The Love Interest by Cale Dietrich

Publisher: Feiwal & Friends
Release Date: 16th May 2017
Rating: ☆ ☆
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There is a secret organization that cultivates teenage spies. The agents are called Love Interests because getting close to people destined for great power means getting valuable secrets.

Caden is a Nice: The boy next door, sculpted to physical perfection. Dylan is a Bad: The brooding, dark-souled guy, and dangerously handsome. The girl they are competing for is important to the organization, and each boy will pursue her. Will she choose a Nice or the Bad?

Both Caden and Dylan are living in the outside world for the first time. They are well-trained and at the top of their games. They have to be – whoever the girl doesn’t choose will die.

What the boys don’t expect are feelings that are outside of their training. Feelings that could kill them both.

Apparently this year’s running theme is ‘being disappointed by my anticipated reads’. Because boy, am I getting disappointed by my anticipated reads.

I came across The Love Interest and begged every single gatekeeper to give me an early copy. Not only was it LGBT, it also seemed to be a funny self-deprecation at the genre and how many YA novels have the same romance tropes which are tired and clichéd.

When I was ignored, I waited for the Kindle edition and impatiently downloaded it on the release day (for £6.50, for God’s sake). I prepared myself for a full day of reading the whole thing; just me and this book, which I already knew I loved.

Oh. My. God.

This book is bad, which I hate to say about a book that I had such good expectations for. It does not read like a polished, traditionally published novel by a top publisher where editors have fine tooth combed it to perfection. This is a book that was clearly not looked at enough. Not read out loud to understand truly how badly structured and paced this whole thing is.

We’ll start with the writing, which I can only describe as written as bad stage directions. Every single thing is described, things that do not matter to the plot whatsoever. It’s not even purple prose, it’s just listing everything a person does or what a place looks like to the point where we are forced to shut down our imagination because everything is covered. But there’s no creativity; it’s just straight up describing and explaining. Here’s one mind numbing paragraph:

“”If it’s not too much trouble, can you chop up this celery for me?” A gigantic piece of celery is sitting on a wooden chopping board. I walk toward it and pick up the silver knife. I cut off the head, the slice the body into thin slivers.”

Apparently a reader cannot possibly know what chopping celery is, and so is taken through every step the main character goes through in order to fully understand this scene. Now, imagine this throughout the entire book. I felt like I was being talked to like an idiot. The protagonist walks into a room, the character smiles and breathes in and then breathes out. He then walks 30cm to the North West of the room and reaches for a pen, he picks up the pen……and it goes on. There is even a scene where two characters are out for a meal and nothing happens. We just get told that they lift up their forks and put food in their mouth and chew. AM I GOING CRAZY? I KNOW WHAT EATING FOOD IS.

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The dialogue is also just…not dialogue. It doesn’t sound authentic or real. I’m not expecting a book to write speech so accurately that it becomes a transcript, but to have characters talk as if they’re reading from a teleprompter is so bizarre. They don’t pause for breath, they just keep saying ‘oh also,’ and ‘anyway enough about that’ and just keep going. They have answers without thinking about things, like they’ve rehearsed what they’re going to say. And even though the love interests in the novel do sometimes have rehearsed lines, not everyone does! They all sound like robots! The only way I can explain it is if you and a mate got the book and acted a scene out. Hear the dialogue out in the open, and then you’d realise it sounds like a bad amateur play.

The characters? I don’t know. Caden, from the beginning, we are told does not feel like he is a Nice because he doesn’t fit the mould. He says he’s selfish and is out for himself, and I understand it’s supposed to be a commentary on unrealistic characterization and that real people aren’t ‘nice’ or ‘bad’ but more of a mixture of the two with some leaning more one way than the other. I got that. But Caden isn’t much of anything? He says that he thinks a certain way but we don’t actually see it? He’s just a bit of a wet mop. They all are; even Dylan, the ‘bad’ who at first came across as a manic pixie dream boy, but then becomes like that character Summer from 500 Days of Summer. He’s wishy-washy and both of them just stand around and say stock sentences.

The premise, the plot that there’s this place where they create perfect people to be spies and make target’s fall in love with them is…I get it. It’s a sci-fi aspect to the common tropes in YA. You’re supposed to suspend your disbelief, but I physically couldn’t. There’s not enough exposition for this concept to land properly. We’re not given enough. After reading this, and someone asked me to explain exactly what the Love Interest Compound (LIC) is, I wouldn’t know what to tell you. Is it a prison? Is it a nice place? Is it awful? How do they find love interests? How do they raise them? Why do they kill them? Where has all this money come from to spend on giant robots and cool holograms that people can conjure up with a flick of a finger? If they deal in secrets and information from their targets, how has that information not caused world war three? Or the collapse of society? I DON’T KNOW. I felt like it could have been something a lot smoother and polished and clever, but instead there just wasn’t enough. You were in there, and then suddenly you were made to forget about it and plopped into a YA contemporary, where the threat of death is still there but no one is that bothered. It doesn’t feel like a big deal.

I’m so disappointed. If this was a gripping story with humour mixed in with a thoughtful message, it would have been so much easier to look past some of the hammy stuff. But a badly written book is a badly written book, and I hope that the author continues to write and gets better editors.

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Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg

Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
Release Date: May 2013
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ .5
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Rafe is a normal teenager from Boulder, Colorado. He plays soccer. He’s won skiing prizes. He likes to write.

And, oh yeah, he’s gay. He’s been out since 8th grade, and he isn’t teased, and he goes to other high schools and talks about tolerance and stuff. And while that’s important, all Rafe really wants is to just be a regular guy. Not that GAY guy. To have it be a part of who he is, but not the headline, every single time.

So when he transfers to an all-boys’ boarding school in New England, he decides to keep his sexuality a secret — not so much going back in the closet as starting over with a clean slate. But then he sees a classmate breaking down. He meets a teacher who challenges him to write his story. And most of all, he falls in love with a boy who doesn’t even know that love is possible.

In all honesty, this book was not what I expected.

41rr-qkuy2blWhile it was funny and romantic, I did not expect a genuinely thought out message which you don’t normally find in an LGBT story; the actual label of being ‘gay’ and how people perceive you as a person, even if it’s a positive perception. While the message does get tossed back and forth and Rafe’s opinion and thoughts about what he’s set out to do change throughout the book (ergo, a plot), I did find myself struggling with a lot of things that he was made to accept just because she should be ‘grateful’ that he as cool and welcoming parents.

A lot of the things that Rafe asks of his parents do not slide with them and, though that may be the case, they still should be accommodating even when they do not think that is the right thing for him. They express their concern, but still go out of their way to make Rafe uncomfortable. He’s a teenager; not only are things super uncomfortable and embarrassing for him anyway, going against someone’s wishes regarding their sexuality or identity opens a whole other can of problematic worms. But, because ‘other people have it worse’, he’s made to embrace it which, if I were him, would not slide. This is about Rafe, and his parents often made it about them.

However, I loved the dissecting of male friendships and relationships while Rafe is at the all-boys boarding school. I have read stories with male protagonists with male friends, but I hadn’t really read something that felt so organic and true (despite not being male with male friends). It can be a toxic environment, and Rafe definitely sees that dark side to being surrounded by just guys, but also sees the joy and openness of it, especially when it comes to Ben and how they both do away with toxic masculinity to just be themselves without the weight of the world on their shoulders.

I’ve heard some not great stuff about Openly Straight’s sequel, Honestly, Ben. But if you’ve read it please tell me what you think!

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Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Release Date: 21st January 2017
Rating: ☆ ☆
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Scarlett has never left the tiny island where she and her beloved sister, Tella, live with their powerful and cruel father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval, the far-away, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show, are over.

But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. But she nevertheless becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic with the other players in the game. And whether Caraval is real or not, she must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over, a dangerous domino effect of consequences is set off, and her sister disappears forever.

Continue reading “Caraval by Stephanie Garber”

History Is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Release Date: 9th February 2017
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
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OCD-afflicted seventeen-year-old, Griffin, has just lost his first love – his best friend, ex-boyfriend and the boy he believed to be his ultimate life partner – in a drowning accident. In a desperate attempt to hold onto every last piece of the past, a broken Griffin forges a friendship with Theo’s new college boyfriend, Jackson. And Griffin will stop at nothing to learn every detail of Theo’s new college life, and ultimate death. But as the grieving pair grows closer, readers will question Griffin’s own version of the truth – both in terms of what he’s willing to hide, and what true love ultimately means…

25014114I don’t read a lot of sad because because surprise, they make me sad. I don’t like feeling sad; I often feel sad for no reason anyway…I don’t need to make more room in my life for things to make me feel sad. And you would think I would think logically when picking up an Adam Silvera book because guess what, THEY’RE SAD.

But I love everything about Adam Silvera’s writing because it’s so realistic, and I often latch onto his characters and find something relatable about them. In this case, it was the main character’s jealousy. This has happened before in other books like Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins and Solitaire by Alice Oseman because there’s just something overwhelming powerful in a book when it feels like it’s talking directly to you.

Not to mention while I was feeling all these things, MORE feelings were piled on. It’s not a spoiler to say that the story involves funerals and grieving and memories and it just HURTS SO MUCH. I had to keep taking breaks. Trust me, there were funny parts, and really lovely parts that didn’t make me burst into tears, but to summarize this book into one word would be; heart-wrenching.

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The Rose Society by Marie Lu (The Young Elites #2)

Publisher: Speak
Release Date: October 2015
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
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Plot: Adelina Amouteru’s heart has suffered at the hands of both family and friends, turning her down the bitter path of revenge. Now known and feared as the White Wolf, she flees Kenettra with her sister to find other Young Elites in the hopes of building her own army of allies. Her goal: to strike down the Inquisition Axis, the white-cloaked soldiers who nearly killed her.

But Adelina is no heroine. Her powers, fed only by fear and hate, have started to grow beyond her control. She does not trust her newfound Elite friends. Teren Santoro, leader of the Inquisition, wants her dead. And her former friends, Raffaele and the Dagger Society, want to stop her thirst for vengeance. Adelina struggles to cling to the good within her. But how can someone be good when her very existence depends on darkness?

img_20170106_181937_268I DID IT.

After 2 months of struggling to finish a book due to my mental health, and thus meaning I lost 2016’s reading challenge by about 3 books, I finally finished a book in just a matter of days, and it was a great one too!

So, Adelina is a villain, there’s no question; she manipulates, taunts, consumes fear and enjoys hurting others. But I still root for her in every way. She is so believable when it comes to painting the good guys as bad, as wanting to hurt her; sometimes you have to remember that she is the villain and that, in the same way as she is manipulating the other characters around her, she is also manipulating you, in a sense.

I still found, like The Young Elites, the plot to not really stand out from many other fantasies. There were wars and duelling kingdoms and handsome, charming thieves. I still thoroughly enjoyed those aspects despite reading about them before (because if you don’t like those themes, you’re probably not going to enjoy high fantasy), but, after looking at other reviews, I guess I was expecting something a little more remarkable.

I’ll still be reading The Midnight Star, and I can’t wait to read about Adelina burning everything to the ground.

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The Last Beginning by Lauren James

Publisher: Walker Books
Release Date: October 2016
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
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Plot: The epic conclusion to Lauren James’ debut The Next Together about love, destiny and time travel.

Sixteen years ago, after a scandal that rocked the world, teenagers Katherine and Matthew vanished without a trace. Now Clove Sutcliffe is determined to find her long lost relatives. But where do you start looking for a couple who seem to have been reincarnated at every key moment in history? Who were Kate and Matt? Why were they born again and again? And who is the mysterious Ella, who keeps appearing at every turn in Clove’s investigation?

For Clove, there is a mystery to solve in the past and a love to find in the future.

I wouldn’t say there is a checklist for what I look for in a book, because that would be silly. I am diverse in my taste in novels, but you do end up looking for books that you feel are similar to your faves’ novels.

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I am recently a big fan of Alice Oseman (Solitaire, Radio Silence), and I met her and watched a talk including her on books/fandom/the interwebs at YALC this year. The talk was a dynamic duo gig, and also included none other than Lauren James. I hadn’t actually heard of Lauren James’ books, and so when I saw one on offer at Waterstones and that the MC was a gay lady, I just sort of blacked out and suddenly was owning and reading this book.

Look, if your novel has an LGBT MC, I’m probably going to read it.

I wasn’t actually sure what I was reading at first. The blurb came across as a mystery mixed in with themes of fate and…reincarnation? I read the first half and found it easy to understand and enjoyable (this is relevant because it’s science heavy, and I got a low C in GCSE Science), however, there were parts about other characters that seemed to me like I should have read something else before this one.

Turns out, this is the second novel in a duology, and I am an idiot.

So there is stuff I’ve missed out on, stuff that might’ve been a little helpful. But if you end up doing the same thing as me and reading the second book first, then it’s OK. You can; it’s still great, still cute, still a Back To The Future with a queer, female Marty McFly with more science smarts. It doesn’t ruin it, and even more, it makes me want to now read the first one!

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And I Darken by Kiersten White

Publisher: Corgi
Release Date: July 2016
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Goodreads

Plot: No one expects a princess to be brutal. And Lada Dragwyla likes it that way.

Ever since she and her brother were abandoned by their father to be raised in the Ottoman sultan’s courts, Lada has known that ruthlessness is the key to survival. For the lineage that makes her and her brother special also makes them targets.

Lada hones her skills as a warrior as she nurtures plans to wreak revenge on the empire that holds her captive. Then she and Radu meet the sultan’s son, Mehmed, and everything changes. Now Mehmed unwittingly stands between Lada and Radu as they transform from siblings to rivals, and the ties of love and loyalty that bind them together are stretched to breaking point.

After talking to myself (and anyone else who would listen), I’ve figured out what I liked and what I disliked about this book.

Firstly, about 90% of the book I thoroughly enjoyed. It was slow moving, but it just meant that the story was rich in setting, tension, political intrigue and showed how slow the process of rule and politics can be. I loved the characters, how complicated they were and how evil they could become.

But, unfortunately, a lot of that has been relegated to the bench because of how disappointing the romance was. The fact that there was romance alone made it so unfortunate and unnecessary. Is that how back stories to evil characters are? Do they always have a romance that was a bit sad and rubbish and that’s what makes them awful? I liked that Lada was clearly evil and nasty to begin with, but for a potential villain to ‘not know her emotions’ when it came to a boy was honestly just so boring.

And the fact that Radu, sweet and lovely Radu, is friendzoned (I hate this phrase, but I was annoyed for him in this sense) throughout the book and it’s just accepted. It’s a common theme that unrequited love is just a thing that has to happen for some, for who, however, I won’t spoil. Maybe I am just a salty person when it comes to a character not getting the love they deserve? There were so many instances where Radu could have been happy, and he always just chose the wrong way, and it infuriated me how obsessed and blindly in love he was.

It may seem that I HATED 90% of the book, but I still stand by what I said at the beginning.

This book was well written and drawn out superbly, and I am intrigued to see what happens in the next, but it was also really annoying.

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