2.5 star, YA

ARC Review: This is the Way the World Ends by Jen Wilde

You are cordially invited to spend one fateful night surviving an elite private school’s epic masquerade ball

As an autistic scholarship student at the prestigious Webber Academy in New York City, Waverly is used to masking to fit in—in more ways than one. While her classmates are the children of the one percent, Waverly is getting by on tutoring gigs and the generosity of the school’s charming and enigmatic dean. So when her tutoring student and resident “it girl” asks Waverly to attend the school’s annual fundraising Masquerade disguised as her, Waverly jumps at the chance—especially once she finds out that Ash, the dean’s daughter and her secret ex-girlfriend, will be there.

The Masquerade is everything Waverly dreamed of, complete with extravagant gowns, wealthy parents writing checks, and flowing champagne. Most importantly, there’s Ash. All Waverly wants to do is shed her mask and be with her, but the evening takes a sinister turn when Waverly stumbles into a secret meeting between the dean and the school’s top donors—and witnesses a brutal murder. This gala is harboring far more malevolent plots than just opening parents’ pocketbooks. Before she can escape or contact the authorities, a mysterious global blackout puts the entire party on lockdown. Waverly’s fairy tale has turned into a nightmare, and she, Ash, and her friends must navigate through a dizzying maze of freight elevators, secret passageways, and back rooms if they’re going to survive the night.

And even if they manage to escape the Masquerade, with technology wiped out all over the planet, what kind of world will they find waiting for them beyond the doors?

Overall Recommendation:

This is the Way the World Ends delivers on the diversity front in its characters but lacks the emotional connection to them. Between certain flashbacks and a plot about the world literally ending, there wasn’t enough time focused on any singular thing. There was a lot of potential but perhaps didn’t come through in a way I had anticipated while rooting for Waverly and co.

**This is the Way the World Ends comes out May 9, 2023**

Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for this copy in exchange for an honest review

This book is definitely reminiscent of the dystopian era of YA, although it starts off in a world similar to ours. You know going into the book that things aren’t as they seem, and the world may be on the brink of big changes that will impact everyone in a devastating manner. How this happens though? Now that’s the mystery, and it does unfold in an intriguing way.

Set in a prestigious New York school, we follow Waverly, one of few students who attend based on scholarship and merit instead of wealth and connections. For the most part, I liked her as a protagonist. She’s unique and stands out among the YA crowd full of heroines that all seem so…one noted. She’s autistic and deals with the world in a slightly different way than others. But that doesn’t necessarily define her, just a fact that explains how her POV makes sense.

There’s also a heavy emphasis in chronic illness among the secondary characters. From MS flares to the need for a cane with mobility, diversity is most definitely present. While it’s tempting to feel like the author just wants to add “diverse characters” into the story, I don’t feel that is the case here. These aren’t just token characters to check off a box and feel good about yourself. Their disabilities or health struggles are a part of who they are and play more of a role in the story than an adjective to describe a person.

That being said, I struggled the most with this story when it came to really connecting with the characters. They seem great and all, but why should I care? I know, it sounds harsh, but a part of me felt very disconnected from them, which isn’t great when these characters are on the run and trying to escape pending doom and death.

What the book excelled at more was laying out the end of the world plot. It felt like a quick read at times because I was anticipating with Waverly the puzzle pieces we needed to put together to understand what’s happening. The end of the world hadn’t happened yet, unlike most dystopians that already drop you in a devastated world, so it was cool seeing the transition.

Unfortunately, the plot dragged only in its flashback scenes. They’re there to add context for Waverly’s relationship with her ex, Ash. I liked Ash well enough but I couldn’t determine whether I was rooting for their present relationship or not from what little information we are presented with about her. Most of the happy parts of their relationship occurred in the past so I never got to truly feel them falling in love. In fact, the romance almost deterred some of the action in the story with the page time it was given.

Without giving away anything, I’ll say that I’m not sure how I feel about the ending. It both felt like the appropriate place to leave it while also making me wish for more. That may be a good indicator for a book. It makes you both want more and somewhat satisfied with the direction it did go in. For a debut novel, This is the Way the World Ends had some bumps but it also had some things I enjoyed for a quick read.

4.5 star, YA

Review: Perfect on Paper by Sophie Gonzales

In Perfect on Paper: a bisexual girl who gives anonymous love advice to her classmates is hired by the hot guy to help him get his ex back.

Her advice, spot on. Her love life, way off.

Darcy Phillips:
• Can give you the solution to any of your relationship woes―for a fee.
• Uses her power for good. Most of the time.
• Really cannot stand Alexander Brougham.
• Has maybe not the best judgement when it comes to her best friend, Brooke…who is in love with someone else.
• Does not appreciate being blackmailed.

However, when Brougham catches her in the act of collecting letters from locker 89―out of which she’s been running her questionably legal, anonymous relationship advice service―that’s exactly what happens. In exchange for keeping her secret, Darcy begrudgingly agrees to become his personal dating coach―at a generous hourly rate, at least. The goal? To help him win his ex-girlfriend back.

Darcy has a good reason to keep her identity secret. If word gets out that she’s behind the locker, some things she’s not proud of will come to light, and there’s a good chance Brooke will never speak to her again.

Okay, so all she has to do is help an entitled, bratty, (annoyingly hot) guy win over a girl who’s already fallen for him once? What could go wrong?

Can I first say that I feel this book is such a breath of fresh air to read? While I have read a number of LGTBQ+ books with protagonists in the community over the last few years, I don’t see bisexual protagonists as much, let alone those who may be attracted to the opposite sex. Perfect on Paper is a wonderful love letter to those who are a part of the community but still struggle with truly belonging.

Continue reading “Review: Perfect on Paper by Sophie Gonzales”
3 star, YA

Review: You’re So Dead by Ash Parsons

A hilarious Agatha Christie-inspired YA thriller-comedy about three best friends who sneak into an influencers-only festival event (gone wrong), only to discover a killer is in their midst–and they have to uncover the truth and solve the mystery before it’s too late. Perfect for fans of One of Us Is Lying and Truly Devious .

Plum Winter has always come in second to her sister, the unbelievably cool, famous influencer Peach Winter. And when Peach is invited to an all-expenses paid trip to a luxurious art and music festival for influencers on a private island in the Caribbean, Plum decides it’s finally her time to shine. So she intercepts the invite–and asks her two best friends Antonia and Marlowe to come along to the fest with her. It’ll be a spring break they’ll never forget.

But when Plum and her friends get to the island, it’s not anything like it seemed in the invite. The island is run-down, creepy, and there doesn’t even seem to be a festival–it’s just seven other quasi-celebrities and influencers, and none of the glitz and glamor she expected. Then people start to die…

Plum and her friends soon realize that someone has lured each of them to the “festival” to kill them. Someone has a vendetta against every person on the island–and no one is supposed to leave the island alive. So, together, Plum, Antonia, and Marlowe will do whatever it takes to unravel the mystery of the killer, and fight to save themselves and as many influencers as they can, before it’s too late.

Let’s set the night on fire!

When you didn’t think there was such a book that existed like this, You’re So Dead produced a satirical, suspenseful story that seems like it could really be a thing in this day and age of social media obsession.

Plum Winter, our dear protagonist, has always felt like second-tier, especially with a famous influencer older sister who left her behind for fame and status. When a invitation letter for her sister comes for a prestigious, influencer-only festival on a paradise island, Plum is all for taking her sister’s place (along with a few of her closest friends).

A parody of the infamous Fyre Festival, little do Plum and her friends know, they’re stepping not into a wild 3-day music festival but…a sinister plan that will lead to casualties.

I loved the premise of this. It was strange yet very believable. Why wouldn’t some deranged person/persons go to the ultimate length to deceive some potential targets to come to this isolated island for fun, masking their evil motives? I most definitely enjoyed seeing how the group of semi-influencers that ended up on the island slowly understand that this was never about music and rubbing elbows with more influential people. It was a lure to bring them to their deaths.

For no one is meant to survive Pyre Festival. (Yes, Pyre Festival is the name…)

The suspenseful aspect definitely built up well. You knew someone was going to die. Sometimes you knew it was going to occur within a certain time window (thank you, chapter titles). Yet I didn’t know who, when or how it was going down and that left me on my toes! It’s part of my favourite element in thrillers. The wait. The drop of the shoe. Turning around and seeing a friendly face that…isn’t actually your friend.

That’s right, folks. Because at Pyre Festival, there are a number of victims who want to escape the island.

But there is a killer among them.

*dun dun dun dun*

Okay, that was me trying to insert scary music. Now, the things I didn’t enjoy as much was the lack of enthusiasm I had for Plum and her 2 best friends who were dragged into this misadventure with her. They were nice girls who were never meant to be a part of this murderous mayhem. Plum, in particular, always felt so guilty for putting them all in this place. But she was so focused and obsessed on being seen, on being special, that is as the whole reason why she stole the invite from her sister in the first place. I understand, believe me, but there was just so much guilt in that girl.

Oh, and she happened to be in love with her best friend. Who may die on this island with her. The romance bits felt a little out of place (you know, amidst all the trying-not-to-die parts), but it was a nice bit of LGBTQ representation there so I can’t fault it.

To be honest, a lot of the people stuck on the island were not very enjoyable. I suppose that’s what made it entertaining. Who would want to target all these people in particular? Was it just one of them that set a killer off, or did they all have an enemy in common? So yes, they were an interesting bunch but not always great people to be around. I only liked poor, naive streamer Jude. But mostly because he reminded me of a lost puppy dog trying not to get kicked.

All this to say is, if you’re looking for some satirical, island-trapped murder plot, then look no further. You’re So Dead is the book for you!

Overall Recommendation:

You’re So Dead is a great combination of comical satire, suspense and thriller as we follow a group of semi-influencers trapped on an island under the premise of an epic music festival that would elevate their popularity. With a killer among them hunting one target at a time, no one knows who or when another one of them might fall victim to whoever meticulously planned such an elaborate farce. While this means the characters may not be the most likeable (they’ve all done something that makes them a little mean), they’re realistic and you can’t help but hope the ones you like don’t turn out to be the devil in disguise. A quick and suspenseful read, it’s definitely an interesting book to pick up if you don’t know what you’re feeling at the moment for your next read.