Review: The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas

The Hate U GiveThe Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After reading this book, I can certainly see what all the uproar is about. ‘The Hate U Give’ addresses the very sensitive issues of race relations and police brutality in a time when the nation is torn over these issues. Most of my friends are at one extreme or the other when it comes to the #Blacklivesmatter movement. Since I don’t want to incite an online mobbing, I’m going to do my best to avoid that movement specifically, while sharing my thoughts and opinions on this wonderful book.

First of all, this is a very moving story. It centers on a teenage black girl, Starr Carter, who leaves her crime-riddled neighborhood each day to attend an affluent school across town. In both settings, she feels a need to conform to the social norms. This means that she lives a double-life of sorts — she has one persona with her black family and friends in her neighborhood and another one with her wealthy, predominantly white, friends from her school.

One night she attends a party in her neighborhood that turns violent. After leaving the party with her childhood friend, Khalil, her life and her community is forever changed. A routine traffic stop turns tragic when an unarmed Khalil is repeatedly shot by a police officer after failing to follow police instructions.

The events of that night serve as the spark that sets off an explosion. Starr’s neighborhood has a long-standing animosity for the police, citing multiple instances of police brutality and harassment. The death of Khalil is only the latest in a long line of atrocities.

Begrudgingly, Starr is forced into the center of a media feeding frenzy. Part of her wishes that she could just hide and return to her “old” life, while another part wants to be brave and stand up for what she believes is right. She was in an extremely difficult situation for a young girl.

Although she initially tries to remain anonymous, as the sole witness of Khalil’s murder she eventually speaks out publicly. Doing so, Starr learns a lot about herself and the people that she surrounds herself with. Some will stick around to support her, others will reveal that they were never really who she thought they were.

While this book certainly highlighted the issue of police brutality against blacks, there were several other takeaways for me. I applaud the author for not shying away from other issues that are controversial. For example, racism – against multiple races – was prevalent throughout this story. I appreciated that the author was forthcoming in addressing this topic, even knowing that it would likely be controversial. Two wrongs don’t make a right. Racism is still racism and it is wrong, regardless of the race.

Although I did find the danger of Starr’s neighborhood to be exaggerated, the author also highlighted the issue of violent crime, drugs and gang warfare. Several times, there were drive-by shootings or other crimes committed in Starr’s neighborhood by the residents against the residents. It was sad and the author did a good job of highlighting this issue/cycle of violence.

One notable, older man in the story commented on this and I couldn’t have agreed with him more. There was a lot of senseless violence and crime in Starr’s neighborhood. As he said, the government needn’t look further than that neighborhood to find a real terrorist. The people lived in fear, not only of the police, but of the crime lord in their midst.

The conflict in Starr’s family over whether to stay in the neighborhood, despite the danger, or move to a safer neighborhood, also was enlightening. There were a lot of mixed feelings and a sense of betrayal that accompanied her parent’s desire to “better” their situation and that of their children. It reminded me of that saying about crabs in a bucket, always trying to pull one back in before they can get out. There was certainly plenty of pressure and resentment, both within and outside of her family where this was concerned. They had to balance their desire to improve their situation against the repercussions of being viewed as sell-outs. The same was true for Starr’s uncle, who was a police officer.

Overall, this was a wonderful book. I’d definitely recommend it to others, regardless of their views. It provides plenty of food for thought and raises awareness of several important social issues.

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Review: The Iron Daughter (The Iron Fey, #2), by Julie Kagawa

The Iron Daughter (Iron Fey, #2)The Iron Daughter by Julie Kagawa
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The second book in ‘The Iron Fey’ series, ‘The Iron Daughter’ definitely had my attention from start to finish. I’m a sucker for angst and emotional pain in my romances. This book was jam-packed with both. However, it also had a healthy dose of action for the adventure junkies out there.

‘The Iron Daughter’ begins with Meghan in captivity at the Winter Court. Ash has transformed into someone unrecognizable, denying any feelings for Meghan and turning his back on her. As his antics become crueler, Meghan is forced to come to terms with the possibility that she never really knew Ash at all.

Appearances aren’t always as they seem though. This is a lesson that Meghan learns time and time again as she attempts to navigate the politics and manipulative games of the Winter Court. The sadistic tendencies of the court members may be the only thing that Ash was fully honest about.

As you can probably guess already, Queen Mab played a much more significant role in this book. Prince Ash’s brothers were also introduced, making the story more multidimensional. Each has their own motives for their actions and their own agenda. The same is true for multiple characters in the Winter Court that also enter the picture during this book.

Eventually, all hell breaks loose. Meghan and Ash are thrust back together by circumstance. Ash is faced with the same feelings of betrayal that Meghan had been forced to cope with when the tables are turned on him. There’s nothing quite like the harsh sting of betrayal to put things in perspective.

While there was plenty of angst and adventure to keep me engaged, I’d be lying if I said that there wasn’t something that drove me crazy with this series. This series featured one of my biggest pet peeves in a story, beginning in the first book and only becoming more pronounced in subsequent books–the “perfect, dead ex-girlfriend”. Every time I heard Ariella’s name I wanted to scream, “Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!”. Seriously! Who can compete with the beautiful ex-girlfriend that is canonized upon death? Nobody – that’s who!

In spite of the infuriating fixation with the dead ex, I still found this book to be a fantastic read overall. Aimed toward a younger audience than most of my book choices, I was able to listen to this story with my kids. Other than a few “mild” naughty words (no f-bombs or anything), there was no content that was concerning or too controversial for them to hear. In fact, it was kind of provided some insight into my fifth-grade daughter’s blossoming interest in boys. I’ll just say that I wasn’t the only one in the car that was sick of the repeated mentions of the “perfect” Ariella.

As expected, the book doesn’t offer a lot of resolution. One adventure comes to a close and readers are primed for another one to begin. Luckily, I didn’t start this series until all of the books had been released so I was able to jump into the next one immediately. Otherwise, the wait might have killed me.

I listened to this book in the Audible format and I have to say that the narration was superb. I really enjoyed the voices for each character and the emotional responses of the characters was almost tangible. If you’re an audiobook listener, I’d definitely give this audiobook a shot.

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Review: Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor & ParkEleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wow! There was so much about this book that I really loved. ‘Eleanor & Park’ was touching and beautiful in it’s simplicity. This book captured the essence of first love and the perils of high school, while also tackling some serious issues, like abuse.

I listened to the Audible version and I have to give kudos to the narrator(s). The narration was extremely well done. The voices of the characters really drew you in and made you feel like you were right there in the moment with the characters. It says a lot about the narration when it can pull you into a story so completely.

As I was listening to this story, my heart broke for Eleanor. She had such a horrible home life and her school life wasn’t any better. The poor girl couldn’t escape bullying wherever she went. I felt so bad for her as she tried to navigate her difficult teenage years while trying to stand proud in the face of such cruelty. She was so smart, but trapped by the life she was dealt.

Park’s life stood out in stark contrast to Eleanor’s. He was raised in a home that was pretty much “ideal”. Of course, he had the typical teenage concerns and conflict with his parents. However, his petty problems only served to highlight how fortunate he was to have loving parents when contrasted with Eleanor’s reality.

Although Park initially avoided any association with Eleanor, succumbing to peer pressure, he eventually opened up to the girl that sat beside him on the school bus. That took a great deal of bravery on his part. Let’s face it, teenagers can be very cruel. Park risked joining Eleanor at the bottom of the social hierarchy when he decided to go against the grain and be kind to her. Little by little, they formed a friendship. Eventually, that friendship grew into more.

Park became the single most positive part of Eleanor’s daily life. He was the only person that showed her concern and treated her kindly. As the two grew closer, his family also served as a safe haven for Eleanor. For these reasons, I grew to love Park also.

This is a coming of age story and a story of first love. Rainbow Rowell managed to transport me right back to high school. Everyone who has been a teenager can relate to the experiences and emotions of these characters. This is the type of story that serves to remind us of the consequences of our actions and the effect of our words.

From start to finish, I was enthralled with ‘Eleanor & Park’. I was sure that this would be a 5-star read for me right up until about the 90% mark. Then, the story ended rather abruptly and I was left wanting. I couldn’t believe that the author that wrote such a beautiful story would end it in that way. It just didn’t seem fair or right. After everything, I was furious to see it close in the manner it did.

Overall, it was still a fabulous story. I won’t lie. I hated the way that the story ended. I just don’t need my fiction to be that true to life.

In fairness, the ending doesn’t seem to be an issue for most of my friends that have read this book. For me, it was upsetting enough to knock a star off the rating. The ending wrecked me and I went in search of a second book or an extra something that would provide closure. It didn’t happen and I’m still reeling. So, I loved it….right up until the ending.

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Review: Lost and Found (Lost and Found, #1), by Nicole Williams

Lost and Found (Lost and Found, #1)Lost and Found by Nicole Williams
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

‘Lost and Found’ was a sweet, heartwarming story that ended up being a pretty good way to pass some time. This book tells the story of Rowen Sterling, a troubled teenage girl that has spent years acting out. She has used drugs, alcohol and sex to try and get her deadbeat mother’s attention to no avail.

When Rowen’s mother has finally had enough of Rowen’s antics, she sends her to the home of an old friend in Montana. Rowen has never met the Walker family before, but she will be spending the summer on their ranch. It is about as far from Rowen’s normal life in the city as possible, but she begrudgingly agrees to go or else her mother will not pay for her to attend art school in the fall.

Right from the start, I noticed that there was a contradiction between who Rowen was supposed to be and who she actually was. From the moment that she arrived on the ranch, she was considerate and respectful. She immediately fell into the routines of the Walker family and pulled her own weight. She was a far cry from the rebellious hell-raiser that she was supposed to be.

In very little time, Rowen and the Walker’s son, Jesse, have caught each others’ attention. While Rowen was supposedly the “bad girl”, Jesse was a total sweetheart. He was hardworking, good looking and the type of guy that parents want their daughter to date. It was hard not to love Jesse.

As Rowen and Jesse’s summer romance takes off, Jesse’s past comes back to haunt them. His ex-best friend and his ex-girlfriend add a little drama to this story. Both Jesse and Rowen have to fight their insecurities at every turn.

When Rowen’s mother shows up on the scene, all hell breaks loose. To say that her mother is nurturing is putting it mildly. Rowen’s mother has spent years selfishly placing the needs of her revolving door of boyfriends above the needs of her own daughter. She is selfish and shallow. Suddenly, it becomes very apparent why Rowen had been acting out at home.

Overall, this was a nice, sweet story. If you’re in the mood for a heartwarming, YA type of romance, this is a pretty good choice. This can easily be read as a standalone, although it is part of a series. You won’t be left hanging. It will leave you with warm fuzzies.

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Review: Defy (Sinners of Saint, #0.5), by L. J. Shen

Defy (Sinners of Saint, #0.5)Defy by L.J. Shen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ever since reading ‘Vicious’, I have been looking forward to reading the story of Jaime and Melody. I love a forbidden love story and says “taboo” like a student-teacher romance. ‘Defy’ was everything that I had hoped for. I devoured this quick read and all of it’s naughty goodness!

After her dream career as a dancer comes to a tragic end, she is forced to pursue a lackluster job as a high school Literature teacher. With no real interest in teaching, she is less than enthused to face the spoiled rich kids than run the elite school where she’s been hired on a whim. It is no mystery to her that she doesn’t belong there and that the Principal intends to fire her at the first opportunity that she gets. With her job on the rocks, Melody Greene does the unthinkable – she has an affair with her high school student.

Of course, Jaime isn’t just any student. He’s the Principal’s out of control son. It seems that both teacher and son have an axe to grind with the Principal. What better way than by having an illicit affair right under her nose?

While this novella was steamy and sordid, with a dose of forbidden, it was also surprisingly sweet. L. J. Shen did a good job of showing the softer side of Jaime, while staying true to the privileged, above-the-law young man that we were introduced to as one of the four Hotholes in ‘Vicious’. There were really two sides to Jaime that were in stark contrast to one another.

Melody also proved to be a character that I really liked. She was so very human and flawed that she was easy to sympathize with. She was not blind to her faults or Jaime’s, but she loved him anyway. I loved that she chose to embrace her forbidden desires, pursuing a relationship with Jaime, knowing the controversy that would result. Similarly, I love that Jaime had the spine to stand up to his parents, even though it meant losing the wealth he’d always known.

Overall, I thought that this was a fantastic novella. It was a steamy, short read and highly entertaining. If you enjoyed ‘Vicious’, or even if you didn’t, this is a great choice if you’re looking for a taboo, forbidden love story.

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Review: My Skylar, by Penelope Ward

My SkylarMy Skylar by Penelope Ward
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Once I finished ‘Jake Undone’, I had to start ‘My Skylar’ to get Skylar’s story. This book can be read as a standalone, but reading ‘Jake Undone’ will provide a brief introduction to Skylar and a little insight into her background. Similarly, you’ll have the backstory for Jake and Nina, Skylar’s super-supportive friends, if you’ve read that book first. However, it is not necessary to read ‘Jake Undone’ first to understand and/or enjoy ‘My Skylar’.

Skylar and Mitch meet when they are young children. Mitch’s grandmother lives across the street from Skylar’s family. He comes to stay with his grandmother one summer while his parents split up.

The two find that they have a lot in common, despite their separate upbringings. In no time at all, they become best friends. They spend every waking moment with each other, until Mitch has to return to his home.

When Mitch’s father shows up unexpectedly early to pick him up, he is surprised. He is only more surprised by the news that his parents are getting divorced. As a young boy, the demise of his parent’s marriage has shook his belief in the foundation of marriage. He even questions the permanence of “love”.

Skylar does not hear from Mitch for years. As a teenager, she hears his name at a party and immediately the memories come back. She has never forgotten the boy that walked into her life all those years ago, even if he seemed to have forgotten her.

When Mitch returns as a teenager to live with his mother in his grandmother’s home, Skylar and him pick up their friendship where they left off. It is almost like he never left. Only, now there is a definite sexual attraction brewing between the two.

This was a story that delivered a ton of angst and teenage melodrama. There were several times that I found myself wanting to shake Mitch and Skylar. So much heartache could’ve been avoided if they had only been open and honest with each other. It was incredibly frustrating at times, as they danced around each other ignoring the elephant in the room.

Along the way, the story takes a few unbelievable twists. I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy the story, but I did think that some of the twists were over-the-top. Skylar and Mitch were dramatic enough without having some of the extra twists in my opinion. I kept thinking “What else?”. It was like the universe was working to keep these two apart.

This story follows Mitch and Skylar’s relationship from childhood into adulthood and there are plenty of angst-filled moments along the way. They are together, then they aren’t. They’re inseparable, then they’re estranged. It was enough to give me whiplash at times.

Despite all of the back and forth, I found myself glued to my headphones while I listened to their story. It was angsty and over-the-top, but I loved it. My heart broke at times, but it worked out perfectly in the end. I recommend this story for anyone that loves a HEA, but isn’t afraid to work for it or cry a few tears along the way.

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Review: Undo Me (The Good Ol’ Boys, #3), by M. Robinson

Undo Me (The Good Ol' Boys, #3)Undo Me by M. Robinson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The third book in ‘The Good Ol’ Boys’ series, ‘Undo Me’ is the story of Dylan and Aubrey. These two had one of the most tragic and complicated stories that I’ve ever read. Never have I wanted a couple to get their HEA so badly. As I listened to their story, I hurt for them. They deserved some happiness after everything they went through.

While reading ‘Complicate Me’, I was sure that I had figured things out between Dylan and Aubrey. In fact, I wasn’t even sure that I wanted to read this book because I was so sure that I already knew how things would play out. I was so wrong. ‘Undo Me’ was so much more than I expected.

Of all the “Good Ol’ Boys”, Dylan was the one that I felt least connected to at the onset of this book. He was kind of just the player in the background in the first two books. He was dating Aubrey…then he wasn’t. He went from the dedicated boyfriend to a manwhore, seemingly overnight, without any explanation. I didn’t know why, but it was off-putting to me.

My questions were answered in this third book. Finally, I know what events led up to the downfall of Dylan and Aubrey. Now that I know, I can say that my perception was completely inaccurate.

I had expected this book to be the “shallowest” of the series. However, I was greatly mistaken. This book was the most emotional and dealt with the “heaviest” content in the series to this point. I don’t want to give too much away, but if you’ve read the first two books in the series, you already know that abuse is going to be addressed. It doesn’t stop there. This book will gut you.

This book would’ve been a 5-star book for me, if it weren’t for the fact that it got so far-fetched toward the end. Don’t get me wrong. It was a great story. However, some of the events toward the very end were a bit too convenient and far-fetched for me.

Overall, it was a deeply emotional read. I would recommend this book if you’re looking for something angsty and touching. Keep your tissues handy, but rest assured that things will work out eventually. It doesn’t come easy for this couple, but they get there in the end.

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Review: City of Bones (The Mortal Instruments, #1), by Cassandra Clare

City of Bones (The Mortal Instruments, #1)City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I continue to work my way through the audiobooks sitting on my Audible shelf. ‘City of Bones’ had been sitting there for quite some time. I thought a paranormal story would be a nice change of pace, so I dived in.

Unlike many of my friends on Goodreads, I haven’t seen the movie and I didn’t read any of the fan-fiction. In fact, I was surprised to find out that there was a fair amount of controversy surrounding this book. Apparently, a lot of people feel pretty strongly about this book/series.

Since I was blissfully unaware of the controversy, I can say that it didn’t impact my listening experience. That being said, I don’t read a large amount of paranormal/fantasy books. Readers that are partial to this genre will undoubtedly pick up on things that I didn’t.

For me, this magical world of Shadowhunters, vampires, werewolves and fae was intriguing. I thoroughly enjoyed Clary and the other characters. Although there were some predictable parts, there was enough mystery and suspense to keep my attention.

I tend to listen to my audiobooks while I’m doing other things around the house or driving to work, etc. For that reason, I try to pick books that are straightforward and easy to follow. At times, this book became too complex to multitask and I had to “rewind” a few times to reorient myself.

Overall, I thought this was a great story. I enjoyed the world the author created and the characters that were introduced. I look forward to reading more of this series in the near future.

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Review: Vicious (Sinners of Saint, #1), by L. J. Shen

Vicious (Sinners of Saint, #1)Vicious by L.J. Shen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I first started seeing the fantastic reviews for this book from all of my friends, I have to admit that I was a bit skeptical. After all, I was one of the oddballs that didn’t love ‘Blood to Dust’ like most of my friends did. I wasn’t sure if maybe this just wasn’t the author for me. Luckily for me, my curiosity won out.

While I may not have fallen in love with ‘Blood to Dust’, ‘Vicious’ was a fantastic read for me. This book had one of the biggest a**holes ever to grace the pages of a romance novel…and I couldn’t get enough! I could not believe the stuff that this guy did!

On the other hand, Emilia, was one of the kindest and strongest heroines that I’ve ever encountered. I absolutely loved her inner-strength and her self-awareness when it came to her weakness for Vicious. She didn’t deserve his cruel treatment, but she endured it incredibly well.

Emilia’s parents take a job working for Vicious’ parents when she is in high school. He is the spoiled, but neglected, rich kid. As he frequently points out, she is the “Help”.

From their very first meeting, Vicious makes it a point to make Emilia’s life a living hell. He bullies her relentlessly, even as he is somewhat protective and possessive. She is his to torment and he makes it known.

When Emilia begins dating one of his closest friends, Vicious steps it up a notch. He is outraged at the defiance of Emilia and Dean, used to being in control of everyone and everything around him. Emilia is essentially ran out of town by Vicious and doesn’t see him again until their paths cross again a decade later.

From the start, I was intrigued by the relationship between Emilia and Vicious. There was a constant push and pull between the two of them, and a playfulness underlying their adversarial actions. Vicious, in particular, left me feeling confounded.

This story is a slow-burn and the history between the main characters is well-developed. I appreciated the thoroughly thought out back-story and the slow build-up of anticipation. I loved the pace that this story moved at.

As Vicious’ past comes to light, I grew to understand his actions a little better. Don’t get me wrong, he did some inexcusable things. However, it was hard to view him as a monster after everything he’d endured.

When Vicious screws things up – and he does, of course – Emilia makes him really work for forgiveness. You know how I feel about the necessity of groveling, and grovel he does! Emilia is no pushover and she’s been at the losing end of his games one too many times.

The only thing that I could’ve lived without was the whole pen-pal connection. It felt a little too similar to ‘Punk 57’ for me, especially when combined with the high school bullying theme, and I didn’t think it added much to the story. Both of these books were released so close together, that they were probably being written during the same period of time. However, the similarities were noticeable. They probably stand out to me more than usual since I read ‘Punk 57’ fairly recently.

All things considered, this was a “win” for me. This book was so much better than I expected and I’m so glad that I picked it up. I loved the angsty, back and forth relationship between Vicious and Emilia. I’m looking forward to seeing where the rest of this series will go.

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Review: Fallen Crest Christmas (Fallen Crest High, #5.25), by Tijan

Fallen Crest Christmas (Fallen Crest High, #5.25)Fallen Crest Christmas by Tijan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If you’re a big fan of the Fallen Crest High series like I am, then this is a great little something extra for you. This quick “novella” is a nice little tidbit if you’re looking for a holiday read that won’t occupy much of your time. That being said, if you haven’t read the Fallen Crest High series, you probably won’t get anything out of this. This is essentially a very small collection of Christmas bonus scenes that tie in to the series.

In about 30 or so pages, Tijan gives us scenes from two of Sam’s Christmases. The first part revolves around a Christmas party at Melinda’s house. Sam’s mother, Analise, is out of rehab and wants to push her way back into Sam’s life. Of course, she’ll have to go through Mason and Logan to do it.

The second “extra” describes Sam’s visit to her father in Boston. Mason pays Sam a surprise visit and we get a nice, sweet bonus scene.

Overall, this was a nice, sweet little “extra”. It doesn’t add substantially to the Fallen Crest High series, but it was a great freebie if you’re looking for something super-quick, featuring some of your favorite characters. It was a short, fun read. I can’t get enough of these characters, so even though this “novella” was kind of pointless, I liked it.

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