The Here and Now by Ann Brashares

Summary: An unforgettable epic romantic thriller about a girl from the future who might be able to save the world . . . if she lets go of the one thing she’s found to hold on to.

Follow the rules. Remember what happened. Never fall in love.

This is the story of seventeen-year-old Prenna James, who immigrated to New York when she was twelve. Except Prenna didn’t come from a different country. She came from a different time—a future where a mosquito-borne illness has mutated into a pandemic, killing millions and leaving the world in ruins.

Prenna and the others who escaped to the present day must follow a strict set of rules: never reveal where they’re from, never interfere with history, and never, ever be intimate with anyone outside their community. Prenna does as she’s told, believing she can help prevent the plague that will one day ravage the earth.

But everything changes when Prenna falls for Ethan Jarves.

Review: Ok, I'm of two minds about this one. One the one hand, I liked it. It was a quick read, and I liked Prenna and Ethan's relationship (for the most part). For the first half or so, I kept comparing it to Pivot Point and Split Second, in that it was a story about a community of outsiders who had to blend in to the Normal World while keeping secrets about their identities. And I liked The Here and Now's discipline better, and its Big Brother-ish vibe.

In the second half of the book, though, things fell apart a little bit. For starters, all of a sudden Prenna and Ethan are In Love?? After avoiding him for two years and doing her best to maintain emotional distance, now all of a sudden they flip a switch and they're soulmates? I'm a little skeptical that a teenage boy would put so much energy into pining over a girl who is a self-confessed "expert liar" and never tells him anything about herself.

Speaking of which, for a girl who's had Being Undercover drilled into her continuously for the past four years, she does NOT think on her feet. (Or at all, really. But I'm ok with a person being Book Smart and not Street Smart. Common sense, after all, usually isn't.)

Also, really? The security that's kept over them is based on lies and fear, sure. But they put together a group of people to migrate to the past based on finding people who were passionate about going back and preventing the plague... and then are surprised when those people try to change the past? Maybe you should have started with stupider people, is all I'm saying.

And the plot itself... confused me. I could follow it on its (fairly predictable) way, but a few plot holes bothered me, and I think a couple of things that don't have satisfactory explanations are camouflaged by time-travel paradoxes.

I felt like Brashares was trying to put a lot into the emotional impact of the book, which was fine, as far as it went. I liked her descriptions of Feelings; they worked ok. But without a solid narrative to hold them up, I just wasn't as invested in the feelings of the characters.

Goodreads Shelves: bechdel-test, fluffy, is-this-a-kissing-book, my-kind-of-woman, pretentious



Guest Review: Reboot by Amy Tintera

This review is brought to you by my amazing sister, Kelli. You can find her on her blog and on Goodreads.

Summary: Five years ago, Wren Connolly was shot three times in the chest. After 178 minutes she came back as a Reboot: stronger, faster, able to heal, and less emotional. The longer Reboots are dead, the less human they are when they return. Wren 178 is the deadliest Reboot in the Republic of Texas. Now seventeen years old, she serves as a soldier for HARC (Human Advancement and Repopulation Corporation).

Wren’s favorite part of the job is training new Reboots, but her latest newbie is the worst she’s ever seen. As a 22, Callum Reyes is practically human. His reflexes are too slow, he’s always asking questions, and his ever-present smile is freaking her out. Yet there’s something about him she can’t ignore. When Callum refuses to follow an order, Wren is given one last chance to get him in line—or she’ll have to eliminate him. Wren has never disobeyed before and knows if she does, she’ll be eliminated, too. But she has also never felt as alive as she does around Callum.

The perfect soldier is done taking orders.

Review: I wanted to love this book.  You read the summary; how could this book not kick A?  I'm still not entirely sure how, but the fact is that it failed to deliver.  She took an amazing concept and just phoned it in.  It's well-written, but pretty superficial.  I can accept that it's YA, so she chose to not go as in-depth as something written for an older audience, but it still read as top-level.  It wasn't totally egregious, though, until she managed to cram about 200 pages worth of material into the last 50 pages.  When I realized how close I was to the end, I assumed it had to have a cliff-hanger because there was no way to resolve the issue.  Wrong.  She resolved it by telling the story like I read my kids their fifth bed-time story.  Having said that, at least it wasn't a waste of time.  Still worth a read, but I wouldn't move it to the top of the pile.



The House Girl by Tara Conklin

Summary: Virginia, 1852. Seventeen-year-old Josephine Bell decides to run from the failing tobacco farm where she is a slave and nurse to her ailing mistress, the aspiring artist Lu Anne Bell. New York City, 2004. Lina Sparrow, an ambitious first-year associate in an elite law firm, is given a difficult, highly sensitive assignment that could make her career: she must find the “perfect plaintiff” to lead a historic class-action lawsuit worth trillions of dollars in reparations for descendants of American slaves.

It is through her father, the renowned artist Oscar Sparrow, that Lina discovers Josephine Bell and a controversy roiling the art world: are the iconic paintings long ascribed to Lu Anne Bell really the work of her house slave, Josephine? A descendant of Josephine’s would be the perfect face for the reparations lawsuit—if Lina can find one. While following the runaway girl’s faint trail through old letters and plantation records, Lina finds herself questioning her own family history and the secrets that her father has never revealed: How did Lina’s mother die? And why will he never speak about her?

Moving between antebellum Virginia and modern-day New York, this searing, suspenseful and heartbreaking tale of art and history, love and secrets, explores what it means to repair a wrong and asks whether truth is sometimes more important than justice.

Review: So... I dunno. I'm kind of "meh" on it. It took me about three weeks to really get into this book (or if it didn't take three weeks, it certainly felt like three weeks), which says to me that I just... I dunno, didn't care? About the characters? Question mark?

Josephine's story took a long time. Like, all of her narration is pretty much made up of one day. So while her story was interesting, it was pretty slow going.

And Lina... Ugh, I was pretty apathetic about Lina. In her defense, so is she. But still. She's young and still trying to figure herself out. But at the same time, as a person, I didn't find her terribly interesting.

The writing, though. Maybe it was a little over-descriptive, but it was also beautiful. So even though it was a cumbersome read at times, it was enjoyably cumbersome.

Goodreads Shelves: bechdel-test, fluffy, my-kind-of-woman, nook-book, pretentious



The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Summary: Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel's story is about to be completely rewritten.

Review: So this is actually a reread for me; I read it for the first time last year, while I was taking a blog break. My first impression, those many moons ago, was that it was just ok, but I admitted that I did get emotionally invested enough to cry.

This reading was a little different, maybe because I was enough removed to observe more. I didn't cry this time around (a point of pride, perhaps?), but I did appreciate the wit more. (Side note: I've watched so many vlogbrothers videos in the last year that the first couple pages were narrated in my head by John Green himself. Which I found to be hilarious.)

I liked everything better pre-Amsterdam, which makes sense because everything after Amsterdam is a huge downer.

Also, I understand that "Okay, okay" is like their Thing, or something, but pointing out that something is poignant doesn't really make it so. Maybe it just bothers me because the first I ever even heard about this "Okay" thing was in the comments of a Lizzie Bennet Diaries video, and I resented the fact that what sounded to me like perfectly normal dialogue that I myself have used HUNDREDS of times in my life is all of a sudden some special reference just for Special John Green Fans. Like, ok, nerdfighters are great and stuff, but now you OWN the word "Okay"? Seriously? So then I read the book to find out what all the fuss is about, and as explained by the book, it's pretty much a huge letdown. Because they just say "Okay" to each other all the time. That's literally all there is to it.

ANYWAY, another thing I liked was how Augustus talks about Hazel looking like Natalie Portman, because the movie just came out (I haven't seen it yet, but I hear it's good) and Shailene Woodley, who plays Hazel, totally does look like Natalie Portman. Good casting, guys. Way to go.

So all that being said, if you like sad books about kids who have cancer and fall in love, or if you like clever, snappy dialogue and don't mind sad books about kids who have cancer and fall in love, you should give it a read.

Goodreads Shelves: addictive, bechdel-test, funny, i-have-the-ebook, is-a-movie, is-this-a-kissing-book, my-kind-of-woman, thought-provoking



Losing Logan by Sherry D. Ficklin

Summary: What if the one thing you never meant to hold on to, is the one thing you can’t let go of?

Normally finding a hot guy in her bedroom wouldn't irritate Zoe so badly, but finding her childhood friend Logan there is a big problem. Mostly because he’s dead.

As the only person he can make contact with, he talks Zoe into helping him put together the pieces surrounding his mysterious death so he can move on.

Thrust into his world of ultra popular rich kids, Zoe is out of her element and caught in the cross-hairs of Logan’s suspicious ex-girlfriend and the friends he left behind, each of whom had a reason to want him dead. The deeper they dig to find the truth, the closer Zoe gets to a killer who would do anything to protect his secrets. And that’s just the start of her problems because Zoe is falling for a dead guy.

Review: Ok first let me just say, I liked it. I did. I read it in like a day and a half, and it was a fun read and stuff. And I was proud of myself for figuring out who the murderer was long before the characters in the novel did.

However, if you want to read a review about the good things in this book, you can go do that somewhere else.

Because I have to get a few things off my chest.

So... she decides to join the popular group, and then she just... does? Just like that? Admittedly, going out with the (as far as I can tell) Alpha Male helps. But then all of a sudden the girls just all want her to be their leader? No infighting or jostling for position as the new Queen Bee?

And another thing. How is it that she talks so much about how flip she is, how sarcastic and mean, but then it's so easy to stop being that way once Logan tells her to? Being sarcastic is a habit; I know from personal experience. And that kind of habit is hard to break. I wish I'd seen her make more of an effort and slip up more. Plus, her new boyfriend Bruno TELLS her not to change that part of herself, but she does anyway? And she tells him she won't change, but then is nothing but nice to all of his friends? Also, Zoe! You can be sarcastic and snarky while still being nice! Use your powers for good! Don't be a Stepford just because you're trying to make friends!

And... I guess Logan accepts that he was an a-hole before he died? Why does he never push back and place some of the blame on Zoe for their friendship falling apart? I kept wanting him to yell back and explain it from his side, which was that when Zoe came back from (ugh, something. I read the book a while ago and the details are getting fuzzy) during the summer, she was mean to his new friends and didn't even want to give them a chance. It takes two to drift apart, sweetheart.

Also, I'm sorry, but I found the ghost premise (once it was "explained") to be fairly ridiculous.

That all being said, I think I did in fact like it. Promise.

Goodreads Shelves: addictive, bechdel-test, fluffy, is-or-would-be-a-good-movie, is-this-a-kissing-book, my-kind-of-woman



Guest Review: Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale

This review is brought to you by my amazing sister, Kelli. You can find her on her blog and on Goodreads.

Summary: Based on a classic Grimm’s fairy tale, this is the story told by Dashti, a maid from the steppes of a medieval land, who sacrifices her freedom to accompany her mistress into exile.

Imprisoned in a remote tower after Lady Saren refuses to marry the man her father has chosen, the maid and the lady have almost nothing in common. But the loyalty that grows between the two, the man they love in different ways for different reasons, and the lies they tell because of and in spite of each other, combine to evoke the deepest bonds, transcend the loneliest landscapes, and erupt in a conclusion so romantic, so clever, and so right that no reader will be left dry-eyed.

Review: I finally found a Shannon Hale story I can recommend to friends.  I didn't get what the big deal was with Princess Academy.  Goose Girl and Enna Burning were pleasant enough at times but left me overall underwhelmed.  But Book of a Thousand Days was enchanting.  Part of it was listening to the audiobook and hearing the songs, but the narration really drew me in.  I generally dislike first person narration, but the journal format worked perfectly.  The growth of the friendship between Dashti and Lady Saren is well-paced and believable.  As is the romance, despite the love triangle.  One I will definitely encourage my daughter to read, if I ever manage to have a girl-child.



Guest Review: Against the Tide by Elizabeth Camden

This review is brought to you by my amazing sister, Kelli. You can find her on her blog and on Goodreads.

Summary:  As a child, Lydia Pallas became all too familiar with uncertainty when it came to the future. Now, she's finally carved out a perfect life for herself--a life of stability and order with no changes, surprises, or chaos of any kind. She adores her apartment overlooking the bustling Boston Harbor, and her skill with languages has landed her a secure position as a translator for the U.S. Navy.

However, it is her talent for translation that brings her into contact with Alexander Banebridge, or "Bane," a man who equally attracts and aggravates her. When Bane hires Lydia to translate a seemingly innocuous collection of European documents, she hesitantly agrees, only to discover she is in over her head.

Just as Bane's charm begins to win her over, Lydia learns he is driven by a secret campaign against some of the most dangerous criminals on the East Coast, compelled by his faith and his past. Bane forbids any involvement on Lydia's part, but when the criminals gain the upper hand, it is Lydia on whom he must depend.

Review: As soon as I finished this book, I texted a friend and instructed her to drop everything and read this.  It left me feeling... content.  It was a well-written, compelling story, and it was stand-alone!  The heroine is plucky and honorable.  The hero is mysterious and driven.  There's a bad guy who makes me feel ill, and the good guys are out to get him.  Add in the historical information about orphanages and opium use, not to mention that the heroine is a translator, and I found the whole story riveting.



Agent of Change by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller

Summary: Once a brilliant First-in Scout, Val Con yos'Phelium was "recruited" by the mysterious Liaden Department of Interior and brainwashed into an Agent of Change—a ruthless covert operative who kills without remorse.

Fleeing the scene of his latest murderous mission, he finds himself saving the life of ex-mercenary Miri Robertson, a tough Terran on the run from a team of interplanetary assassins. Thrown together by circumstances, Val Con and Miri struggle to elude their enemies and stay alive without slaying each other—or surrendering to the unexpected passion that flares between them.

Review: So I have this habit when I read books, which is that I get about three-fourths of the way through them, and then I get online and look at reviews. I guess... I dunno, I'm trying to figure out whether my impressions so far are correct? Whether people agree with me, when I like certain characters or whatever? Maybe I'm trying to see how I should feel about what I've read so far. (I should probably stop letting other people tell me what I think.)

That being said, one of the reviews I looked up for this book pointed out that within the first two chapters or so, both main characters have killed enough people to definitely count as serial killers. And I thought... yeah. Pretty much. Which doesn't necessarily reflect poorly on the book, per se, because I've certainly killed plenty of random bad guys playing Legend of Zelda. So basically, this book has tons of storm troopers. Random, faceless, expendable Bad Guys.

Besides the senseless violence, there was a love story that took me a while to get into. I dunno... the description of the book told me that Val Con was this heartless assassin, which I found to be kind of a misnomer? I mean, at the beginning, he's fairly heartless, but pretty much as soon as he meets Miri (like, in chapter two) he becomes a Really Decent Guy who has Skills. Like, if Jason Bourne, instead of getting shot  and losing his memory, just met a cute redhead. So if he's such a decent guy, why was he assassinating someone in the first scene? And if he's so heartless, why is he suddenly abandoning the government that controls him?
All of which, to be honest, can be explained (to me) by the fact that the book was written in the eighties, when complex back story and world building were not necessary to make a book enjoyable. (For instance, this book, and this one. Both excellent.) I guess I'm expecting more characterization and interplanetary politics in later books.

One part of the book that I did love, though, was the turtles. Think about it. A culture of giant 8-foot turtles? Who are slow and live for centuries and are super polite and sweet? And grow knives like crystals? I loved them so much. I want a tribe of turtles to be my older brothers. Please tell me they show up in later books.

Goodreads Shelves: addictive, bechdel-test, fluffy, is-this-a-kissing-book, my-kind-of-woman


PS If you want to read it for yourself, it's in the Baen Free Library! Download the ebook here.


The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

Summary: "Once a century, one person is chosen for greatness.
Elisa is the chosen one.

But she is also the younger of two princesses, the one who has never done anything remarkable. She can’t see how she ever will.

Now, on her sixteenth birthday, she has become the secret wife of a handsome and worldly king—a king whose country is in turmoil. A king who needs the chosen one, not a failure of a princess.

And he’s not the only one who needs her. Savage enemies seething with dark magic are hunting her. A daring, determined revolutionary thinks she could be his people’s savior. And he looks at her in a way that no man has ever looked at her before. Soon it is not just her life, but her very heart that is at stake.

Elisa could be everything to those who need her most. If the prophecy is fulfilled. If she finds the power deep within herself. If she doesn’t die young.

Most of the chosen do."

Review: So I wanna get this out of the way as soon as possible, but am I the only one who was bothered by the Stockholm Syndrome? Admittedly, this seems like a case of people with a just cause who were forced into extreme measures, but still. Kidnapping. Stockholm Syndrome. The principle of the thing.

That being said, it was a cute book. I liked having a protagonist who isn't a waif, and isn't one of those girls who is super beautiful but "doesn't know how pretty she is." And I like how confident she became, although her love/hate relationship with food was resolved a little too easily, in my opinion.

Goodreads Shelves: bechdel-test, fluffy, is-this-a-kissing-book, my-kind-of-woman, nook-ya



Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney

Summary: It's a new school year, and Greg Heffley finds himself thrust into middle school, where undersized weaklings share the hallways with kids who are taller, meaner, and already shaving. The hazards of growing up before you're ready are uniquely revealed through words and drawings as Greg records them in his diary.

In book one of this debut series, Greg is happy to have Rowley, his sidekick, along for the ride. But when Rowley's star starts to rise, Greg tries to use his best friend's newfound popularity to his own advantage, kicking off a chain of events that will test their friendship in hilarious fashion.

Review: So... I don't think I liked it? I mean, it's realistic, but hopefully not too realistic? Because Greg is pretty much a jerk. Like, super obnoxious. (So basically, a 13-year-old boy.) He lies to his parents, lets his friend get in trouble for something he did, refuses to own up for ANYTHING he does wrong, and is incredibly selfish at all times. Are all 13-year-old boys like that? (Oh my gosh... are all 13-year-olds like that? As a new mother, I'm officially worried about 13 years from now...)

Confession: I did like the drawings. They're pretty funny.

Goodreads Shelves: fluffy, funny, is-a-movie

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