4 star, YA

Review: People Like Us by Dana Mele

people like us -dana meleKay Donovan may have skeletons in her closet, but the past is past, and she’s reinvented herself entirely. Now she’s a star soccer player whose group of gorgeous friends run their private school with effortless popularity and acerbic wit. But when a girl’s body is found in the lake, Kay’s carefully constructed life begins to topple.

The dead girl has left Kay a computer-coded scavenger hunt, which, as it unravels, begins to implicate suspect after suspect, until Kay herself is in the crosshairs of a murder investigation. But if Kay’s finally backed into a corner, she’ll do what it takes to survive.

Because at Bates Academy, the truth is something you make…not something that happened.

4 Drink Me Potions

With a boarding school setting similar to Truly Devious, whodunnit suspect scenarios such as One of Us is Lying, and the cruelty of a popular it girl group likened to the popular Pretty Little Liars series, People Like Us feels both psychologically familiar yet carries a darker, more messed up undertone.

I don’t know what’s been floating around in the air lately but I’m really digging the dive into (psychological) thrillers and mysteries in YA. This book is part of that ongoing trend that should deservedly get more attention.

The novel starts off with a group of seemingly popular girls without a care in the world. They’re just leaving a party and BAM they find a dead body.

From there, it leaves your typical, simple whodunnit mystery. Our protagonist, Kay, is seemingly blackmailed by the dead girl. What a strange twist, huh?

I would love to feel more bad for her, but she’s not the most lovable person. She’s a pretty flawed, human girl with a secret past that we don’t know about. And that’s what makes it more fun to read and follow along what may happen next.

I flew through this book in almost one sitting. I wanted to know who’s next on this hit list created by the dead girl. I loved the artistry behind the tasks that Kay was forced to do in order to keep her secret. It was poetic and hauntingly cruel. You never knew who was next (and what did they do *gasp*) and who to trust. I sometimes could barely trust Kay’s own perspective because who knows if she’s hiding something huge from us?

Yet I found myself underwhelmed with other elements of the story.

Including the ending.

Yes, everything – and everyone – was kind of messed up. The culprit wasn’t unguessable but the reasoning behind it all wasn’t amazing. The whys matter to me, not just the whodunnit anymore.

Kay’s secret that pushed her so far to protect was…interesting but the delivery to us, the unknowing readers, wasn’t the best. Maybe I’m just being picky, but there was something in the execution that prevented me from loving it wholeheartedly.

Oh by the way, you romance lovers, there was something present in the story for you too. Though at times I wasn’t sure it was all that necessary to force it in.

Kay’s bisexual so throughout the book, she was torn between her ex-boyfriend and her girl best friend. They made for great suspects with motives, no doubt about it, but it was a lot of drama that felt like it just filled in the empty gaps around the main mystery instead of adding to the story itself as an important point.

So as mysteries go, it was an immediately satisfying rollercoaster spin that couldn’t be stopped once it started – for the most part – but after getting off of it, there’re a few mixed feelings thrown in there. People Like Us definitely wasn’t quite what I expected.

Overall Recommendation:

A YA thriller that gives you a glimpse into the secrets at an all girls boarding school, People Like Us was a fast-paced read that took some weird turns along the ride. With a bisexual protagonist (full of romantic angst and drama) and her hidden secret propelling her on a task list sent from a dead girl, lies get unfolded and intrigue hits its max. Although it was a fun journey, the ending came somewhat abruptly that left a strange, but lasting, impression. If you’re one for mysteries (and boarding schools!), definitely give it a shot.

3.5 star, YA

Review: Heart of Iron by Ashley Poston

Series: Heart of Iron #1

heart of iron -ashley postonSeventeen-year-old Ana is a scoundrel by nurture and an outlaw by nature. Found as a child drifting through space with a sentient android called D09, Ana was saved by a fearsome space captain and the grizzled crew she now calls family. But D09—one of the last remaining illegal Metals—has been glitching, and Ana will stop at nothing to find a way to fix him.

Ana’s desperate effort to save D09 leads her on a quest to steal the coordinates to a lost ship that could offer all the answers. But at the last moment, a spoiled Ironblood boy beats Ana to her prize. He has his own reasons for taking the coordinates, and he doesn’t care what he’ll sacrifice to keep them.

When everything goes wrong, she and the Ironblood end up as fugitives on the run. Now their entire kingdom is after them—and the coordinates—and not everyone wants them captured alive.

What they find in a lost corner of the universe will change all their lives—and unearth dangerous secrets. But when a darkness from Ana’s past returns, she must face an impossible choice: does she protect a kingdom that wants her dead or save the Metal boy she loves?

3.5 Drink Me Potions

May the stars keep you steady. And the iron keep your safe.

Science fiction at its best, Heart of Iron has notes of action, romance and intrigue in this Anastasia retelling!

Ana and her crew of misfits aboard the ship Dossier were a wonderful found family that reminded me a lot of Melissa Lander’s Starflight series. From the spunky Ana with a heart for non-humanoid individuals to her Metal boy, D09, and ambitious pilot Jax with some secrets of his own, I thought this was a unique (enough) cast of characters. The format of the novel was easy to get through as it alternates between most of the main characters’ POVs, although the downside is having rather short chapters at times before it’s onto the next person.

Although I would categorize this book in science fiction, there’re elements of fantasy embedded. Set in what is known as the Iron Kingdom where 3 different planets have aligned together, they worship a Goddess who’s been said to have vanquished a Great Darkness a thousand years ago. And as the 1000th year approaches, they’re awaiting a new Saviour to come and do it once again – which you can probably guess, sounds rather familiar with other fantasy tropes.

In some other places, it felt particularly reminiscent of Star Wars. For example, the interactions and characteristics of D09 and E0S reminded me of C3P0 and R2D2, respectively. I absolutely loved it as these non-humanoid characters were given such distinctive personalities (or close enough, in the case of a non-speaking, bleeping-only bot). Sometimes I felt like I looked more forward to their POVs as their human counterparts weren’t always as exciting.

Action abounded and their mysterious quest to unearth what happened to their kingdom’s royal family years ago was definitely intriguing. I think the middle just lacked good pacing in places, and certain plot points were predictable, especially if you know and love the original story of Anastasia. I did admire Ashley Poston’s ability to weave this story as both something unique and completely hers while keeping to some things found in Anastasia, which can be hard to do it justice.

I wasn’t expecting the love interest to be Di (D09) at first, thinking Robb, the Ironblood Ana runs across on her journey to unearthing the secrets of a lost ship, would fit the bill more. But there’s the diversity in relationships as Jax and Robb have something cute going on. Di and Ana’s relationship was a little bit harder to swallow at first (he is a Metal, after all), but it grew on me and I’m totally rooting for them.

She didn’t know who she would be without him, and she never wanted to know. Her heart beat, and his wires hummed, and they were Ana and Di – and there were no words for that.

All in all, it’s still a fun and enjoyable read and I look forward to seeing what comes next from this series – especially from that ending!

If you’re fans of Melissa Landers and Amie Kaufman/Meghan Spooner’s books, I would definitely recommend this for you.

Overall Recommendation:
Heart of Iron takes the great things of both fantasy and science fiction and weaves together a story about found families, your fate and the lengths we go to save the ones we love. As story retellings go, I thought it was a unique spin on Anastasia while keeping to some original material that added to the overall space setting and plot. Fans of YA science fiction should not be disappointed! I can’t wait to see what’s in store next!

musings, YA

Musings on Love, Simon

A week ago, I had the pleasure of going with a friend to see a greatly anticipated movie based on a hit novel that shook the YA community a few years ago. I’m sure you can probably guess what this movie was – aside from the title of this review that totally gives it away, right?

Yes, it has to be Love, Simon based on Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. And for a blogger who sadly hasn’t finished the whole book (I know, right??), I still chose to watch it.

And it shook me. Absolutely shook me.

I don’t do movie reviews. There’s no time and place for that in my life. I watch things to just zone out and enjoy for the sake of it. I rarely have many bad things to say about what I watch as the whole purpose of going out and choosing this movie to watch suggests it was of some interest to me in the first place.

Yet, I find myself needing to write my thoughts out here. Even after more than a week since I saw the credits roll, something lingers.

Love, Simon was carefully crafted in who they chose as their protagonists and with great timing as Simon’s story moved along. Nick Robinson as Simon Spier surprisingly was perfect. I wasn’t sure initially as I’ve watched plenty of other movies Nick’s been involved in. But there’s something just right about his played-out inner fears, stoic outer charisma, and narrative voice that easily drew out empathy or sympathy from the audience. The secondary supporting characters were also really well chosen. From the hilarious Spier family – starring some familiar and big names like Josh Duhamel and Jennifer Garner – to the best friend, Leah (whom I cannot unsee as the infamous Hannah Baker in 13 Reasons Why, can you?), I think the movie had already made it to the point of halfway decent by choosing the right cast for the story.

What truly carried this movie for me was the amount of empathy I felt towards Simon. I will admit that I haven’t dived in much into the world of LGBTQ stories – whether in YA or any other genre really – but this felt like a good place to start. I have friends who are same-sex attracted and that is just who they are. Without getting into any arguments of specific beliefs, I know at the end of the day that I love these people in my life very much, and romantic love does not make life easy at all.

While you may know how the story ends for Simon and his anonymous exchanger-of-emails friend, I sat in the theatre for a moment just processing it all. The lights came back on, the few groups who watched it with us started trickling out of their seats, and my friend was sniffling at the happy ending. Love had triumphed after all. This was great! Absolutely heartwarming, right?

Yet, sitting there, eyes unseeing as the credits moved on the screen, it made me contemplative. Maybe it’s just where I am in life right now but how often does life reflect what we read and see on a screen? Sometimes I wish I was a protagonist who could flip to the end of the book and see how it all turned out. Sometimes I wished I could control more clearly what would happen. But just as an author controls what would come next for our favourite protagonists, life is the exact same way. We don’t always get to choose what comes our way. We’re just fooling ourselves with how much we truly control in our own life.

Reflecting on these things, it felt both relieving and sad at the same time. Simon got his happy ending – although he almost could have not, really, as it was ultimately up to Blue to change the course of what happened next for Simon – but do we all?

Love is a fickle thing. Do we choose who we want to love? Or does it choose us?

I think that’s what I connected most with Simon. That inability to control what we feel at times, and the inner torment it can play out on us. And while not all of us can fully empathize with the hardships that the LGBTQ community goes through with regards to love, I think this movie had something in it that reached out and made me empathize anyway. That is a true mark of a good story.

Image result for love simon