will help to contribute to the ultimate one.
Thoughts: I really wanted to like this series far more than I did. Classic quests with traditional morally ambiguous fairies, recommended by Holly Black? Sounds right up my alley! But the writing’s a little bland, I couldn’t get into most of the characters, and there are some major pacing issues in all the books. The last one, The Book of Dreams, is a good example. It’s definitely the most interesting mythology-wise: a fluctuating hybrid of legends from each of the groups settled in Canada, meaning you have First Nations animal spirits working with Irish fairies and Chinese dragons and all of the above mixing ideas and traditions. But it’s also nearly seven hundred pages long and drags pretty drastically for it. In terms of enjoyment, the second, The Summer King, was probably my favorite. I was really hoping for more overall, though.
Book 28: Dust City by R. Weston
How I found it: Ollie’s
Summary: Henry Whelp has spent his life trying to work his way out from under the shadow of his father, George, perpetrator of the Big Bad Wolf killings. In fact, he’s spent years in juvie trying to even forget the man exists. So, when his father writes to him claiming to be innocent of the two murders Henry sets out to discover the truth. If that means tracing the crime back to its source and becoming a runner for the same illegal fairy-dust ring his father worked for, well, what can you expect from George Whelp’s son?
Thoughts: In terms of fractured fairy tales, this is more my style than East ever was; it’s a nice retelling and reworking, instead of just an expansion on the original tale. It’s also clever; it takes the typical noir tropes of the fallen state of the world and the jaded investigator and transfers them into a fairy tale setting, giving us a world that’s lost its magic as our stage and a kid that no one had any hope for as our narrator. It clearly knows both genres well, and there are plenty of little references here and there to pick out. It’s entertaining, will keep you reading, and is just as dark as it needs to be, without going overboard.
Book 29: The Liberation of Gabriel King by K. Going
How I found it: Ollie’s
Summary: Gabriel King is a coward, and he’ll be the first to admit it. If he can’t even face cows, how is he supposed to face his worst nightmare, the awful bullies waiting for him in fifth grade? Fortunately his best friend Frita has a plan; they’ll face their fears together and become brave over the summer. Unfortunately, facing their fears may also mean looking into the darkest parts of small-town, 1970’s Georgia.
Thoughts: I picked this up because the cover made it look very much like a slice of life YA novel, and the blurb on the back gave no indication of the characters ages. That is not what this books is. Instead, it’s very clearly another one that is written for eight-year-olds, with all the simple lessons and low stakes that entails, at least for most of the novel. It’s hard to make judgment calls on things like this, because they’re so clearly not for me.
Book 30: The Treachery of Beautiful Things by R. Long
How I found it: Ollie’s. Look, their hardbacks are like three bucks, okay?
Summary: One day, the trees steal Jenny’s brother Tom. Her parents spend months looking for him, thinking she’s crazy, but Jenny saw what happened. Jenny was there. So when, years later, she hears Tom’s favorite song, the one he always loved to play, from inside that same copse, she immediately follows it. Instead of leading her into a small stretch of trees along the road, it lands her in a strange world, a world on the brink of change.
Thoughts: This novel’s version of fairyland is wonderful, a combination of English, Irish, and Shakespearian versions of the myths that even pulls from modern retellings and Norse mythology to do its own thing. It’s kind of a mishmash of every European alternate world, but it all works beautifully together and really feels alien and unique. If only the characters and the plot were as interesting. Those aspects are very typical, though, and very much fall along Twilight lines. If Long had done a little more with them this could have been really great.
So, that was the year in reading. Looking back, it feels like a lot more than it was, even if it wasn’t a bad run. I’ll probably set a similar goal for next year; right now I’m thinking still twenty books, but less YA and popcorn reading. And I’ll be back next week with (maybe) an actual essay! On a singular topic! Until then, happy reading.