“The Problem with Forever” by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Mallory Dodge has difficulty speaking up. In fact, Mallory has trouble speaking at all. Her early childhood experiences in foster care conditioned her to stay quiet, unnoticed, and out of sight. Now Mallory has been living with loving and understanding parents for years where she has been homeschooled. However, she wants to go to college. And to test whether or not she is ready for the crowds and noise and people at college, she is trying out her senior year at the local high school.

This would be hard enough for anyone, but it gets harder. On Mallory’s first day of class, she encounters Rider Stark, her friend and protector from foster care. All the memories Mallory’s suppressed start coming back and she feels drawn to Rider immediately because of their shared past. Can Mallory cope in the challenging high school environment? Can she learn to speak up and face her past? And will Rider help her or hold her back?

This is a book that deals with a lot of sensitive, tough issues. It takes a hard look at the failings of the foster care system, child abuse, and the disparity between the rich and the poor. And yet it is hopeful. The book starts with Mallory in a pretty good place. She’s escaped the abuse, she’s living in a place of privilege, and she has a second chance to rewrite her story and grow. Of course, her scars remain. Why wouldn’t they?

Also, a strong current of attraction between Mallory and Rider drives the plot. Will they become romantically involved or won’t they? Will Rider also manage to escape poverty and believe in himself?

This novel reminded me strongly of Rainbow Rowell’s “Eleanor and Park” because it deals with very similar issues. It also shares a central conflict, telling a story of a romance between two teens with families in very different classes and how their families respond to their relationship.

It made me consider: Why are people (including me, obviously) attracted to these stories? They are difficult reads. They aren’t escapist. They take a hard look at the problems in the world around us, and some of these problems undoubtedly the reader will have faced or are facing, or people close to them have faced or are facing.

Basically, the conflict and issues in this story gets up close and personal. It doesn’t matter where in the novel the reader sees themself. They may relate to the privileged house of Mallory’s adoptive family, or the meets-the-basic-needs-but-still-full-of-love house of Rider’s current foster family, or the worst case scenario house of the foster family from Mallory and Rider’s past (I sincerely hope not). The reader will see themself in the story somewhere. And yet, no matter which class the reader relates to, everyone has the opportunity to fall in love. It’s human. Love conquers borders, classes, races, everything. Love conquers all.

Because in the end, it’s what everyone wants the most: to love and be loved. And, as Armentrout quotes from “The Velveteen Rabbit,” everyone wants to be real as well.

Stories that deal with this message and show that despite all the troubles in the world that love can still exist, well. Those are powerful stories. And somehow they are the most hopeful.

“Caraval” by Stephanie Garber

Scarlett has always longed to attend Caraval, a far away week-long magical performance that occurs once a year. However, she and her sister live on a far away isle with a controlling and abusive father and Caraval remains an impossibility. Until the impossible finally happens.

The sisters receive an invitation in the mail. They manage to escape their home and travel to the island with the help of a sailor. However, as soon as they reach the show, Scarlett’s sister vanishes. It soon becomes to Scarlett that her sister’s disappearance is this year’s theme for the show. This performance gives the audience a choice: they either watch or participate in the show. For Scarlett the choice is obvious. She has to participate to help her sister.

It isn’t easy.

Scarlett has to find her sister in the chaos and magic of Caraval. She has to decide who to trust and what is fabrication and what is real. She has to question what she desires out of life and how to achieve it.

This book had many strengths, the strongest perhaps being Scarlett’s character development. The Scarlett at the beginning is drastically different than the Scarlett at the end of the novel. Her decisions during the plot change her at a pretty fundamental level and it was fascinating to watch her grow.

However, undoubtedly fantasy fans will be drawn to the world-building in “Caraval,” which is also excellent. Think about the unpredictable and wondrous atmosphere of a theme park and then add in a healthy dose of magic and mystery and then raise the stakes with the threat of losing someone you love. The descriptions in “Caraval” accost the senses with sound, with colour, with vibrancy. It’s a world that is both dangerous and intriguing.

Even though “Caraval” has a cast of relatively few characters, the interactions between the characters are well done. Scarlett’s love interest will satisfy the need for romance. And Scarlett’s bond with her sister, even though her sister remains missing for much of the book, is complex and real.

“Caraval” is a fun read with lots of cliff hangers. You won’t regret it.

 

“Carnival of Souls” by Melissa Marr

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Melissa Marr’s books are twisted, violent, and unpredictable. After “Wicked Lovely,” I wasn’t sure if I was prepared for “Carnival of Souls” and after reading it, I must conclude indeed I wasn’t indeed. A new world of daimons and witches completely swept me off my feet.

The beauty of Marr’s style is she is able to build worlds that have unusual magic and social norms. It’s actually the social norms that govern her fantasy worlds more than the magic. The norms affect what relationships the characters are able to have versus what relationships they desire. The caste system of the daimons impacts friendships, romances, and alliances in unexpected ways.

Many people are forced to work together and usually the relationship isn’t entirely positive. Someone usually is working the system to their own benefit, and the reader is left wondering how the character’s choices will impact the plot. A Hunger-Games-like battle to the death in the daimon world certainly raises the stakes.

Of course, Marr grounds her fantasy world with a link to the human world as well. One of the characters is a human girl who’s been adopted by a witch father and is aware of witch customs. Her true identity has been hidden from her, and she spends most of the book trying to work it out. However, she is also important to the daimon world as well. Her witch father has taught her to fear daimons and she has to decide which world she belongs to.

Although the girl in the human world should’ve been the most relatable, I found her the most frustrating. She assumes a passive role through most of the plot and although this isn’t entirely her fault, her obedience does turn her into a weak character. I look forward to seeing how she grows during the rest of the series.

 

 

4 YA Books about Sexy and Dangerous Faeries

Or should I say the Fae. Whatever you call them, it can’t be denied. Immortal faeries with powerful magic, cruelty, hot bodies and tricky bargains are causing YA books to fly off the shelves. This fantasy trope still is going strong, although soon it may run the danger of being overused.

Here are 5 great books about sexy and dangerous faeries that you should read:

1) “Wicked Lovely” by Melissa Marr

This is a gritty fantasy book about Aislinn, a teenage girl with the sight. When Keenan, the Summer King, starts stalking her and trying to make her his Queen, Aislinn has to make a series of difficult choices. Keenan is sexy, but dangerous. He doesn’t care about Aislinn’s typical teenage hopes and desires. He doesn’t care about Aislinn’s relationship with her super pierced (and sweet) boyfriend Seth. All this faerie cares about is what he wants. Will he get it?

 

 

 

2) “Lady Midnight” by Cassandra Clare

It’s true: Clare’s latest series in the Shadowhunter world features other fantastical creatures such as werewolves, vampires, and warlocks. However, faeries take a critical role in the plot here – perhaps more than any other creature. The faeries are nearly at the brink of war with the Shadowhunters. When similarly multilated bodies of both humans and faeries are discovered again, protagonist Emma Carstairs gets involved. Her parents were killed in this way when she was a child. Many deals between faeries and humans will be made. The humans will always get the short end of the stick. As Clare excels in writing romantic relationships, faeries are some of the love interests and may form a love triangle later in the series. Ooooh.

Read my review of “Lord of Shadows,” the sequel of “Lady Midnight” here.

 

3) “A Court of Thorns and Roses” by Sarah J. Maas

The romance is the driving force behind this book. You have Feyre, a Katniss type character, who hunts for her family’s survival. One day, in pursuit of a doe, Feyre kills a faery in wolf form in the woods. But it doesn’t matter. Sexy Tamlin drags her to the faerie kingdom as punishment. Feyre has to live at court for the rest of her days. At first, Feyre resents the faeries and worries about her family’s survival without her. However, after she gets to know her captor better… well, romance!

 

 

 

4) “The Iron King” by Julie Kagawa

The first book in this series, describes Megan Chase, a girl who goes to the Faerie world to rescue her little brother who was replaced with a changeling. There she meets many characters inspired by Shakespeare’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” including Oberon and Puck. Of course, there is a dangerous faerie love interest as well. Who? Well, I won’t say.

 

“The Wrong Side of Right” by Jenn Marie Thorne

I have to admit: I’ve always found American elections ridiculous. They start campaigning so far in advance it is absolutely insane. They debate all issues dry well before election night and it becomes more performance than promise. And it completely dominates Canadian news, but I digress.

With the current political climate being what it is in the US, it isn’t surprising that writers have taken inspiration. Say hello to “The Wrong Side of Right,” a YA novel that describes an election campaign.

When teenage Kate Quinn’s mom dies that year, she meets her father for the first time. He’s a Republican politician whose running for president. His campaign team turns a potential scandal into a promotional opportunity. Everything changes for Kate when she is thrust into the public eye, campaigns for causes she doesn’t necessarily support, and meets a family she never knew existed.

In an environment where everyone constantly adheres to party policy, it is hard to know who people actually are and Kate is constantly at risk of losing her identity. Should she stand up for what she believes in even if it opposes her father? Should she trust a boy she’s falling for, even if he’s on the wrong political side? Will she ever fit in with her new family if she’s true to herself?

Despite my poor interest in the subject, I found myself immediately swept up in the political drama. There are clear messages about people, politics, and extreme beliefs and how when they mix together there are necessary compromises.

However, this novel doesn’t just talk about political relationships. The strongest relationships are actually about family and friendship. There’s also a strong element of romance if you’re into that, which I am.

Of course, the most interesting part of the novel was the election’s conclusion. How the novel resolves and how the past election resolved and how they compare… well. You’ll have to read “The Wrong Side of Right” to find out what happens. Let’s just say in lieu of recent events the novel’s conclusion is most interesting.