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

November Part 2 – Teen and Middle grade book edition! HOO boy this is a rather long one folks – which considering i only ended up finishing 6 books that fall in this category this month is pretty weird.   I went a bit out of my comfort zone for most of the books I read this month, and you can kinda see what ended up succeeding for me and what didn’t by my ratings. For the most part it ended up being kinda…. just pretty good? Read on and you’ll see what I mean.

  • Sadie by Courtney Summers
    • Rating: 4.5/5
    • Content Warning for: Murder, sexual abuse, pedophilia, drug abuse, rape. This another one that like. Some of this stuff is explicit enough that had to put this down for stretches of time. I was saying that The Traitor Baru Cormorant was rough? It is NOTHING compared to this one.
    • Thoughts: This was an absolutely incredible audiobook. I feel like I’m usually pretty easily impressed with audiobooks, but the production and narration for this were absolute show stoppers. There is a REASON everyone who reads YA is yelling about this audio book – it is GOOD mate.
    • Story wise, the novel is almost pitch perfect. The writing is filled with SUCH emotion – it ends up kind of stewing in your gut in this really … impactful way? Stewing is a weird way to say it, but like while it’s technically really good,  the subject matter is still… a lot. The characters are SUPER memorable in this, and Summers just does SUCH a great job in the atmosphere and character in each of the perspectives she brings up.
    • This book is just absolutely heartbreaking. I really loved how it was able to discuss these fucking horrible topics without focusing on the violence in an almost fetishy and uncomfortable way I find a lot of true crime tends to do. It is still really moving without exposing the reader to the shock and violence of it all – which is why the emotion Summers writes with is SO important. It tells these horrifying things through what the characters are feeling, which is MORE than enough for the reader to feel its impact.
    • There’s a couple negatives that come to mind though. First, though not really a hard negative, I really wish this book had been featured with more trigger warnings. This book is just one big CONTENT WARNING, and really do not thing the synopsis prepares you for it. I do really appreciate all the reviewers I’ve listened to talking the time to add the content warnings, but I worry a bit about other people stumbling into this novel and not realizing how bad it really is.
    • Another minor thing – I really do not think this story would work as well in book format. There is something really vital to hearing parts of this book. I think most of the story strength is still maintained, but it’s something to note if you don’t do audio books.
    • The biggest minus for honestly is the ending. While I wasn’t as disappointed as a lot of other people were, it did end up feeling a bit rushed. Considering how much of a punch in the gut the ending for this type of story is supposed to be, how it ended up sorting out in the end was enough to impact my enjoyment of the novel.
    • If you can, listen to this book. It is one of those books that will just stick with you for a really long time. It’s going to hurt, but it’s an important kind of hurt.
  • Mirage by Somaiya Daud
    • Rating: 3.5/5
    • Content warning: Colonialist themes IE racism, classism all that fun stuff.
    • Thoughts: As you can see, I’m trying to pick through some of the books on my shelf that were published in 2018 before the year is out and…. this was a pretty solid fantasy read!
    • For the most part, this book has a lot of really strong parts to it – the world that Daud paints is mesmerizing – I have rarely read genre fiction that does as good of job as this book does in painting its atmosphere. The majority of the characters you meet are surprisingly complex for the length of the book, and are all compelling and interesting in their own right. The way they play off of each other, especially the relationships the main character has, were really great to read.  The writing is pretty pitch perfect – without being wordy the books able to really excel with both its descriptions and its emotion. There are some tab-worthy quotes in this book I have to say.
    • I do have a couple nitpick and one kind of fatal flaw. Nitpick wise, this book is sold as a scifi, and it really doesn’t feel like one. At most, the scifi elements were more distracting than they were interesting or added significantly to the setting. With more time in the novel dedicated to the setting it may have been more compelling, but for the most part it fell a bit flat.
    • Honestly, where this book is the most disappointing is the plot and the pacing. It’s a shame too, because for the first 75% of the book, it was solid! Character development and plot development were interesting and paced perfectly. Then somewhere along the way it felt like the author thought they spent too much time doing all that and did a rush job escorting the story to its end. Which for such a solid read this was at the beginning, was a MEGA downer.
    • Another nitpick, the romance was just…. it was okay. It was interesting at the beginning of the book and kind of pulled a Strange the Dreamer on me and became just WAY too much by the end. (Though honestly still fucking better than Strange the Dreamer turned out to be BOOM got my first unpopular opinion in for the day and it’s just GONNA GET WORSE FROM HERE). It’s a bit of a personal preference for that note though, so keep that in mind if you like some heavy handed romance.
    • All together, this is a solid start to a YA Scifi series, especially as a debut novel, which a couple missteps but still a lot of fun. I’m still definitely excited to read this books sequel, along with any other book Daud comes out with.

  • Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco
    • Rating: 2/5
    • Content Warning: Violence, Gore, Murder. Y’know . It’s about Jack the Ripper.
    • Thoughts: Sighs very deeply ok here we go. I…… did not like this book at all! Like extremely not at all!
    • Let’s start with some positives I guess. The writing is…. fine? It’s nothing to shout up to the heavens about but it’s pretty good.
    • There is a total of one really great character in this book, which was Audrey Rose’s cousin, and she was not in this book nearly enough for it to be as much of a plus as it should.
    • Some of the emotional moments about family really got to me! Like I felt emotions and shit! I was generally into the novel at some of the family discussions and moments. Which honestly may have made the parts that disappointed me all the more worse
    • That…. that’s it. We’re going into the bad stuff now.
    • Guys this is absolutely the most bare boned boring ass plot I’ve ever read. The pacing was not great. The mystery was absolutely just not even a factor. Literally twenty percent of the way through the book and I knew who Jack the Ripper is going to be. Which wouldn’t have been a problem if the book hadn’t been trying to set that up as a huge twist! Things would just DRAG for the longest time, which is astounding considering this book is just shy of 350 pages! And frankly there were just a ton of unnecessary moments and characters. Everything just felt slow and unnecessary and absolutely no fun because the mystery is SO DAMN PREDICTABLE. I kept reading like. Maybe it’ll surprise me! Maybe the book won’t end how I think it does! But by the last quarter your just resigned to live in the boring ass box you’ve been placed in. And honestly the clues they gave you to figure out who the “villain” was were super piss poor. AND the motivations are just….. man their so fucking telegraphed and easy. It’s just that the book is super predictable and doesn’t know how to play with the readers expectations at all.
    • Every character other than Audrey Rose’s cousin is either a boring cardboard cutout or altogether terrible. Audrey Rose comes off SUPER “Not Like Other Girls TM”, which is infuriating because 1) that’s gross as shit and 2) she’ll do this thing where she’s like “I’m JUST as competent as a man just watch!!!” and you have to watch her FAIL MISERABLY. Like yo that’s not…. that’s not really an endearing trait???? While there are moments with her that are genuinely interesting, for the most part I ended up feeling just really mad. Sure there are a couple times where she briefly touches on the patriarchy of the time and how it affects women, but most of it feels like “oh look how SPECIAL Audrey Rose, A WOMAN, is” which. Sighs even more.
    • Her love interest makes me EVEN FUCKING MADDER to be honest. He’s just an absolutely brat who spends a ton of the book being super condescending and unlikable. The main character tries to play it off like “ohhh he’s not that bad, he’s done this this and this” and… sure okay he’s not the worst terrible sexist in this book. But he still fucking sucks guys! What chemistry the two seemed to varied wildly from “oh this might actually be okay” to “I’d rather get my teeth pulled out that read one more sentence of this”. Which is not a great look!
    • Also quick note I haaaaaaated the throwaway stuff about Audrey Rose’s grandma being Indian. Felt super colonial apologist for the most part! Really wish they would have just made everyone white instead!
    • Look, this series just is not for me at all. It’s super tropey without any of the fun. I’m glad a lot of other people really enjoy this, but it’s just not for me. Though I’m borderline curious about the second book because I have such a strong opinion about this and it takes place in Romania with Dracula. Which sounds bonkers enough to be fun. I’m not really holding my breath though.
    • Sidenote, this one was an audio book read – the audio book production quality and narrator were fine – it was really the story that I found myself objecting to. If this sounds like your kind of thing, the audio book is pretty good.
  • Sky in the Deep by Adrienne Young
    • Rating: 3.5/5
    • Content Warning: Violence, Gore, Murder. You know, its viking stuff.
    • Thoughts: I’ve got a lot of mixed feelings about this one folks, what else is new!
    • Positives – Writing was another stunner for this one. Young’s got a great eye for sentence structure and writing complex emotions. This, a lot like Mirage, I found myself wanting to tab some of the lines since they were just so good.
    • Character wise, there aren’t a ton of standouts outside of the main character, but for the most part they keep your attention and bring up enough interesting bits or interactions to keep you following along.
    • But again, like Mirage, where this really really lost me is the plot. The first half of this book is INSUFFERABLE. I was SO FUCKING BORED y’all. Sure, it was “”important character stuff”” but considering the characters were not nearly as interesting as the book thought they were, it wasn’t as good to read as the author hoped. Though half way through this book just slams on the gas and becomes an absolute wild ride of action and emotion, which is kind of why this book isn’t rated lower. It turned from an uncompelling historical drama to the action packed viking story of my dream.
    • And while I was saying the characters were for the most part fine, I actually felt like the character development was SUPER weak in this. For as much time that it DOES spend trying to develop out its characters, the actual development feels stilted and unnatural. Which goes hand in hand with my feelings on the romance which is mostly like “not great but not the worst?” (( Can you tell it takes a LOT for me to be impressed by a straight romance????? ))
    • The characters are fine, and bring up interesting ideas and interactions, but the development is just really not there enough to make it as good as I think the author intended. I think with a bit more massaging, it COULD have been there, but it just really didn’t work in this book.
    • All together, this is fine. A fine book to read if it sounds like your thing. I’m generally curious to see what other books Young writes in the future.
  • See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng
    • Rating: 3.75/5
    • Thoughts: Another audiobook! Is anyone surprised all I read is YA/MG audiobooks? I hope not at this point.
    • This book is absolutely precious. The main character is SUCH a great young kid character. Actually, all the characters in this book are pretty solid. Each of them are not only memorable, but have interesting and complicated motivations, and actual character arcs. On the characters alone, this book would get a 5/5.
    • The plot meanders a lot,  but for the most part comes out pretty moving and successful as a compelling story with a few minor hiccups with pacing.
    • Unfortunately, this is a book that falls apart in details. There are a TON of plot threads that are left hanging at the end of the book. And just…. this book tries and takes on a lot, but doesn’t really get there with most of the themes and ideas its going for. They’re either hammered in to the point of being annoying, or just feel like the author is in way over their head. There are a couple successful themes – the theme of family is SUPER strong in this one, much more than I’ve seen in other MG novels.
    • I also don’t know HOW successful this book would be for a middle grade audience OR as a physical book. For the issue with middle grade – while kids are smart, there is a LOT of nuance that I feel like would have gone over my head at even twelve years old. As a physical book…. A lot of what makes this good is the full voice cast an the production. The producers of this audiobook put a lot of effort in making you FEEL like you’re listening to a recording. I don’t think the text on its own is strong enough to carry it in the same way as Sadie’s was.
    • All in all, this is a good middle grade audiobook that I’m happy to have listened to. Give it a chance if you can! But maybe just the audio book. I’m not sure how I’d feel about the physical book.
  • A Thousand Beginnings and Endings, Edited by Ellen Oh and Elise Chapman
    • Rating: 3.25/5
    • Thoughts: This anthology ended up being just…okay? Which was a bit of a shock for me considering I usually really love short stories, especially from non-white writers/cultures. But there were just a LOT of stories in this one that fell SUPER SUPER flat for me.
    • A lot of these authors are pretty popular in the YA world,  and considering how flat a lot of popular YA falls for me, maybe that makes sense. Most of the ones I really didn’t like were either not written well, not really my kind of story, or honestly just stuck to some tropes that are just not…… great (me @ half the straight couples in this: can you calm the fuck down). But I did notice a few authors on this list that I’d read stuff from before and enjoyed make it to my “favorite stories” list, which I was happy about.
    • For most YA readers who really love diverse fiction, I do think this collection is gonna be RIGHT up their alley. But it just didn’t wow me.
    • If you do want to check out the collection, here are a couple that I really did enjoy a ton: Olivia’s Table by Alyssa Wong, The Land of the Morning Calm by E. C. Myers, The Smile by Aisha Saeed, The Crimson Cloak by Cindy Pon and Eyes like Candlelight by Julie Kagawa

There’s my YA wrap up filled with unpopular opinions as usual! Tune in next week for some more…. well okay maybe just like two unpopular opinions. But it’ll still be exciting! I think!

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