‘Frostblood’ by Elly Blake did not get deeper the second time around

Here we go again.

If you’ve followed this blog for a while, or you remember me from Goodreads as ‘‘Lola’’ perhaps, you know I love YA Fantasy and you know (maybe, if you’re a die-hard fan) that I have read this book before, its advance reader’s copy to be more precise.

Like about 3.5 billion people in this world, I am in awe of Frozen and its world of magic and let it go-ness. So of course I had to give this a try. I decided to give it a second try because sometimes I simply do not want to admit defeat.

There are books and series out there that I feel myself feeling indifferent about and it leaves me gobsmacked, whereas there are books I am reluctant to try and assume I’ll detest them on first sight that actually end up leaving me breathless.

Why is the world of literature so cruel? Anyways, so in my refusal to admit defeat, I picked this one up again… and history repeated itself. The good thing is that now I know better why this author and series do not work for me and, should I insist on creating a bond between us, I can more easily adjust my expectations for the third round.

Yes, there will be a third round sometime, somewhere, some day. So what’s the problem with Frostblood, besides its dramatic title that means little? Well, pretty much the fact that it’s overly dramatic and has little emotional depth. If you’re a shallow reader who gravitates towards shallow works (no judgement here), please do jump right into the frosty shallow waters of this one. If, like me, you need a deeper connection, you will be quite astounded to realize that even though you’ve finished reading it in something like 5 hours, you remember quite little of its content.

It’s like having a conversation with someone who doesn’t know how to navigate deep waters. You certainly remember that you talked about the weather, how they were doing, whether they slept well last night and how early they joke up to drink their orange juice. You know this – or rather, assume this – because it has happened many times before. But you, somehow, can’t remember if the weather was stormy or not, at what time and why they actually went to bed and what brand of orange juice reached their lips.

Bottom line: you can’t attribute or force depth into anyone or anything, if it’s not there for you to harness its potential or recognize, try as you might. So why, pray tell, do you insist on liking this one, Monica?

Because Frozen.

Because Frozen.

Thank you Hachette Book Group Canada for the copy in exchange for a review.

Beyond the Ruby Veil – Mara Fitzgerald

I love unlikeable female characters. The truth is that, most of the time, they are only unlikeable because they are women, and if a man displayed the same cunningness he would be worshipped, not ostracized. Unfortunately, Emanuela is not all that cunning and bad. She is not the type of heroine you love to hate, because she is actually pretty likeable and human at different moments of the story.

I think that one thing a character needs to be unlikeable or simply villainous, is to be single-minded. To have this one specific goal and try to achieve it in any way possible, regardless of the consequences their actions produce and regardless of who gets in their way. In Emanuela’s case, she cannot become that single-minded character who does as she pleases, to whomever she pleases, to achieve her goals because she cares. She cares about her childhood friend and almost-husband Alessandro and she cares very much about her city and people.

The moment you start caring for something or someone other than yourself, you kind of become human. And Emanuela is pretty human, despite her, at times, careless behaviour. As I read about her, I kept thinking of the main character from Winning by Lara Deloza, because that is one story about a character who has one very specific goal – get the crown! – and is not afraid to be hated and to screw people over to get what she wants, even the ones closest to her.

But that’s okay. It’s okay for a character to not be who you expected them to be. I did not get this book only so that I can enjoy Emanuela’s promised badassery. As always when I pick up a fantasy, I am curious about the world. Unfortunately, again, here the world-building is quite confusing and under-developed. You have these ‘‘veils’’ and these ‘‘watercreas’’ who turn people’s blood into water (euh, seriously) and it’s just so basic, and odd, and 2002.

The good thing about this book – yes, there is one good thing! – is that because it is under-developed and not very complex and doesn’t take itself too seriously, it can be read fast and without investing too much energy into it. Also, when you put it aside, you don’t think about it much so it takes little mental space. Basically, it’s unmemorable. If that’s something you’re looking for right now, because you have trouble concentrating anyways, maybe you’ll enjoy your experience with Emanuela’s journey. Sadly, I was looking for more. I know, how dare I?

Thank you Hachette Book Group Canada for the copy in exchange for a review.

By the Time You Read This I’ll Be Dead – Julie Anne Peters

I don’t know why we read some authors and not others. I don’t know how our minds process the decision to give one book our time and not another equally interesting novel. Sometimes it’s about hype, popularity, genre, subject-matter, length, age group, familiarity with the author, mood—a lot of different factors come into play. But what I’ve learned is that it’s never too late to embark on a journey to discover a new-old author. New to us, old to the literary world.

I’m saying this because Julie Anne Peters is an established, bestselling and award-winning author who has been writing for decades. And yet, I only ‘‘discovered’’ her last month after getting my hands on Define ‘‘Normal.’’ Discovered is probably not the right word to use, just like Christopher Columbus didn’t actually ‘‘discover’’ America. It was already there and known to its populations. Maybe “coming into contact with’’ is a better way to say it. Coming into contact with Julie Anne Peters’ writing has done me a lot of good.

This particular title deals with very heavy issues, such as depression, bullying, suicide, sexual assault and abuse. The main character, Daelyn Rice, was told again and again by the people she encountered that she wasn’t good enough, skinny enough, valuable enough and that she never would be. She began to internalize those thoughts and now she doesn’t know how to cope, how to go on, how to defend herself and speak up about her struggles. So why bother being on this earth longer? In less than a month, she’ll be gone and, for the first time in who knows how long, she’ll be happy.

This is not the kind of story one should read if one feels down. It is a ‘‘low energy’’ type of story and while I’m sure you’re not surprised to hear that, it’s still worth mentioning because if you’re in a bad mood or depressed yourself, this book can be a real trigger. Two months ago, this book would have triggered me for real. But today, I was able to read it and definitely connect with Daelyn, without letting it affect my mood too heavily. If you do not believe you can stomach a book such as this one right now, I recommend picking up Peters’ Define ‘‘Normal’’ instead and leaving this for when the time is right. The right time will come.

Thank you Hachette Book Group Canada for the copy in exchange for a review.

Define ”Normal” – Julie Anne Peters

I wish I had read this book when it came out. Except, when it came out, in 2000, I was four years old. I’m holding in my hands what I believe to be the fourth edition, which shows just how relevant the story still is today. Actually, I think it’s more relevant now than ever. When it came out, it was probably one of a kind. A YA contemporary story that discusses mental illness, parental neglect, peer counselling and what ‘‘normal’’ means. Nowadays, we can find more stories exploring those themes—thank goodness—and a few ones that go even more into depth, but it was interesting to see how those topics were handled 21 years ago.

There is much less shame now regarding counselling, therapy and the overall idea of needing help figuring things out, controlling our temper, opening ourselves up to others and letting ourselves act our age. But for Antonia and Jazz, peer counselling is foreign, awkward and stilted. They don’t know what it means to be in a ‘‘safe space’’ and how to open up about what they feel on the inside. It’s very difficult in the beginning, since Antonia and Jazz don’t trust one another, but they slowly develop a bond that grows beyond their peer counselling sessions.

I’m writing this review not only because that’s what I do—I’m a book blogger, hey!—and because I genuinely enjoy sharing my thoughts on the stories I read, but also because I want to set the record straight regarding this title. This author is known for writing LGBTQIA+ characters, and I saw this one being shelves as ‘‘LGBT’’ quite a few times on Goodreads, but sexual orientation is not discussed. The main focus is the growing friendship between the two teen girls and how counselling helps them face their own respective issues. There is no romance, and though it’s a meaningful story, it is not a ‘‘fun’’ one. Hopefully, you get into it with better expectations, but by all means do go into it.

Thank you Hachette Book Group Canada for the copy in exchange for an honest review.

Someone Else’s Summer – Rachel Bateman

Annie’s sister—the authentic and fearless Storm—dies in a car accident, leaving behind a devastated family… and a list of things to accomplish. Wanting to honour her sister’s memory and get out of her comfort zone, Annie embarks on a road trip with her childhood friend Cameron in the hopes of checking off every item on the list.

The list is actually the least memorable aspect of this story. What I loved most was seeing Annie and Cameron’s relationship unfold. Because Annie’s parents are grieving and absent, she has quite a lot of freedom to basically do whatever she wishes… as long as Cameron is also okay with it. He is the wisest of the two of them, so she is in good hands and unlikely to get away with too much.

I found Rachel Bateman’s writing very engaging and the storyline to move along nicely without being too predictable. In an interview with the author at the end of this novel, she actually mentions that she is a dedicated story outliner and I could certainly tell. A less than perfect aspect in this novel is the openness and niceness of the people Annie and Cameron meet. It’s not realistic.

Everyone treats them like they’re friends or family: worthy of attention, patience and care and that’s just not realistic. Someone vouches for them at the hotel; strangers hug Annie and show concern. I understand that her sister died and Cameron probably told a lot of people what their circumstances are, but she’s not the only one with a dead family member so I found the amount of love thrown their way to be idealistic.

Other than that, there is a lot of growing up being done and grieving as well. I’m really glad Annie had Cameron to help her; she especially did not deserve to be alone after her parents started physically and emotionally withdrawing from her. Truth is grief messes people up, it does, but it can heal over time, and Bateman captured that well enough.

Thank you Hachette Book Group Canada for the copy in exchange for a review.

DNF Review: The Lying Woods – Ashley Elston

I am not with the majority here. Ashley Elston is a beloved author from what I’ve seen, with many praising her. I can too, I’ve certainly enjoyed her This Is Our Story and 10 Blind Dates, both of which I recommend. I also certainly commend Elston for being able to switch between genres, though she does seem to have a preference for mysteries.

But The Lying Woods was just… disappointing. It’s one of those books that has high ratings and praise… but a low readership. On Goodreads, at least, and the blogosphere too. I’ll tell you why I think that is. First of all, the premise is good but not great. Owen’s father commits a felony, and now they’re the enemies of the town. Owen wants to figure out what happened and where his father is, searching for clues inside of his memories and around himself.

It’s exciting in the beginning, and certainly I believe I read close to 80 pages in one shot because things moved pretty fast. The number of pages read is not necessarily an achievement for the bookish girl that I am, but I remember doing so while being in somewhat of a book slump, so that’s good overall. The problem is that the pacing is uneven. While it’s fast at first, it slows down when Owen starts working for this guy who is not unfamiliar with his family. There is back and forth—jumps in time. Usually, I am not a fan of those but sometimes they are done well and can truly be thrilling. Not in this case.

It’s not bad, insomuch as it’s meh. Bland. Not good enough. Maybe if it had been a debut, I would have been slightly more forgiving but it’s Elston’s fourth or fifth book and the truth is that she could have done so much better. I personally did not care for the romantic scenes. Even the cover is kind of… not enough. That summarizes the novel pretty well actually: not enough. Not exciting enough, mysterious enough, thrilling enough. It’s, I guess, decent if you’re new to the YA mystery world and have low expectations to begin with, but I’m not and I don’t. If you think I’m being hard on Elston, then so be it. I just know she can do so much more with her writing skills and creative mind.

Thank you Hachette Book Group Canada for the copy in exchange for a review.

Trinkets – Kristen Smith

I love it. I love when a book that seems not to work for a ton of people ends up being the right fit for me. This book has pretty low ratings on Goodreads, and yet I could not help myself from requesting it. Normally, low ratings would discourage me from doing that, but the premise and TV show tie-in cover gripped my interest. Not to mention that this is a Little, Brown Books for Young Readers publication and in the past very few of those have let me down. Fun fact: I hope to get a book published by them in the future. I don’t know who edits these stories but they are doing a great job.

With this particular title, it’s definitely the original execution that kept me engaged the most. The plot is not necessarily new—though I certainly liked the idea of three girls befriending each other in a Shopaholic Anonymous group. Other than that, it deals with basic high school, boy and friendship drama. It’s not the most self-aware book either, with aggression, bullying and disrespect being made light of at times. I’m still on the fence about Moe’s love interest, who gives her attention when they’re alone but completely disregards her when they’re in public. That’s some shitty behavior right there and not something I felt Moe should have put up with at any point.

At the same time, it’s a very readable book. There are three narrators: Elodie expresses herself through poetry, Tabitha through blog posts-type chapters and Moe through diary entries. It’s a fast-paced story, and as cliché as it can get at times, it does deal with realistic issues that teens may go through in their daily lives. Frankly, I’ve never read a story about teen shoplifters before, and yet they do exist. Similarly, the concept of rehabilitation isn’t given a lot of attention in YA and doesn’t have the best reputation, and yet the author managed to make it seem worthwhile and… exciting. A rehab-centered group can become a place where you not only get to discuss something that others may judge you for in the outside world, but also to make friends and generally connect with people who are going through the same thing you are—thus making you feel less alone in the process.

I was taken by surprise by one of the three girls’ secret, which I absolutely did not see coming. Now it makes me want to watch the Netflix series as well, see how the girls and their addiction translates to the screen. TRINKETS is at times fun, at times dramatic, or sad, but never a bookish regret.

Thank you Hachette Book Group Canada for the copy in exchange for a review.

My Last Summer with Cass – Mark Crilley

I love a story told through good art. I love it even more when the story is as good as the art. Such is the case here. Megan and Cass are two childhood friends who share a passion for making art. They meet every summer, along with their families, at a cottage, where they unleash their creativity in different ways. But Cass’s family falls apart, and those summers are no more. The girls grow apart for a bit, then reunite in New York, the place where dreams come true and every artist can find a home. While Cass seems to have figured out the type of artist she is and where she belongs and with whom, Megan is still unsure of who she is meant to be. Terribly afraid of disappointing her parents, especially her dad, she holds back and plays it safe. Cass can see through her friend, can see her buried need to express her true self, and pushes Megan to dig deeper and be braver. All is well… until she pushes too far, too soon.

I related to this story a lot, especially to Megan’s character. I think we’re all forced to grow up one day or another, but for some of us it takes time. If Cass hadn’t been there to introduce her best friend to new things and show her a side of the world she hadn’t seen before, who knows when Megan would have had the chance to experience these new things. Or maybe she would have, but with the wrong crowd, someone who doesn’t have her back. Cass’ aggressive way of throwing new things at Megan did rub me the wrong way, because I wonder, can you really force growth? Isn’t it supposed to happen naturally, over time? More importantly, should you force it? Too much, too soon can be overwhelming for someone who has lived a fairly sheltered life and has only just recently started voicing her own opinions and standing up for herself. The truth is that, whether you agree with Cass’ actions or not, and Megan’s responses to these actions, you are at least sure to be emotionally affected by them because the author and illustrator draws with intent and meaning. I was glued to this graphic novel until the very end. Con: I finished it in 15 minutes. Pro: Those were some intense 15 minutes that I wouldn’t mind repeating.

Thank you Hachette Book Group Canada for the copy in exchange for a review.

The Last Beautiful Girl – Nina Laurin

After reading Horrid by Katrina Leno (whom I’ll be interviewing soon on my blog) I was ready for more gothic stories. Unfortunately, Nina Laurin has nothing on Katrina Leno. There certainly are gothic elements in this story, such as a dark, secluded mansion, ghosts, creepy hidden rooms, disappearances and deaths. BUT, one cannot solely rely on elements pertaining to a theme or genre to make the latter come alive. The main reason why, even though there is creepiness in this story, it never truly feels CREEPY to the reader (or to me) is because there is very little atmosphere.

Don’t get me wrong. I was mildly entertained and I was certainly happy to be reading a novel by an author living in Montreal and who went to Concordia (whose Webster Library, by the way, is *chef’s kiss!). I really was looking forward to seeing what Nina Laurin had to offer and went into this book with the best of intentions and attitude. Nina Laurin has a very accessible writing style that I find appropriate for teens and engaging as well. She wrote here a fast-paced story that, despite lacking atmosphere, did include enough mystery content and drama to keep me want to keep reading. If you like super dramatic stories, this one can be for you.

I think one of the main reasons why it lacked atmosphere was because of the characters. They all pretty much seemed to be one-dimensional, and while that’s appropriate in this case when considering the storyline—a girl dying to be someone and have more attention creates an Instagram account with the help of an aspiring photographer and together they take lavish, glamorous, mature, sexy pictures that generate the account lots of followers—I think the author could have gone deeper. Could have made us understand the depth of Isa’s pain and Alexa’s skill better, so that even if they remain selfish and vain, we understand where those weaknesses come from better. I also think that this story could have benefitted from some slowing down. As I mentioned, it is pretty fast-paced and that’s basically always, even during moments that would have impacted me better if they had had more slow-burning intensity.

To recapitulate, I was entertained by this fast-paced novel that did have some engaging elements, but overall it’s a story that I will forget in a few weeks and whose characters have not managed to steal my heart in any way. If everyone had died at the end, I would not have shed any tears.

Thank you Raincoast Books for the copy in exchange for a review. On sale September 2021!

Creatures of the Night – Grace Collins

I have diaries. I’ve been writing them since middle school, on and off, and I took a 5-year break from sharing my most personal everyday thoughts on paper. But I got back to it a year ago and it’s been helpful. A few days ago, I started writing about things that I’m grateful for every single day. When I started this book, I wrote this: ‘‘I’m grateful for stories that I think I won’t enjoy but that end up surprising me.’’

There’s little very enticing about this book. I almost didn’t request it, because come on. Look at that unoriginal title, cover and premise. Hunters. Creatures. Secrets. Been there, read that about a hundred times.  The more I looked at it, the more I considered getting rid of my copy without even finishing the first page. But then I remembered that I’m a book blogger and that nothing and no one can force me to love a book or even finish it, so I opened it with the idea in mind that I would read enough of it to be able to review its negative aspects and then donate it.

Talk about pre-reading judgement. But admit it, we’re all guilty of it. Skipping over a cover that isn’t attractive enough or reading a premise and finding it too similar to past stories we’ve read and deciding that this thing is not worth our time. Well, I’m grateful for this book because it has reminded me that some people are able to surprise me and that sometimes the content of a book is much, much better than the way it is presented, marketed, publicized.

Grace Collins writes with a lot of intensity. This is as much a character-driven story as it is an action-driven one, my favourite combination in the entire world and something Sarah J. Maas excels at. Grace Collins may not be Miss Maas but she has delivered here a sympathetic and relatable heroine whose character-development is felt and makes me want to see what she’ll do next. The world-building she has created relies on its creatures – hollowers, wispers and shifters, oh and humans – more than its environment. The politics of the world are not heavily nuanced, but what Collins does share about the world is accessible. There is a war brewing between the hollowers and the others, who have been in conflict for a long time, mainly because hollowers kill stuff to stay alive. They ‘‘hollow’’ people out.

Milena thought they were the good guys, but she had no idea who she was living with until her 20th birthday, when her family and friends decided to murder her. She was rescued by shifters who enlightened her on the world she lives in and its real ‘‘creatures of the night.’’ What I like most about this story is that there is a lot going on. Milena doesn’t spend 5 chapters not doing anything. She’s constantly thinking, planning and moving forward. At first on her own, then with friends she’s made. The worst element is the romance, which confused the hell out of Milena. Her love interest is dealing with some stuff and does not have the capacity to be open and honest – two important qualities if you want a long-lasting and healthy relationship. But if you just want something dramatic to entertain the reader, sure, let your heroine and her love interest enter in some unhealthy push-pull type of dynamic.

So in some ways it is a cliché story, but in other ways it is surprising, super entertaining and simply a decent addition to the YA fantasy genre with a heroine who has a lot of growing up and learning to do.

Thank you Raincoast Books for the copy in exchange for an honest review.