Young Adult/Middle Grade books I read in October 2018 – Reading Wrap up

I picked up a healthy seven YA/Middle grade books this month. And only two of them was an Audiobook! (Mostly because the other two I wanted to read I’d had on hold out from my library literally the entire month…. sighs you know how it is). It’s mostly modern YA picks, but there was some classic middle grade thrown into the mix. Also I uh. have some unpopular opinions in this bad boy, so just keep in mind these are just my feelings about the following books. It’s totally rad if you loved these.

  • The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury
    • Rating: 2.25/5
    • Thoughts: Oh Bradbury. This story was a fucking mess.
    • I was hoping this was going to be a lot like Something Wicked This Way Comes in terms of capturing that great sense of nostalgia and creepiness but this story just goes off the rails really early on and then doesn’t get back on.
    • It doesn’t work. This is a super short book and it DRAGS. While the beginning is pretty damn good, it doesn’t make up for the SLOG the rest of the book is.
    • I don’t have a lot to say about this book? It’s okay? It’s short enough to be super offensive but it’s definitely just. Not recommended.
    • I also super don’t recommend the audiobook. The narrator whispers a ton of stuff which is just absolutely impossible to make out most of the time. I get that he was trying to enhance the atmosphere, but most of the time it was just kind of like. What is he saying. What’s going on. I don’t understand.
  • Iron Cast by Destiny Soria
    • Rating: 3.75/5
    • Content Warning: Discussions of Torture and Racism.
    • Thoughts: This book was such a pleasant surprise! I mean, again this kind of book is super-on brand (Diverse historical fantasy what what) for books that I enjoy, but there were a couple things that stood out a bit to me
    • First off the characters in this book were pretty dang great. the main female duo was fun to watch, and the side characters were all memorable and charming. The romance was also really nice and refreshing in that it was SUPER understated but still really engaging when it did come around. Also, I legit loved one of the white male characters in this. LOVED. which is a fucking FEAT in YA. You did it Soria. Amazing, incredible.
    • The setting was really interesting too – I don’t see a ton of fiction written on the eve of prohibition, and I really enjoyed seeing the magic system interact with the historical world. The plot was solid, albeit a bit predictable at times. I did appreciate that the author didn’t back down from how the historical realities of a lot of groups during the time period, and how that reality might fuck with these magic powers. (In the sense that this book has minority characters and while it doesn’t shy away from their persecution, also doesn’t try and make it some weird oppression fodder. Like it felt real, but not unbearable.)
    • All that being said though, the pacing, especially at the end was pretty bad. I also felt like the book withheld information to just kind of try and surprise me – which is fine but it felt super unnatural and jarring when events would happen because I was just finding out about something that in fiction did not make sense that it had not come up til just then. The tension ended up feeling kind of… manufactured. And the ending was a bit ridiculous in how kind of… run of the mill it was? After the first big twist I kind of called how it was all going to go down, which was a bit of a bummer.
    • And while I did enjoy most of the characters, the parts about the Corrine, aka the rich white heiress while not terrible, were not my favorite. It would start to feel like her POV was eclipsing some of the other characters, which I wasn’t really here for.
    • This is a solid historical / Fantasy YA that for all its faults was surprisingly a lot of fun! Give it a look if that genre’s on brand for you.

  • The Westing Game by  Ellen Raskin
    • Rating: 4/5
    • Thoughts: This one was a pleasant surprise for me! I picked this up on Audiobook from my library after all the other audiobooks I wanted got stuck in on-hold hell, but in the end it turned out to be a dang good read!
    • I’ll admit the beginning was suuuper slow, but it  really picked up around the 50% mark and turned to a super compelling mystery novel. A problem I have with a lot of mysteries is that a lot of the time it feels like the only way the reader is allowed to figure out anything is at the end – that was not the case at all with this mystery. I loved the twists and turns and that it didn’t just hide all of its cards til the end. It slowly and surely fed the reader information enough that by the end we could potentially put the pieces together.
    • While I did really enjoy the diversity of the cast and about half of the characters, to be honest I think Raskin could of cut down the cast of this book significantly and not lost much. Getting introduced to the shear amount of characters at the beginning and just keeping track of all of them in general really cut down on some of my enjoyment.
    • All in all though, this is a great mystery for kids. I’d almost wished I’d been introduced it when I was younger – I think it would have been something really special to me back then as someone who LOVED mysteries but didn’t quite love some of the more traditional Christie or Sherlock Holmes.
    • Another shoutout to the audiobook for this. The narrator was absolutely fantastic! She did some just wonderful voices that I feel like definitely increased my enjoyment. Give it a listen if you get the chance.
  • The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
    • Rating: 3.75/5
    • Content Warning: Minor Gore, Discussions of self harm and depression, Child Abuse and Assault.
    • Thoughts: Me starting this book: y’all I don’t get the hype this isn’t that good. Me finishing this book: oh alright.
    • I did y’all. I actually really enjoyed a super super popular modern YA book. Please be impressed with me.
    • First off Stiefvater’s writing in this is just. So Good. Her dialogue is whip smart and the whole book just OOZES this kind of unknown and spooky atmosphere. I also ended up really loving pretty much all the characters she’d introduced save for a couple (we’ll GET INTO THOSE UNPOPULAR OPINIONS IN MY WRAP UP OF DREAM THIEVES) and even the one’s I didn’t love, were just really interesting to see interact.
    • Also Stiefvater does occult stuff just sooooo well in this. (quick shout out to blue’s family aka the best characters hands down everyone else can go tf home) I know this book does not take place in the fall but MAN it really feels like it does. The mood is just super autumnal.
    • The Raven Boys reads like fanfiction. I mean this in a good way! It’s super character driven, and Stiefvater does a really good job of making those characters super interesting. You want to keep reading because you want to see more of their story. Not because anything really… great is happening with the plot.
    • Which kinda leads to another big point. Like. Let’s be real here. What’s the plot of the Raven Boys. Can you honestly tell me you can explain the plot. If you say yes, you’re lying. The plot to this book is so thin y’all. There is just so much nothing that happens in this book. For the most part it’s fine and I enjoyed the hell out of it, but other times it was like. “Guys what are we doing here? I’m glad we’re developing friendships and having a good time but WHAT ARE WE DOING HERE. WHAT IS THE POINT”
    • Also does anyone other than me have an issue with this taking place in fucking Virginia and the trees speak fucking Latin and their trying to find some dumb Welsh King. Like I think they go into it more in the second book (again, kinda spoilers for what I’m going to be talking about later in this wrap up) but I was hella side-eyeing the general whiteness of it all. Actually in general this book is kinda super white and super male centric which. Y’all know are just. My two favorite things /s. Again though, just things to think about – I do rather appreciate that if Stiefvater was gonna make everyone fucking white as hell that at least their gonna go find other white people shit.
    • Raven Boys reads like a TV Show man. It’s addictive and just a lot of fun. And if you doubt that I liked this book after the last part of this review like…. scroll down. I picked up the second book in like a week which is pretty good for me and series.
  • All Out: The No-Longer-Secret Stories of Queer Teens throughout the Ages, Edited by Saundra Mitchell

    • Rating: 3.75/5
    • Thoughts: This is a solid young adult anthology! Honestly, I know it’s the spooky month, but I kind of wanted to read something that would bring me some real joy (and wasn’t unrelentingly straight) so I borrowed this from the library. I really liked the mix of stories that were in this collection – whether they be historical fantasy or just plain historical. The representation was also just absolutely top notch. As for the quality/enjoyment of the stories, I think for the most part I really liked them. While there were a couple that just didn’t *wow* me, they weren’t bad. Just didn’t stand out per se. All in all, check this out if you get the chance! I really enjoyed it.
    • One of note that I’d like to bring up is that there was not any nonbinary representation in this collection. That was a little disappointing, but considering the plethora of other great rep we get, it’s more of a minor foot note.
    • Some of the stories I liked if you kind of want a general sample: Burnt Umber by Mackenzi Lee, New Year by Malinda Lo, Molly’s Lips by Dahlia Adler, The Girl with the Blue Lantern by Tess Sharpe, The Secret Life of a Teenage Boy by Alex Sanchez, The End of the World as we Know It by Sara Farizan and The Inferno and the Butterfly by Shaun David Hutchinson.
  • The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater
    • Rating: 3.25/5
    • Content Warning: Gore, Discussions of self harm and depression, Child Abuse, Assault, Death.
    • Thoughts: *horns blare* are you ready for my TRC unpopular opinions because that’s literally what this review is going to end up being!!!!!! I might go into slight??? spoiler territory so just be warned of that.
    • Let’s start with the positives: I love the 300 Fox Way Family!!! I love Blue and Gansey and Noah!!! They are my precious wee children who I will protect with my life. Also y’all Blue and Gansey’s relationship is super sweet? I’m literally never this invested in a YA Het but Stiefvater fucking DID that.
    • There were some really interesting world building choices in this book as well! I’ve got to give Stiefvater some credit here in that I’m constantly curious and excited to see what else the world throws at me from a kind of “”rule perspective””.
    • Stiefvater’s writing also continues to be an absolutely gem. The atmosphere and wit is as strong as it was in the first book, if not more so with some of the scenes that go on with everyone’s favorite angst boy Ronan.
    • Speaking of Ronan let’s get into my…. problems I guess? Guys I just don’t really love Ronan and Adam. Granted I actually grew to enjoy reading about Ronan – his backstory and his relationship with the other raven boys and his family are really interesting to read about, but man I just. He’s just okay. He’s still kind of a complete asshole and it’s really. Not my jam.
    • ADAM THOUGH is super frustrating to me. Because I get it! I get what’s going on with his character, I really did LOVE what Stiefvater did with him at the end, but boy he spends so much of this book just being absolutely insufferable to me. Which again, while I totally get, still fucking SUCKED. (Let’s just say he’s mean to Blue in this and everytime I just heard the Kill Bill sirens go off in my head) And I don’t think Ronan and Adam’s character would have bugged me that much if they dug into pretty much all of my time with my faves Blue and Noah. It almost felt like I was SLOGGING through some of their parts.
    • I also personally don’t love some of the other decisions that Stiefvater chose to make about some of the other characters. Or how forgiving I as the reader am expected to be of some absolutely heinous actions. Or just… that their addition did not add a ton to the my enjoyment of the story or forwarding the plot it seems.
    • Let’s also get into the plot. Man, this book feels just like one long as detour from where we started. Which while I get that some of it was necessary, just. Again, I get that these books mainly work for the characters, but when the characters are not super great, I end up wanting more plot, which seems to have jut winked out of existence until like 80 percent of the way through the book.
    • Listen, I can’t wait to read more of this series. I already know of some juicy character moments because everyone and their mom has read this book series and I was never going to avoid spoilers, and the sooner I pick up the third book the better. But this one ended up just. Not being one of my favorites. It’s interesting, but not as much of a hit as the first book was with me.
    • Also if I don’t get more Noah in the third book I’m going to fucking RIOT. you HERE ME STIEFVATER??? GIVE NOAH MORE TIME ON MY PAGE!!!!!
  • Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore
    • Rating: 3/5
    • Thoughts: I actually read a short story of hers earlier this month (See the All Out collection), and I wanted to end this month with just a more relaxed book than the thrillers/horror I’ve picked up, so I grabbed this to read and??? It was okay? I don’t think this story ended up being really something meant for me.
    • I mean the writing in this is beautiful – McLemore has a great whimsical style. All the stuff I’ve read of hers seems almost dreamlike and folklorish – which really works with her plots/story subjects.
    • I also really loved the general plot beats and ideas that McLemore explored – the concept of love and family were not only really interesting, but unique in that it didn’t feel super preachy for the most part. The twists in this book were pretty rad too – it was like a “OH SHIT” moment each time I got a new idea in the story.
    • I think where this story really fell apart for me was the characters. None of them really stood out that much to me? While there are a lot of LGBT characters in this book, if you asked me any of their character traits I would be hard pressed. There are just WAY too many characters fighting for time in this book that they kind of started blending together. It’s even brought up with some of the characters in the book and it was a little infuriating when it went back to “ok I only really remember who like 3 of these characters are”
    • Also the het romance in here is. It’s a LOT. It just didn’t do anything for me, the same way The Sun is Also a Star didn’t. And it’s a big enough of a part of the book that it really affected my enjoyment of the novel.
    • I think this book will do a lot more for some people than this book did for me, which is totally fine! I’m still willing to try some more McLemore books out, this one just absolutely was not for me.

I know this was like MEGA Long but I had a lot of Unpopular Opinions to get out. Don’t worry, I got some more coming your way in the next wrap up! Hopefully that one will be up in a couple days.

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