Review – A Torch Against the Night

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Title: A Torch Against the Night
Series: An Ember in the Ashes #2
Author: Sabaa Tahir
Publication: August 30th 2016 by Razorbill
Genre: YA, Fantasy
Pages: 452 pages
Format: Library book
Rating: 5/5

Elias and Laia are running for their lives. After the events of the Fourth Trial, Martial soldiers hunt the two fugitives as they flee the city of Serra and undertake a perilous journey through the heart of the Empire.

Laia is determined to break into Kauf—the Empire’s most secure and dangerous prison—to save her brother, who is the key to the Scholars’ survival. And Elias is determined to help Laia succeed, even if it means giving up his last chance at freedom.

But dark forces, human and otherworldly, work against Laia and Elias. The pair must fight every step of the way to outsmart their enemies: the bloodthirsty Emperor Marcus, the merciless Commandant, the sadistic Warden of Kauf, and, most heartbreaking of all, Helene—Elias’s former friend and the Empire’s newest Blood Shrike.

Bound to Marcus’s will, Helene faces a torturous mission of her own—one that might destroy her: find the traitor Elias Veturius and the Scholar slave who helped him escape…and kill them both.

Shelf it on Goodreads

 

So here’s the alphabetical run down:

Characters

Tahir writes wonderfully complex characters. The chapters alternate between Elias, Laia, and Helene’s perspectives and you gain so much insight into their personalities this way, as you did in An Ember in the Ashes. I feel like Helene’s character comes to life a bit more in this story than the first and I really enjoyed getting to know her better. I also really loved that Helene and Laia are so different, but both such strong female characters. I feel like the strong female lead in fantasy novels can be a bit one dimensional, but this book has two and they are definitely not one dimensional.

Cover

I don’t dislike this cover by any means, but I’m not blown away by it either. I do like how it looks with the black and gold cover of An Ember in the Ashes. This one being white and blue contrasts well. I’m interested to see what the next TWO books will look like!!

Love

Again with the character complexity; there are so many feelings flying around in this story! I’m not one to hate a love triangle, but this is a much more complicated shape than that. In the end though, I was happy with the outcome of the various romantic (or potentially romantic in the future) relationships.

Pros/Cons

After finishing ATATN, it’s taken me a while to write the review. I knew I loved the book, but I also knew that almost anything I said about the book would be a spoiler, and I try to keep all of my reviews spoiler free. So here is what I can say: ATATN picks up right where An Ember in the Ashes left off, which I love. I love when a series doesn’t skip a bunch of time and events between books and then tells you about them instead of showing you. ATATN is almost constant action, which I also love. It is fast paced and as violent as you’d expect from the world that Tahir created in AEITA. Also, I didn’t anticipate any of the large plot points that happened, which I always love. I love a series that can keep me guessing, not because the author makes terrible decisions with their characters, but because the story itself is actually that unique.

Quotable

“Don’t look so worried. Most successful missions are just a series of barely averted disasters.”

“But you, Helene Aquilla, are no swift-burning spark. You are a torch against the night – if you dare to let yourself burn.”

“Don’t lock yourself away from those who are about you because you think you’ll hurt them or – or they’ll hurt you. What point is there in being human is you don’t let yourself feel anything.”

“Failure doesn’t define you. It’s what you do after you fail that determines whether you are a leader or a waste of perfectly good air.”

Rating

I think I may have loved AEITA just slightly more, but this book is an amazing addition to the series and definitely still deserving of 5 hearts.

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I can’t believe that the next book in this 4 book series isn’t set to be published until 2018!! Have you read this series? What are your thoughts?
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Review – The Loose Ends List

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Title: The Loose Ends List
Author: Carrie Firestone
Publication: June 7th 2016 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Genre: YA, Contemporary, Romance
Pages: 346 pages
Format: Library book
Rating: 3/5

It’s a summer for first love, last wishes, and letting go.

Maddie has big plans to spend the last months before college tying up high school “loose ends” alongside her best friends. Then her beloved grandmother drops two bombshells: (1) Gram is dying. (2) She’s taking her entire family on a round-the-world cruise of dreams come true—but at the end, Gram won’t be returning home.

With a promise to live in the now without regrets, Maddie boards the Wishwell determined to make every moment count. She finds new friends in her fellow Wishwellians, takes advantage of the trip’s many luxuries, gets even closer to her quirky family, and falls for painfully gorgeous Enzo. But despite the copious laughter, headiness of first love, and wonder of the glamorous destinations, Maddie knows she is on the brink of losing Gram, and she struggles to find the strength to let go in a whirlwind summer shaped by love, grief, and laughter.

Shelf it on Goodreads

 

So here’s the alphabetical run down:

Characters

I had trouble connecting with Maddie’s character. I did appreciate that she wasn’t your typical privileged teenager who complains about her privilege, but I just couldn’t relate to her. Her family and all of the guests on the Wishwell are really colorful characters, especially her Gram. I appreciated their diversity and various backstories and really felt like I got to know all of the characters very well, despite the large number of characters. Enzo, however, was not my favorite. I felt like his appearance on the ship was a little too “set up” feeling and his personality fell flat in comparison to the rest of the characters.

Cover

This cover is so pretty, such great colors. The naked hard cover without the dust jacket is actually one of the coolest books I have ever seen, it looks hand drawn and is covered in rainbow colored flowers and doodles.

Love

I had trouble with the romance between Maddie and Enzo. To me, it felt forced and a little too coincidental. Also, they move very quickly into a physical relationship that seems unrealistic throughout the book.

Pros/Cons

The Loose Ends List was definitely written for a mature young adult audience. Maddie’s family speaks openly about sex and drug use, and the general tone of the book was a bit crude to me. However, the bluntness with which the characters approach pretty much every subject, does help the “death with dignity” cruise not to feel either cheesy or depressing.

At times I felt like I was being told the abridged version of an around the world adventure by a very good friend, with very little filter. I actually do have a best friend who doesn’t filter much of what she says, so some of the book sounded like a story she might tell me, but I also felt like the author might have tried to fit too many adventures into one book.

Quotable

“Hey, these wrinkles are the badge of a life well lived, missy. Watch it, or I’ll kick your little behind to the streets.”

“I give you permission to completely ignore reality.” She pats my leg. “It’ll be good practice for college.”

“The pain of losing doesn’t get less with each person I lose. But I have the wisdom of knowing the pain isn’t forever. That fades. The memories stay. And the love isn’t going anywhere.”

Rating

There were parts of the story I absolutely loved, but they didn’t outweigh the parts of the overall plot that were just mediocre to me. I think this book might really resonate with some people, but I wasn’t one of them.

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Have you read The Loose Ends List? I know that everyone doesn’t have the same opinions about books, and that’s awesome! What did you think?
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Review – Every Last Word

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Title: Every Last Word
Author: Tamara Ireland Stone
Publication: June 16th 2015 by Disney-Hyperion
Genre: YA, Contemporary, Romance
Pages: 368 pages
Format: Library book
Rating: 5/5

If you could read my mind, you wouldn’t be smiling.

Samantha McAllister looks just like the rest of the popular girls in her junior class. But hidden beneath the straightened hair and expertly applied makeup is a secret that her friends would never understand: Sam has Purely-Obsessional OCD and is consumed by a stream of dark thoughts and worries that she can’t turn off.

Second-guessing every move, thought, and word makes daily life a struggle, and it doesn’t help that her lifelong friends will turn toxic at the first sign of a wrong outfit, wrong lunch, or wrong crush. Yet Sam knows she’d be truly crazy to leave the protection of the most popular girls in school. So when Sam meets Caroline, she has to keep her new friend with a refreshing sense of humor and no style a secret, right up there with Sam’s weekly visits to her psychiatrist.

Caroline introduces Sam to Poet’s Corner, a hidden room and a tight-knit group of misfits who have been ignored by the school at large. Sam is drawn to them immediately, especially a guitar-playing guy with a talent for verse, and starts to discover a whole new side of herself. Slowly, she begins to feel more “normal” than she ever has as part of the popular crowd . . . until she finds a new reason to question her sanity and all she holds dear.

Shelf it on Goodreads

 

So here’s the alphabetical run down:

Characters

I loved the progression of Sam’s character throughout the book. I feel like I may have liked this book so much because I can relate very closely with Sam. No, I do not have OCD, but I moved to a new school halfway through high school and was in a group of toxic girlfriends that I felt like would have turned on me for one wrong decision. And I love poetry and started writing poetry in high school, just not as part of a cool underground group of misfits. That would have been amazing!

I really loved AJ as well. I felt like he was good for Sam without being unrealistically perfect for her.

Cover

This cover makes me sad because it doesn’t live up to the beautiful story inside. I like the handwritten title on scraps of paper, it definitely fits the story, but the bland color just makes the book fade into the background instead of standing out on the shelf.

Love

Although Sam and AJ’s relationship was central to the plot, it wasn’t purely about the romance. I felt like their relationship grew organically throughout the book and was a main focus of the plot without taking over and being the only focus.

Pros/Cons

There’s something about this book that I love, but I can’t explain for some reason. When I think back on it I keep wondering why I gave it 5 hearts, because I typically reserve 5 heart ratings for really epic books that just blow me away, but then I pick the book back up and open to a random page and I just fall in love with it again. So this is what I’ve come up with; Every Last Word is a mashup of two other contemporaries that I have loved: Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver and The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson. The “mean girls” aspect of Sam’s clique at school and overall just her high school experience reminds me of Before I Fall. The incorporation of poetry and the sweet, but not perfect high school romance reminds me of The Sky is Everywhere.

Every Last Word pulls you in quickly. I loved that Sam has a healthy relationship with her family and her psychiatrist.  I loved Poet’s Corner and I wish that I had joined a group of misfit poets in high school (many, many years ago); I would have fit in with them so much better. And I really loved AJ. I love main character boys that I can see my seventeen-year-old self having a crush on.

There isn’t anything incredibly mind blowing about this story, but I actually loved the simplicity of it. It tackles a serious illness without being too heavy or depressing. And from the author’s note at the end of the book, it seems like Stone did an incredible amount of research and has personal connections to someone with Purely-Obsessional OCD.

Quotable

“They pride themselves on normalcy and perfection, and they can’t ever find out how far I am from those two things.”

“Suddenly I feel more like a stripper than a poet, two minutes away from exposing myself to these total strangers who may think I’m plastic, but don’t currently think I’m nuts.”

“Everyone’s got something. Some people are just better actors than others.”

“I’m merely reminding you to embrace who you are and surround yourself with people who do the same.”

Rating

This book was difficult for me to rate, but when I finished reading it, I actually was inclined to pick it back up and start at the beginning all over again. (I didn’t, but I wanted to!) So in my world, that means 5 hearts.

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Have you read Every Last Word? What did you think?
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Review – Learning to Swear in America

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Title: Learning to Swear in America
Author: Katie Kennedy
Publication: July 5th 2016 by Bloomsbury
Genre: YA, Contemporary
Pages: 346 pages
Format: Library book
Rating: 4/5

An asteroid is hurtling toward Earth. A big, bad one. Yuri, a physicist prodigy from Russia, has been called to NASA as they calculate a plan to avoid disaster. He knows how to stop the asteroid: his research in antimatter will probably win him a Nobel prize–if there’s ever another Nobel prize awarded. But Yuri’s 17, and having a hard time making older, stodgy physicists listen to him. Then he meets Dovie, who lives like a normal teenager, oblivious to the impending doom. Being with her, on the adventures she plans when he’s not at NASA, Yuri catches a glimpse of what it means to save the world and save a life worth living.

Prepare to laugh, cry, cringe, and have your mind burst open with questions of the universe.

Shelf it on Goodreads

 

So here’s the alphabetical run down:

Characters

Yuri was such an easy character for me to love. I love his Russian accent and his social awkwardness and his self-confidence that would be over the top cockiness in any other character, but just works for Yuri. You come to understand that in his mind, he just is right, he just is a genius, and because of that he can’t comprehend not trusting his own opinion.

Dovie’s life was a great juxtaposition to Yuri’s life. She’s not really your average American teenager, but she (and her brother Lennon) represent everything that Yuri hasn’t had in his life: involved and entertaining family, spontaneity, and just in general a very colorful life.

Cover

I like the simplicity of the cover. It’s actually quite clever and I appreciate that it is really simple and really clever at the same time.

Love

Yuri and Dovie’s relationship is not the central plot, but definitely adds to the story. I would not categorize the book as a romance at all, but Yuri and Dovie’s interactions and conversations are some of my favorite scenes in the book.

Pros/Cons

One of my favorite things about LTSIA is that it’s one of the first YA contemporary novels that I’ve read that I felt like was unisex. I feel like this book could be equally enjoyed by girls and boys. Maybe there are YA contemporaries geared towards boys out there and I just haven’t read them, but I feel like most books geared towards boys are either fantasy or sci-fi, but not usually contemporary, and I really respect Kennedy for writing something unique.

I enjoyed the timeline of the plot; about three-quarters of the way though you get to an event that you think could be the end of the book, but the last quarter of the book really shifts the focus of the book from being about Yuri saving the world from an asteroid to Yuri saving his own life. This book also has hilarious dialogue and is unexpectedly laugh out loud funny.

There is quite a bit of science in the book, some I somewhat understood and a lot I didn’t, but it didn’t detract from my understanding or enjoyment of the plot. If you really hate science, this book probably isn’t for you, but you probably knew that from the synopsis.

Quotable

“He exhaled in disgust. ‘High school is boredom punctuated by humiliation.'”

“It’s not safe to know how to swear but not how to deal with people,” Dovie said. “It’s like walking around with your mouth loaded and the safety off.”

“‘I dream in color and I remember in color and I hope in color.’
‘What color is hope?’
‘I hope in all the colors,’ Dovie said. ‘That’s what makes it hope.’
‘I don’t really understand that.’
‘Nobody does.’ She was quiet for a moment, but Yuri could hear her breathing. ‘I feel like I was the whole color wheel as a kid. And growing up means losing some of that.'”

Rating

Some books, I go into with a preconceived notion about, but this one caught me by surprise. I enjoyed it so much and it is definitely deserving of four hearts!

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Review – This Savage Song

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Title: This Savage Song
Series: Monsters of Verity, #1
Author: Victoria Schwab
Publication: July 5th 2016 by Greenwillow Books
Genre: YA, Fantasy
Pages: 464 pages
Format: Library book
Rating: 5/5

There’s no such thing as safe in a city at war, a city overrun with monsters. In this dark urban fantasy from author Victoria Schwab, a young woman and a young man must choose whether to become heroes or villains—and friends or enemies—with the future of their home at stake. The first of two books.

Kate Harker and August Flynn are the heirs to a divided city—a city where the violence has begun to breed actual monsters. All Kate wants is to be as ruthless as her father, who lets the monsters roam free and makes the humans pay for his protection. All August wants is to be human, as good-hearted as his own father, to play a bigger role in protecting the innocent—but he’s one of the monsters. One who can steal a soul with a simple strain of music. When the chance arises to keep an eye on Kate, who’s just been kicked out of her sixth boarding school and returned home, August jumps at it. But Kate discovers August’s secret, and after a failed assassination attempt the pair must flee for their lives.

Shelf it on Goodreads

 

So here’s the alphabetical run down:

Characters

Schwab gives her characters such realistic motivation for their actions. Kate and August as the main characters had really complex back stories that gave their personalities depth and believability. 

Similar to Lila in Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic series, Kate is tough as nails, but beneath her exterior she has serious motivation for her toughness. August, on the other hand, is such a contrast to the other monsters in the book with his overwhelming desire to be human. The balance between the two of their characters is perfect.

Cover

This cover is gorgeous! The red violin silhouette with the city alleyway embedded in the picture fits the story perfectly. The hand lettered looking title is faintly metallic; another detail that is pulled from the story.

Love

The story is not a romance at all. Kate and August’s family relationships and friendship really take precedence and are all so wonderfully complex. Trust and loyalty are main themes of the relationships in the book.

Pros/Cons

In a less capable authors hands, a story about monsters could have been cheesy, but Schwab is a more than capable author. She’s brilliant! The monsters were frightening, detailed, smart, and murderous at the same time.

The pacing of the world building was perfect. The city of Verity and the different types of monsters weren’t explained at the beginning of the book, which really works for me. I am not a fan of information dumping, where an author wants you to understand the world they’ve created from the first chapter, so they tell you instead of show you.  Schwab very cleverly uses everything from history lessons at school to a child singing a song to show you the world she has created. She builds it up piece by piece, until it feels real.

The conclusion wrapped up the first (of two books) nicely, without a cliff hanger, but also left enough unanswered questions that the second book could not come soon enough!

Quotable

Good and bad were weak words. Monsters didn’t care about intentions or ideals.”

“‘You have to break them early,’ her father once said. Of course, he’d been talking about monsters, not teenagers, but they had a lot in common. Both had hive minds; they thought – and acted – in groups.”

“You wanted to feel alive, right? It doesn’t matter if you’re monster or human. Living hurts.”

Rating

This is definitely one of my favorite books this year and I highly recommend it! Schwab writes complex and dynamic characters, an original concept, fantastic world building… I just can’t say anything bad about this book!!!

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Review – Just a Few Inches

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Title: Just a Few Inches
Author: Tara St. Pierre
Publication: May 31st 2015 by Createspace Independent Publishing Platform
Genre: YA, Contemporary, Fantasy
Pages: 306 pages
Format: Provided a copy by the author in exchange for an honest review
Rating: 3/5

All Carrie Roberts wants is to be a little bit smaller.

To fit into the perfect dress for the Valentine’s Day Dance. To look beautiful for her boyfriend, the school’s star basketball player. To keep his jealous ex-girlfriend, a rival cheerleader, away from him. And to be noticed by her classmates.

Exercising and dieting don’t work, but an advertisement for weight loss pills promises a quicker solution to her problem. As time runs out, she takes more than the recommended dose until she’s just a few inches slimmer. Heads turn when she arrives at the dance, and the wonderful night with her boyfriend is beyond what she dreamed it would be.

Days later, Carrie discovers that her body is changing in ways that should be impossible. While her doctor searches for a cure, she desperately turns to her friends and family for support. Everyone is noticing her now whether she likes it or not, and even the media is intrigued by her incredible story. Getting everything she once wanted has created new problems—problems that are growing more terrifying every day.

Because Carrie Roberts is shrinking.

Shelf it on Goodreads

 

So here’s the alphabetical run down:

Characters

I like Carrie’s character. Her optimism throughout the story is uplifting, but I felt like at times sounded like she was a high schooler written from an adult perspective, (which I know that most YA novels are written by adults, but the characters should sound like they have only the experience appropriate for their age).

A lot of the characters in the book change throughout the story. I appreciated the character growth, but felt like at times it had a forced “lesson learned” feeling.

Cover

I’m not a fan of the cover. It does fit the story, with the red dress and the cover model looking small in comparison, but it’s just not eye catching or really very aesthetically pleasing.

Love

Carrie is in two distinct romantic relationships in the book. I enjoyed the contrast between the two and really liked the boy she ends up with, but I also enjoyed that the romantic relationships weren’t the focus of the story and seemed to be a natural, unforced secondary plot.

Pros/Cons

Although not very long in actuality, the book feels long. I won’t pretend to understand all that goes into independent publishing, but I feel like a really good editor could have taken the concept of the book and the writing and made it into something really spectacular.  As it is, I respected the message that St. Pierre wanted to convey with the story, but it felt like some of the mundane details could have been left out, while at other times the plot points seemed to be strung together only following Carrie’s shrinking and not filling in to create a complete story.

I really enjoyed that the plot was completely unique. The book reads like a contemporary, but Carrie’s shrinking is obviously a fantasy element. I appreciate when an author uses the naivety of their character as a reason not to completely explain a rule within the world they have created. Similar to Claudia Gray’s A Thousand Pieces of You where the time travel isn’t fully explained because the main character isn’t a physicist, Carrie’s shrinking is given a medical explanation, but St. Pierre uses Carrie and her family not being medically trained as a reason not to fully explain it.

Quotable

“Everyone was too worried about how everything looked instead of being upfront and honest and doing what was right. Was this how people in the real world operated, or was this phenomenon limited to high school students?”

“We would’ve made quite the poster trio for body self-consciousness because the condition of our bodies mattered far less that night than wonderful time we had in them.”

“No one should be considered average; it’s a purely mathematical concept, and though math may have its useful purposes, describing who a person is shouldn’t be one of them.”

Rating

Three stars isn’t a bad review for this book! I liked it. I had trouble with the pacing of the story at times, but I think the overall message of the book is really important, unique, and well done.

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Review – Kissing Ted Callahan (and Other Guys)

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Title: Kissing Ted Callahan (and Other Guys)
Author: Amy Spalding
Publication: April 7th 2015 by Poppy
Genre: YA, Contemporary, Romance
Pages: 320 pages
Format: Library book
Rating: 3/5

Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist meets Easy A in this hilariously realistic story of sneaking out, making out, and playing in a band.

After catching their bandmates in a compromising position, sixteen-year-old Los Angelenos Riley and Reid become painfully aware of the romance missing from their own lives. And so a pact is formed: they’ll both try to make something happen with their respective crushes and document the experiences in a shared notebook.

While Reid struggles with the moral dilemma of adopting a dog to win over someone’s heart, Riley tries to make progress with Ted Callahan, who she’s been obsessed with forever-His floppy hair! His undeniable intelligence! But suddenly cute guys are popping up everywhere. How did she never notice them before?! With their love lives going from 0 to 60 in the blink of an eye, Riley and Reid realize the results of their pact may be more than they bargained for.

Shelf it on Goodreads

 

So here’s the alphabetical run down:

Characters

I liked Riley’s character. She’s the drummer in a band, wears band t-shirts and jeans, and she’s not overly emotional about her relationships with boys, all of which are pretty atypical for female leads. The most hilarious parts of the book were Riley’s thought reel. She has an ongoing commentary in her head that is laugh out loud funny.

I was a bit let down by Ted Callahan’s character. Being the title character I just expected more from him. I thought Riley’s other two (yes there are two!) potential love interests, Milo and Garrick, were both given more interesting personalities.

I liked Reid and Riley’s friendship. Reid took on the role that I think most readers would expect of the girl, overanalyzing and stressing about every detail in a relationship. It was kind of funny to see those roles reversed. I also really liked Lucy’s character, although you don’t get to know her very well until the end of the book.

Cover

The cover is cute. I love the lipstick print, the handwritten title, and the doodles on staff paper as background. It’s all very appropriate for the story. It’s not a book that would warrant a cover buy, but it’s cute none the less.

Love

As stated in the synopsis, Riley and Reid catch their bandmates together and decide to make their own romantic goals and write about their experiences in a shared notebook. Honestly, Reid’s relationships were pretty boring and I wasn’t interested in them. Riley ends up juggling multiple boys, which was entertaining, but I wasn’t as interested in her major crush, Ted Callahan, as I was the other boys.

Pros/Cons

I read this book for mainly two reasons. First, a recommendation by Stephanie Perkins (who wrote Anna and the French Kiss, possibly the cutest contemporary romance out there) on the cover, where she says she has a “major crush on Ted Callahan.” Second, because the synopsis compares it to Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist, which I am embarrassed to say I’ve only seen the movie of, but I adore! Unfortunately, this book just didn’t live up to either of those. I think because I didn’t fall for Ted’s character, (he is nothing like Etienne, for any of you who love AATFK) and therefore had trouble rooting for he and Riley to be together.

On the plus side, the book starts quickly and pulls you into the story immediately. It has short chapters and I could see it being one that might pull you out of a reading slump and makes you laugh out loud almost the whole way though.

Quotable

“He gets out of the car. Swiftly. Too swiftly? Is he afraid I’ll lob more words at him? Ted, come back! Ted, I’ll learn to be normal! Ted, it isn’t fair we sat two feet apart and I didn’t get to touch your hair!”

“I think there’s a scary but real chance I am not capable of being low-key and cool.”

Rating

It’s a hilarious, quick read, but I don’t think I will remember the story or the characters much beyond this review.

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