Sometimes I read/watch reviews of highly anticipated books and it just makes me want to read them so much even when I know that it probably won’t be as good as reviews make it out to be considering my tastes. I guess that’s kind of the point of glowing reviews. This is the story of how I got sucked into hype once again…do they live up to that hype? Or will they falter??
Alex Approximately by Jenn Bennett (3/5)
YA Contemporary | Goodreads
Tis the season for contemporary. And the contemporary buzz book of the season is Alex, Approximately. And let me tell you, the buzz around this book was insane around the booktube community. The hype train always gets me even when I say it doesn’t. And I was in the mood for contemporary so why not. And this is a reminder that I should take the hype train with a grain of salt. This is a You’ve Got Mail retelling (which I haven’t seen but really need to). At the beginning of the book, Bailey moves from DC to California to live with her dad. She’s a film buff, so much so that she is a member of an online forum for the film community where she’s been talking back and forth with fellow film buff and Californian, Alex, who she may or may not have feelings for. In fact, moving to California will give her the perfect opportunity to meet Alex in real life. Meanwhile, she lands a summer job at a museum where she meets Porter and it’s hate at first sight until it’s not….
First of all, this book feels like it was written by someone who does not live in SoCal because it feels so stereotypical. It’s basically like the California you see on the Hannah Montana set except with the inclusion of churro carts (I need that in my life) and poke (because we eat poke a lot too apparently) and of course, the surfers.
But I guess Jenn Bennett must be doing something right because after reading it, I just felt like going to the beach and having a bonfire. And there was something exciting and fun about having adventures in an underground museum. In terms of the romance, what you see is basically what you get. Porter was basically spat out from the formulaic YA boyfriend machine–he’s kind of a nerd but he’s just so cocky and omg if I hear that word one more time, I will sue–but he kind of missed the step where they give him a unique personality and any kind of flaws really. I did like that Bailey got to grow throughout. She’s someone who tends to avoid confrontation and being put on the spot but she learns to be comfortable with herself (even though the character development felt random and sudden; I get the gist). They both have tragic pasts that are discussed throughout and it felt off but maybe that’s just me.
The thing I hate about YA contemporary is that the 1st 10% of the book is spent developing the side characters like the parents and the friends and the backstory and the next 80% of the book is spent developing the relationship and then the last 10% suddenly the author remembers she has other characters so they suddenly have more page time but it feels like too little too late. This happened to Grace who works with Bailey at the museum. She feels kind of like the token diverse best friend considering that the author describes her father’s voice as having an “African sway”. What does that even mean?? There’s also Davy who is Porter’s ex-bestie and is basically there to make Porter look better. Also, he turned out to be a lot worse than I anticipated so the storyline turned out to be really melodramatic (complete with guns and drugs). The dad is there to instill wisdom and curfew times although I did like all the Settlers of Catan references. They all just felt token and bland.
My point is, this is YA contemporary and it doesn’t bring anything original to the genre but it’s fun and cute and actually kind of the perfect beach read literally.
Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor (3.5/5)
YA Fantasy | Goodreads
I think after this series Laini Taylor and I might need to part ways. I enjoyed this book when I was reading it. It is magical and mysterious and as surreal as Laini Taylor’s previous works with mythic worldbuilding. Years ago, the city of Weep was erased from the minds of all the people in this world. Now it is only the stuff of legends, a good story but not real. However, Lazlo remembers Weep, in fact, he’s obsessed with it. He’s a librarian whose head is always in the clouds (“Strange the Dreamer”) and spends his free time researching Weep dreaming about the day when he will be able to see Weep for himself. I have to applaud Taylor’s ephemeral writing; as over written and dramatic as it is, it does make you feel as if you were living a legend, a hero epic. There’s no other way to describe her worldbuilding except that it is epic like the libraries of Zosma. It’s completely sweeping and otherworldly, larger than life but is still grounded in what the reader knows which only makes the reader imagine it better. I loved Lazlo’s dream landscapes of Weep, so imaginative like the fever dream of a child who has only read books about unicorns and rainbows.
But I realize after reading it why I can’t fully love this book. It’s because the payoff to all this buildup is just not satisfying. Lazlo has spent 7 years researching about Weep and it feels to the reader like an unattainable goal but then suddenly the answer comes right in front of him like all that buildup was for nothing. When they arrived at Weep, again the problem seemed insurmountable, but then when the solution arrived it didn’t feel satisfying? There’s also this instalove that annoyed me. It was almost like Laini Taylor was trying too hard to make me believe in their love by coating their instalove with frosting, with copious amounts of descriptions of how beautiful Sarai’s skin is and how mysterious Lazlo’s nose is. Are there really that many ways to describe someone’s crooked nose?? And omg this is the first time, someone has seen me!! The first time someone said I wasn’t disgusting!! Cue the blushing. I think my eyes rolled straight out of my head. At points, it seemed like Sarai was a manic pixie dream girl and the ending didn’t help that theory either. The other side characters had a lot more potential to be intriguing characters such as Eril-Fane who was involved in the war that occurred before the events of Strange the Dreamer. I liked the concepts and themes that Laini Taylor introduces, about grief after war and guilt over the part you played in a war, how to figure out how to live with yourself after all the devastation. I wish there was more of that instead of the woe-is-me, melodramatic romance. If you liked Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy, you will adore this, it’s actually quite eerie how similar the two are if you think about it. The premise of Taylor’s books always hook me but the execution somehow always falls flat for me though.
Let me know if you’ve read these two books or if you’re planning to (they’re actually quite perfect for spring/summer) and what your thoughts are!