THE TROUBLE WITH DESTINY by Lauren Morrill

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1.5 out of 5

[ARC provided by Paper Lantern Lit in exchange for my volunteer position as a VIP Trendsetter.]

All aboard the Destiny, a cruise ship hosting a high school music competition where the winning group receives a $25,000 cheque. Liza is the only one who knows how desperately her band needs it, and her one goal as she boards the ship is to win the prize and keep her marching band afloat.

A huge mishap involving an out-of-bounds bowling alley and a stray bowling ball throws the entire competition in jeopardy, and Liza finds herself putting all the blame on the school’s quarterback, Russ, on the trip as a form of detention. Serving as the band’s—and thereby Liza’s—lackey, Russ only causes more harm than good in Liza’s eyes. To top it all off, Liza is sharing the cruise not only with her arch nemesis Demi, but with her crush and son of the band director, Lenny. She can’t afford any distractions, but one little kiss wouldn’t hurt…

It’s rare that I finish a novel and ask myself what on earth just happened, but that’s what I did upon finishing this. The Trouble with Destiny lacks the charm of Morrill’s Meant to Be and is a severe let-down in terms of plot, character building, and writing style.

Let me start off by saying that the opening was good but very long; there is not much action until about a quarter of the way in. That being said, the plot is predictable, and the writing and pace are both flat. There is way too much going on and not enough space devoted to properly developing relationships or the varying storylines in order to make the outcomes believable. For example, there was zero chemistry established between Liza and Russ. Therefore the shift in Liza’s characterization and tone, particularly towards Russ, is so sudden that I was experiencing whiplash. It takes about a paragraph for Liza’s entire personality to change, with no decent reason or warning.

Additionally, as someone with seven years of concert band experience, the band setup seemed very unrealistic to me. For example, the sheet music for Pirates of the Caribbean or Star Wars isn’t that difficult for a band with experience and skill (I’ve played both pieces in band at the senior level), so it seems unlikely that they would win a competition using such simple music. With this in mind, it is quizzical to me why someone headed for Juilliard would be wasting their time with a band that plays such lower-calibre pieces.

Overall, The Trouble with Destiny is incredibly, incredibly disappointing. Definitely steer clear of this one, but bear in mind that Morrill has done better. I look forward to seeing her next novel and hope it demonstrates the quirky skill that I know she has.

-Ember Book Reviews

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MORE THAN THIS by Patrick Ness

more than this

4.5-5 out of 5

Seth wakes up in a hot, dry wasteland that used to be his street in England. The thing is, he moved to America many years ago, and the street is deserted. It’s clear that life has ceased to exist here. And yet…

Seth had also ceased to exist. He died. Didn’t he? He remembers it quite clearly, but he feels fine, if incredibly thirsty. So how is he alive? Better yet, how has he been transported across an ocean and seemingly back in time to a moment—frozen—in space?

…Is this his own, personal hell?

*SPOILER ALERT*

More Than This is such an amazing book. Even though I’ve given a few past reviews five stars, this was the first book that I couldn’t put down in months. There have been other books that I’ve loved, but I could walk away from them and be fine with that. This book was like an addiction.

It started with a possible fantasy feel but ended up being sci-fi, which was disappointing at first, but then I was sucked in. On a miscellaneous note, Tomasz may be my favourite character to ever exist.

The downsides for me were that once again, the girl was in need of rescuing by the boys. That was really frustrating, especially since Regine was so kick-ass most of the time. The second point was that I wish the plot hadn’t become so like The Matrix. Literally, if you’ve seen that movie, you’ve read this book. A more unique spin would have been appreciated, though it was still very well written and I enjoyed the experience overall.

-Ember Book Reviews

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JACKABY by William Ritter

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4 out of 5

Miss Abigail Rook is in search of adventure. After taking off with her university money and ditching Europe for a passage to America, Abigail wonders if perhaps she’s acted too hastily. After all, she can’t seem to find work in the small town of New Fiddleham and is down to wearing one rather beaten dress and boys’ trousers. That is until she meets Mr. Jackaby. Jackaby is a bit of an oddity in New Fiddleham; some swear by him, and some simply swear he’s crazy. A nuisance to the local police force, Jackaby claims to be able to see creatures of lore and fables, such as trolls and banshees. Abigail doubts his sanity until she accompanies him to his apartments and finds a ghost occupying one of the rooms as well as a man-turned-duck in the upstairs pond. Desperate for work, Abigail takes up a position as Jackaby’s assistant on a grisly murder case. It all seems rather adventurous, but then the murderer turns its eye on Jackaby and Abigail, and they must race to figure out who the culprit is before they, too, are killed.

Sherlock Holmes meets a quirkier version of the Brothers Grimm in William Ritter’s debut novel, Jackaby. A fun, if at times a bit silly, read, this book is definitely worth checking out if you’re looking for some quick entertainment.

Jackaby is a very good book. As I said in my synopsis, it has a Sherlock Holmes-meets-fantasy-and-lore feel about it, though I do find the original Sherlock Holmes stories easier to follow in terms of Sherlock’s deduction and whatnot; Jackaby’s conclusions were a bit more jumbled and harder to follow at times. As well, it tended to transgress from being serious to being goofy, and I would have preferred it to err more on the serious side.

When it came to our MC, Abigail, it was difficult for me to decide whether or not I liked her. I found she fit right into the modern-day mold of storytelling from a Victorian girl’s perspective, where said girl always wants to break gender boundaries and dislikes dresses/other impractical clothes, etcetera, etcetera. While I’m all for that in a book that takes place in the modern world, it’s very difficult for me (especially as a scholar of Victorian literature) to accept this role that we seem to love writing in YA these days. Of course there were women from the Victorian period who longed for gender equality and who were tomboys, but they didn’t all do it in open defiance and through cross-dressing. Just once I would like to read a YA written in the modern day that is from a female perspective but sounds more like the Victorian novels I have to read in university, because that would be much more truthful and, in my opinion, awesome. Show me the ways that a Victorian girl would have been a strong main character based on actual Victorian novels written by women. If more YA authors writing historical fiction read novels from the time period they are basing their novel in, then the story would feel so much more accurate to me and it wouldn’t lose its strong female protagonist (I promise you) because many of them already exist.

The ending was far too long, and I found myself getting bored quickly post-climax. I do, however, look forward to reading the next book and watching the relationships and characters develop further.

That being said, Ritter has laid the groundwork for a rich world. I would like to explore other towns and the countryside rather than just New Fiddleham, and I look forward to seeing him build more depth to this in the second novel.

-Ember Book Reviews xxoo

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Has anyone else read this book? What did you guys think?

MOSQUITOLAND by David Arnold

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3 out of 5

Mim knows one thing for sure: her mom needs her. Everything else is up in the air: her sanity, the reason behind her parents’ divorce. In the wake of said divorce, her dad’s recent remarriage, and the recent Breaking News, Mim holds on to her memories of Labour Day weekend with her mom and sets off on a cross-country adventure in the hopes of getting to her mom in time for Labour Day weekend. What she didn’t expect was the Greyhound rolling over, coming into too-close quarters with a psychopath, and befriending Walt and Beck on her journey.

As I’m sure you can tell, my summary was a little rough on this one. That was because I had a hard time enjoying this book for the majority of my time with it. The more interesting story lies in the snapshots we get from Mim’s life with her mom and dad, and then her dad and stepmom. I think the better story lies there, and I wish it had been told from that place and time. It was a missed opportunity, in my opinion.

Arnold does a good job of putting the question of Mim’s sanity up in the air throughout the novel, to really come to a head at the end. My heart nearly stopped, to be honest. It was really well done.

The ending is really good. I feel like it’s here that Arnold truly knows the voice of the narrative and the character that is Mim, whereas the beginning felt very jumbled and lost—though perhaps this is meant to indicate that Mim has finally found herself, but I’m not so sure that this was at all intentional. I only wish we were told what was actually afflicting Mim’s mother. That was never clear in the ending.

I was happy with the way Arnold wrapped up intersecting storylines, though I didn’t feel invested enough to really wonder or care about them further. For example, I’m not really thinking about Ahab and his boyfriend at all, or Poncho Man, or Caleb. If I’m being honest, I’m not even really thinking about Mim, Walt, or Beck beyond the end of the book either.

Overall, Mosquitoland was all right. I couldn’t find Arnold’s writing humorous, as much as I tried. I found Mim to be incredibly annoying up until the point where she meets Walt and Beck, but by that point the book had largely lost me, which was unfortunate because I really wanted to like this book.

-Ember Book Reviews xxoo

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Sex in YA: An Ode to Authors

I love YA. Of all the books written in the various age groups, I find YA to be one of the most diverse groupings of novels that you can find. Even though I’m in my twenties, I still prefer YA to Adult novels, but as I get older, I do have one complaint that has been plaguing me since I was about, oh, sixteen.

In my past reviews, I’ve hinted that I love when an author actually describes a sex scene, however briefly or detailed. Now, of course I only mean when the timing is appropriate and it advances or contributes to the plot in some way. This isn’t Game of Thrones the TV show, here. But I strongly feel that a descriptive sex scene between characters can help to strengthen the growth of characters and their relationships, much like in real life. It’s so frustrating to me when a YA author builds up the steaminess in a novel to an all-time high only to skip over the sex part even though it’s strongly suggested that it happened. It’s almost like if books were given ratings, they’re trying to keep it at PG-13, and it’s super annoying, for a few reasons.

1: As I said, a descriptive sex scene helps to develop character and can strengthen the relationship between characters. I think knowing what happened during that really intimate, vulnerable moment is key from a reader’s perspective, because I want to know that both characters were respectful and caring with each other, and when it’s skipped over, I have no way of knowing that.

2: I’ve noticed that in a lot of older YA books (where the characters are sixteen or older), the steaminess will be really loaded on but none of the actual sex is seen. This relates to my PG-13 comment. First of all, the characters are older. They know about sex. Most likely, the older readers know about sex. When you make the book really steamy and sometimes even talk about the character getting turned on but leave out the sex, it’s like you’re saying we can only handle it to a certain extent. That we, as readers around the same age as the characters, can handle the foreplay but not what’s happening behind closed doors. I think it sends extremely mixed messages to the audience, and it often leaves me feeling confused, left out, and like the book wasn’t fully whole. My feelings on this are that either the author thinks we can handle sex or thinks that we can’t, but they need to decide one way or the other before writing the book. It’s like if you write a book but end it right before the climax (no pun intended). I mean, really? As a reader, I feel really condescended to.

3: It also really annoys me because the writers of YA are adults. They are adults who know about sex, might have even had sex, and have a bunch of life experience behind them. All this considered, their book is a platform where they can share that life experience and help to shape the viewpoints of their readers. When it comes to sex, descriptive sex scenes can help teenagers to form healthy ideas about sex, consent, and come to understand themselves better through that. I mean, we start getting taught sex-ed at ten years old, so why can’t we read about it at sixteen?

My complaint is that there isn’t enough descriptive sex (like I said, however brief or detailed) in older YA novels and the previous are my three reasons to support that complaint. Basically, at the end of the day, it just feels really condescending, especially considering the authors are adults. I mean, come on. You’re an adult writing for teenagers. You’ve been a teenager. Surely you know that we know about sex and aren’t afraid to read about it. And for those that are (likely a very few percentage), they can just not read that part. It’s really that simple.

Feel free to share any of your thoughts on this subject. I know it can be touchy for some, and I’m happy to clarify anything I’ve said in this post. Happy reading!

-Ember Book Reviews xxoo

ALL THE RAGE by Courtney Summers

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5 out of 5

Romy’s life is divided. There’s the before and the after; the dead girl and the girl who took her place. There’s red and there’s…darkness. Romy isn’t living on one side or the other, but floating in the spaces in between, barely treading water, desperate to hold on to something good.

Nobody believes that she was raped. They all think she’s lying to get attention. Maybe it’s because her father was a drunk that they think that, but maybe it’s just because she’s a girl—a girl who liked a boy. They think that’s enough. They think that because she wanted him at one point, it was permission for him to do what he did to her. She wanted it. It’s what they all say. But she didn’t. She didn’t want it at all.

All the Rage is a breathtaking, earth-shattering novel about rape culture and what it means to be a girl. Courtney Summers has hit the nail on the head with this one, providing interesting and shockingly honest commentary on topics that people seem afraid to talk about so openly today. A darker novel with heavy themes, it was surprisingly easy to read because it is written so incredibly well.

This book is, by far, the best contemporary I’ve read this year. Every single person living should read this book. In fact, this book should be a compulsory read in all high schools everywhere. The narrative is just so raw, the writing so unique and elegant. Romy has a voice all her own, and it almost seemed like stream-of-consciousness writing that made the novel feel very personal. I felt at times like I knew Romy, like I was Romy, like I could be her. It really made me think. There are times in my real life when I have been her, and terrifying times when I could have been. And it’s true, everything Summers is saying about girls and rape culture and sexual assault. Boys don’t have it the same way and it’s horrible. Obviously, I’m not saying boys should suffer equally as much. But it’s shocking to me how often girls of any age are victims of sexual assault or unwanted attention. I have been, my friends have been. In All the Rage, Romy gives voice to those issues in a thrilling and deeply, deeply personal novel that truly raises the bar for contemporary novels and challenges how society talks about rape, sexual assault, and feminism.

My single complaint is that it ended. I wish we’d been given more of the “After” and that we knew what happened between her and Leon, but this is a very minor thing. Maybe one day we’ll have a sequel? I hope so, because I’m not ready to let go of Romy quite yet.

-Ember Book Reviews xxoo

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ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS by Stephanie Perkins

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4 ½ out of 5

When Anna is sent to the School of America in Paris, she doesn’t expect it to be the time of her life. She’s homesick and she is, quite literally, the only new student to be attending that year. Everyone already has their group of friends, and Anna, who doesn’t even speak French, knows she’ll have a hard time fitting in.

But when Meredith brings Anna into her group of friends, things start to change. Anna meets Josh, Rashmi, and the stunningly handsome Étienne St. Clair—an American boy with a British accent who lives in Paris and has a French first name. This group of friends, and Étienne especially, introduce Anna to Paris and, with the help of a little Canadian flag pin, help her to feel less like a foreigner and more at home. The problem? Étienne is taken.

The first of three novels that take place at the School of America, Anna and the French Kiss is an exciting story of travel and discovery, and a good introduction to Stephanie Perkins’s trilogy.

I’ll be honest—I read Isla and the Happily Ever After (Book 3) first and thought it was better [review here]. In comparison, Anna lacked the same level of steaminess and I longed for more one-on-one time between Étienne and Anna. Even still, I thought this was a really great love story and an excellent way to start off the trilogy. For those who read this book first, I’m sure they will have no complaints and enjoy the build up to the third and final novel.

Two things I loved: I loved how Anna’s dad was essentially Nicholas Sparks. It cracked me up because everything Perkins was saying about him is so true! She actually writes a really interesting commentary deeper into the book about how the character of Anna’s dad is cashing in on stories of tragedy when there are people out there who are actually living it. I guess that that’s true for most fictional stories, but I think there’s a right and wrong way to do it, and it really got me thinking. I also loved how vividly Perkins creates Paris for the reader. This book is such a great travel story. I just wish the characters had left the school more often and experienced lesser-known facets of Parisian and French culture.

As a side note, Étienne reminded me of my own boyfriend a bit, minus some of the less savoury aspects, which I think helped me to like it.

All in all, I really hope you guys liked this review and check out this book for yourselves! It was a really enjoyable read.

-Ember Book Reviews xxoo

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**Reminder** There is a giveaway happening! Check out the post here.