This Is What Happy Looks Like

This Is What Happy Looks Like pic

Title: This Is What Happy Looks Like

Author: Jennifer E. Smith

Release Date: Available

With This Is What Happy Looks Like, Jennifer E. Smith succeeds in creating another cute, fun romance. Seventeen year-old Ellie O’Neill is living with her single mother in “Middle-of-Nowhere, Maine” when she receives a stray email from Graham Larkin in “Middle-of-Everything, California.” The two strike up an ongoing conversation, Ellie not realizing the witty, charming boy with whom she is forming a virtual bond is an actor and teen heart-throb. She remains blissfully ignorant of his identity until Graham decides to step up their relationship by ensuring that his next movie is set in Ellie’s intimate, picturesque town. But Ellie is unsure if she can endure a relationship with a star when the invasive paparazzi might reveal to the world that she is the extramarital daughter of a prominent politician.

This is What Happy Looks Like is in a similar form to Smith’s previous novel, The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight. Both take almost cliché romance ideas and attempt to refresh them into something more. Unfortunately, Smith succeeds less in her newest novel than in Statistical Probability. The latter is pithy and substantial, with as much attention paid to the protagonist’s relationship with her family as to her feelings for the love interest. But while Ellie’s relationship with her mother, best friend, and remote father are significant in Happy, these plot lines are saturated with Ellie’s thoughts and feelings for Graham, giving no reprieve from the love story. The book is almost twice the length of Statistical Probability, but somehow less seems to happen. The affectionate beach scenes and under the fireworks moments are pleasant and adorable, but not particularly moving or fresh. Overall, the story is quite enjoyable, but not much more.

Review by Sami;

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Dark Companion

darkcompanion

Title: Dark Companion

Author: Marta Acosta

Release Date: Available

Jane Williams used to be a typical charity case: orphaned and poor, living with an abusive foster parent in the slums. But all of that changes when she receives a scholarship to the prestigious Birch Grove Academy for girls, and is all of a sudden uprooted from the only life she has known and thrust into the life of the privileged and glamorous. She is soon introduced to the headmistress’ son, Lucian Radcliff, who is unlike any other boy she has ever met.  However, he and other members of the community may hold a secret that is darker than Jane could ever imagine.

It’s hard to say much about this book without spoiling it, as the main plot twist doesn’t occur until about halfway through. However, I will say this: this dark, gothic-style novel is full of twists and turns that will keep the reader on edge throughout the story. Because it takes until about halfway through the novel to realize what the shocking secret about the school is, the reader literally cannot put the book down due to the anticipation.

Marta Acosta does an excellent job of drawing the reader in, from the appealing yet mysterious looking cover that immediately caught my eye, to the way she drops a huge plot twist on us halfway through the book. I highly recommend this book to all, but especially to those who enjoy gothic era novels and fantasy.

Review by Danielle

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We Were Liars

Title: We Were Liars

Author: E. Lockhart

Release Date: May 2014

Along with this book came the instructions to lie — lie about the ending, be spartan with descriptions, reveal as little as possible. Yet E. Lockhart’s uniquely beautiful and undeniably stunning book both deserves and demands to be read, and somehow, I don’t think a review completely devoid of explanation is going to be very convincing. So I’ve decided to stick with lies of omission and hopefully that still counts.

We Were Liars pulls back the curtain on the world of the fabulously wealthy and utterly mysterious Sinclair family.  Split and divided into generations of children and grandchildren, every summer the Sinclairs are pulled together to their private island of Beechwood, home to years of memories and sentiment and an abundance of golden retrievers. Beechwood is also the birthplace of the Liars — four friends connected by bonds of both blood and love, united in their penchant for curiosity and mischief, defined by a steadfast faith in one another and the summers at Beechwood that shaped and determined their relationship.

Narrated by the oldest Sinclair grandchild, Cadence, the plot primarily revolves around the enigmatic and hazy summer fifteen,  the vast, unknowable pieces of memory that Cadence has lost from that year, and, of course, the Liars. There is little from summer fifteen that Cadence knows with certainty, and what she does remember is mostly due to the constant reminders and stories from her mother. Everything else is gone, kept hidden from Cadence until she remembers on her own. And she does — often slowly, sometimes blindingly — piece together the shattered fragments of summer fifteen.

From the start, it’s made clear that Cadence is an unreliable narrator — her statements drenched in hyperbole and colored by shades of shock and confusion. She stumbles blindly through unpredictable turns and agonizing, unanswered questions — and as she’s our guide, so do we. We Were Liars is not just unexpected and compelling at every turn, but brilliantly and beautifully written, propelled by the gorgeous and enticing mystery of Beechwood and the Sinclairs, and the undeniable pull of the Liars. It’s something different and something fantastic, full of rich and complex and varying characters that are each fascinating and powerful in turn.

We Were Liars is something new, something startling — a hauntingly memorable and wonderfully gorgeous read.

Review by Kayla

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A Trick of the Light

Title: A Trick of the Light

Author: Lois Metzger

Release Date: Available

Upon beginning A Trick of the Light, Lois Metzger’s new novel, I was instantly intrigued and sucked in to the life of main character Mike Welles. Mike is a normal fifteen year old boy who plays baseball, has a best friend, and gets good grades – that is, until he is visited by a voice in his head, which appears just when his home life begins disintegrating. The voice assures Mike it will “help” him through the struggle, and Mike succumbs to the suggestions of his constant companion, believing that this voice will help him improve himself and provide a way to cope with his unpleasant situation at home.

The facet of this engaging and poignant novel that I found most interesting was the voice in which it was written. Rather than writing the story in the omniscient third person or from Mike’s point of view, Metzger’s choice for narrator is the voice inhabiting Mike’s head. This unique twist renders an eerie, mysterious tone over the book, very fitting of the feeling that will entangle in readers’ stomachs as the voice gets stronger, and the illness it promotes becomes increasingly serious.

Metzger’s novel is a moving, original exploration of a problem plaguing today’s adolescents. By making the protagonist male, readers are reminded that young men can also be plagued by issues of self-consciousness and physical insecurities. Metzger’s writing is intense, creative, and touching; it serves as a reminder of why it is important to love and take care of both one’s body and mind, and the devastating consequences that can result from listening to the negative voices in one’s head.

Review by Katie

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Origin

Title: Origin

Author: Jessica Khoury

Release Date: Available

Origin is an original (hehe, original) book about a girl who lives in a secluded testing facility deep in the rainforest. She is the product of over a hundred years of testing. Pia is the world’s first immortal human, or so she believes. Her skin is impenetrable, she is immune to disease, she won’t age, and she is faster and more agile than any normal human. She has no knowledge of the outside world, nor is she allowed to. But Pia, although curious, stays in the compound, working hard to become a scientist. Her deepest desire is to create more of her kind, so she won’t be so lonely. Yet all of that changes when she finds a hole in the fence surrounding the compound on her 17th birthday. For the first time in her life, she is free, at least for as long as it takes for the scientists to notice that she’s missing. There, in the rainforest, she meets an indigenous boy named Eio, who shows her what life is really like. Yet the scientists aren’t just going to let her walk away. A hundred years of research, money, and blood went into creating Pia. She belongs to them. They’ve killed to create her and they’ll kill to keep her.

This book had a very interesting premise, and a beautiful cover. I was intrigued and read the book non-stop from the moment I got it to the moment I finished it. Origin was very gripping, but I had a few problems with the ending. It was predictable and not very satisfying. It was a little too convenient and easy. Also, Pia wanted to be free so she could do all of these things in the book, but at the end she abandoned all of her goals. In the book’s defense, however, it was probably the only ending that could have wrapped up the book without leaving a cliffhanger. Yes, I know that’s vague, but I can’t go ‘round spoiling the ending, now can I?

Some of the characters were well developed and likeable, but I didn’t really connect with most of them. They were a little too two-dimensional. I say two-dimensional because most of the characters had one general personality trait and one interesting background story. They were all kind of distant, although most of them were evil scientists, so they have an excuse. The actual story, however, was well written and intriguing. All in all, I thought it was a great story that could have been better. I recommend this book to anyone who wants a quick and interesting summer read.

Review by Annalise

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Black City

Black City

Title: Black City

Author: Elizabeth Richards

Release Date: Available

When I picked up Black City, I knew that there was a good chance it was going to be a bandwagon-jumper, but I held on to a hope that, even though vampires and dystopia are clearly getting to be overdone, it would have some unique or outstanding quality to add to the bandwagon. Unfortunately, I found that several scenes reminded me of other popular series out there and the world-building that’s gotten high praise from other reviewers was mimicking history with a supernatural twist.

The book follows Natalie and Ash, the daughter of the Emissary in their crumbling nation and a half-Darkling “twin-blood” boy. Though they can’t stand each other at first due to their conflicting backgrounds, they soon realize they’re Blood Mates when Ash’s dormant Darkling heart starts beating. The book alternates between Natalie and Ash’s perspectives as they uncover the secrets of the corrupt government, fight for an end to a deadly drug craze, and struggle to hide their forbidden love. The scenario obviously has potential, but the writing held it back.

From start to finish, I felt disengaged from the characters; I constantly had to check from whose perspective I was reading because the characters were underdeveloped and melded together. They lacked the three-dimensional complexity that engages me, which made me apathetic toward their fate. I also felt that the relationship (which was indubitably the dreaded “instalove”) and other emotional events happened too quickly, with no foreshadowing before or processing after something supposedly intense or shocking happened. Hopefully Richardson, who, granted, is a debut author, will nail down the fundamental “show don’t tell” rule in her sequels.

The setting and world-building have received some high praise from reviewers, but I noticed that it was strikingly similar to the Holocaust and WWII. There were ghettos, migration camps, concentration camps, a Doctor Mengele-esque character, a Nazi-esque group, and a dictator who used the Darklings as a scapegoat for the nation’s problems.  And though it was creepy at times, I thought it lacked the relentless horrors of a war book. It was also heavily inspired by other series, even if just in small scenes. For example:

Gregory stretches out a hand toward Natalie.

‘I’m Gregory Thompson,’ he says. ‘My father works for the Department of Subspecies Management, sorts out the Synth-O-Blood shipments to the Legion, that sort of thing. Maybe you’ve heard of him?’

Natalie smiles politely. ‘The name doesn’t ring a bell.’

He looks disappointed. ‘Well, it’s an honor to have you here. I’ll happily show you around the school—’

‘Day’s doing that, but thanks,’ she says dismissively.

‘You don’t want to be seen with her sort, she’s one of the Rise kids,’ he says to Natalie. ‘I’ll set you up with the right type of people to know.’

Day’s cheeks turn red.

‘I can make my own mind up about who the ‘right type of people’ are,’ Natalie snaps. ‘I’m already getting a pretty good idea of who I want to avoid’ (57).

Furthermore, there are several scenes that are likewise “heavily inspired” by Twilight and New Moon, as well as a President Snow of The Hunger Games. Sometimes these snippets are inconsequential to the plot, but they nonetheless occur too often for my taste.

There is certainly an audience for Black City; it was designed to appeal to Hunger Games and Twilight fans. Some will find it quick, readable, and entertaining. Even I like something a little fluffy every once and a while. Yet, while the book had a lot of potential to add something unique to the vampire/dystopia collection, the ideas were too underdeveloped and unoriginal to really grasp me personally. 2/5 stars.

Review by Casey

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The Here and Now

The Here and now

Title: The Here and Now

Author: Ann Brashares

Release Date: Available

In Ann Brashares’ bleak vision of the future, humanity has been near extinguished thanks to a mosquito-borne virus that’s decimated the population and left the rest in ruins. Facing extinction, the only hope of survival lies in the past —  in attempting to somehow prevent the future before it occurs.

Prenna James belongs to the group of survivors sent back in time — strong-willed and stubborn, Prenna finds it difficult to consistently comply with the strict and structured rules of her community. While the survivors have assimilated into present day society, due to the inherent risks, contact outside of the community is kept to a minimum and relationships are strictly prohibited. For Prenna, this rule is made infinitely more complicated by her classmate and friend, Ethan Jarves, who, unbeknownst to Prenna, has a few secrets of his own. But despite the complications plaguing her life, things don’t truly start spiraling out of control until a seemingly insane homeless man confronts Prenna, not just aware of where and when she comes from, but aware of the date that changes everything.

With that information in hand and with the threat of humanity’s existence hanging over her head, Prenna and Ethan are left trying to fit the pieces together, to make sense of the ambiguity and obscurity and determine the cataclysmic event that could change and save the future.

Overall, I found The Here and Now to be enjoyable and compelling and unique. I loved the glimpses Brashares’ gave of the apocalyptic future, as well as the snippets of history that lead up to the disaster — it was plausible and interesting and I wish there’d been the opportunity to learn more about the world Prenna came from. Retrospectively, the time travel angle gets a bit messy and confusing and paradoxical in terms of the various branching timelines that occur, and I wish I could have learned more about the science and details and explanations — but I also understand how complicated and tricky such explanations can be. As for the characters — I thought Prenna and Ethan were both well developed and complex, and in particular, I thought Ethan was engaging and interesting, however some of the supporting cast lacked dimension and falls a little flat in comparison.

While The Here and Now is primarily marketed as a ‘forbidden romance’, I think that label is a little misleading. Yes, the romance between Ethan and Prenna grows and develops and is an important part of the plot, but it doesn’t dominate the story and is, in my opinion, far less significant than their primary challenge to save the future. Both plot lines are given equal attention, and support the other, and I appreciated that the romance was important and relevant without overwhelming the rest of the story — the balance between the two was perfectly executed.

Considering the overwhelming numbers of young adult novels that are beginning to blur and fade into one another, Ann Brashares has presented something new and captivating, with innovative details and compelling characters. A quick, but entertaining read.

Review by Kayla

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