Review: Hart & Seoul by Kristen Burnham (arc)

Title: Hart & Seoul 
Author: Kristen Burnham 
Series: Stand-alone 
Genre: Contemporary, YA 
Publication date: June 4, 2019 
Rating: ★½ 

Merilee Hart has been doing her best to keep things together since her mother left, her art a welcome escape from her depressing new reality. But things seem to go even more awry the moment her next door neighbor’s enigmatic and mysterious nephew arrives from South Korea. Lee is moody, cocky, and utterly infuriating. But when Merri’s closest friends betray her and her father crushes her dream of going to art school, Merri finds herself drawn to Lee, who seems to live within even greater shadows than her own. And just when she thought things couldn’t get crazier, Merri’s world is upended when she discovers Lee’s big and bizarre secret…he is none other than a runaway member of the K-pop mega-group Thunder. It’s not long before Thunder’s fans, the Storm Chasers, begin to close in on Lee, ready to do whatever it takes to return their favorite idol to his rightful place in the band. Faced with the prospect of even more heartbreak and caught up in an international whirlwind that has a life of its own, Merri realizes that she must find a way to mend herself, gain control of her life, and pursue her dreams—her heart and soul depend on it.

When it comes to K-pop and its related idol culture, my knowledge of its works is not non-existent but it’s definitely limited. I started reading this book unbiased, although not completely objective either as I am certainly interested to learn more about what it’s all about. If anything I was ready to love it. Hart & Seoul seemed like a simple, compelling way to fall in love with a mostly foreign world of entertainment and hopefully its (in this case fictional) lead pop stars. 

It didn’t work out quite as planned. The premise is exciting, though. An undercover K-pop idol, reconnecting with the real world and somewhere along the way falling in love with a regular American girl; and in return the girl entering a fantastical world previously unknown. It’s a trope I can always rally behind, it reminds me of my teenage years and foolish but oh so compelling movies. I didn’t expect or even want this to be deep and thoughtful. I just wanted it to be fun. Unfortunately I was often too busy being annoyed to enjoy the experience.

Everything was painfully obvious. And I know it’s a lot to ask this kind of book not to be, but there are limits to my ability to deal with the obvious. I could see everything coming miles away, the foreshadowing was so unsubtle and yet somehow the main character always found herself suprised. That doesn’t work. And annoyed the hell out of me. 

Main character Merilee was likable enough and so was K-pop star in disguise Hyung-Kim Lee. If that’s even his name, because he was usually called Lee, sometimes Eeunim, or just Ee. At first I thought I didn’t get it because I lacked some knowledge on Korean name-giving but it’s more - it genuinely just doesn’t make sense. Nor did the nickname “Lee” chose for Merilee. He called her Christmas, because you know, Merilee, Merry, Merry Christmas, Christmas. So yeah.

Writing about different cultures and especially doing them justice is tricky. It takes tons of research and hours of careful consideration. You really don’t want a book to paint a cliche picture. Sadly I felt this was exactly what Hart & Seoul did. The way the main character’s aunt (who had been living in America for years) “spoke” and the grammar mistakes she constantly made, were painful to read. Maybe on tv this works, but seeing the errors written on paper made it come across as really condescending. Or at least that’s how I felt. The Korean references made me roll my eyes multiple times. I’m sure there has to be more to Korea than Gagnam Style. Lose the cliches and superficial characteristics, that would be my biggest advice.

I also didn’t feel like the author payed enough attention to how sparkly Lee was? I really like my boys sparkly, you know. Or wait. She did. Once or twice. Per sentence. IT WAS SO ANNOYING. She frequently called him sparkle boy, I kid you not. So sexy. I got major Twilight vibes and that might not be the best advertising for your book about K-pop idols.

Many things also didn’t make sense. Situations brought about emotions that didn’t seem to fit or were exaggerated and I honestly can’t imagine a K-pop idol being so unworldly he would call blonde hair ‘yellow’. I think it was supposed to be endearing. It wasn’t. Neither was the chemistry between Lee and Christmas - uh, Merilee. There wasn’t any. And if a romantic book isn’t really romantic…

Ah well. It could have been good but it failed to deliver. Wouldn’t recommend. Especially not if you’re into K-pop and have some actual insight in what it’s supposed to be. I imagine the book would only annoy you even more.

Review: The Girl The Sea Gave Back by Adrienne Young (arc)

the girl the sea gave back adrienne young

Title: The Girl The Sea Gave Back  
Author: Adrienne Young  
Series: Sky In The Deep  
Genre: Adventure, Fantasy, YA  
Publication date: September 3, 2019 
Rating: ★★★★ 

For as long as she can remember, Tova has lived among the Svell, the people who found her washed ashore as a child and use her for her gift as a Truthtongue. Her own home and clan are long-faded memories, but the sacred symbols and staves inked over every inch of her skin mark her as one who can cast the rune stones and see into the future. She has found a fragile place among those who fear her, but when two clans to the east bury their age-old blood feud and join together as one, her world is dangerously close to collapse. For the first time in generations, the leaders of the Svell are divided. Should they maintain peace or go to war with the allied clans to protect their newfound power? And when their chieftain looks to Tova to cast the stones, she sets into motion a series of events that will not only change the landscape of the mainland forever but will give her something she believed she could never have again—a home.

The Nādhir would follow me into the mist of the forest when the sun rose. And only the gods knew if we’d ever come out.

The Girl The Sea Gave Back is a stand-alone companion book and often called a spinoff, but it reads surprisingly like a sequel to Sky In The Deep. It is set in the same village and deals with a largely similar cast of characters, which makes the return to this Viking-esque world both familiar and welcome. Sky in the Deep left me craving for more and so did this book.

In The Girl The Sea Gave Back we follow Halvard and Tova, two youngsters fresh into adulthood from different clans, destined to cross paths and end up on opposite sides of an inevitable war. Their lives couldn’t be more different. While Halvard is a child of peace and chosen to become the next clan leader of de Nādhir, Tova has always been a Rikki outcast living with the Svell. If she hadn’t been a truthtongue, a thread between the living and the future, and cast the rune stones for her enemies, her life would have been forfeit the moment she washed ashore. But the Svell tala, Jorrund, recognised her potential and fought to give her a fragile place within the Svell community. When the power balance shifts, however, Tova’s fate is left in the hands of clansmen who both fear and detest her.

I have always liked Halvard, getting to watch him grow up has been an unexpected pleasure. His personality largely moulded by Fiske, Iri, Inge, Eelyn’s father and Myra, there was no way he would not turn out a fine, strong human being. But getting to know Tova was equally intriguing. I liked who she was and how she dealt with the hardship of having absolutely no one to rely on and having to carry the burden of the rune stones. The story is fast-paced and full of action. As war looms on the horizon and alliances shift, people die and fight for a future that might already be set in stone. 

There are appearances from Fiske and Eelyn and I can’t decide if I loved those parts or if they disappointed me. Because as great as it was to have them return, them now being mere side characters left me unsatisfied. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to these two before and these small interactions weren’t enough. It just wasn’t.

I’m also not sure we needed the flashbacks. It felt as if they were mostly there to give us a piece of Fiske but since we hardly learned anything new in those scenes, I would have preferred a more fleshed out main story. Because that’s something I missed. The book is short and should have been longer. There is not enough room for detail and careful development. It missed something, some of the magic. It’s good but it could have been better, which despite me liking it, also left me somewhat disappointed. 

Adrienne Young’s writing on the other hand, I’m a big fan of. Her words seem simple but they carry weight. They draw people in. I like the way she builds scenes and has a nose for small but significant moments.

If you loved Sky In The Deep, I recommend picking this up. Vikings are fun and so is this world. It’s perhaps not as good as the first book but it’s worth reading and enjoyable. And who knows, maybe there will be a third part that will fulfil all our wildest dreams. A girl can dream, right?

Also both Sky In The Deep and The Girl The Sea Gave Back reaaaaally make want to pick the ‘Vikings’ tv show back up.

Review: The Love Solution by Ashley Croft (arc)

the love solution ashley croft

the love solution ashley croft

Title: The Love Solution 
Author: Ashley Croft 
Series: Stand-alone 
Genre: Romance, Adult Fiction 
Publication date: August 15, 2019 
Rating: ★ 

Sisters Sarah and Molly are close, but they couldn’t be more different. Sarah runs a craft business and is obsessed with all things shiny and glam, whilst Molly is much more at home in her white coat and goggles, working in a science lab. When Molly is put onto a new assignment, she’s over the moon. It’s a high-profile, top secret project – and she has a handsome new boss to ogle at when she’s not bending over a petri dish… But when Sarah finds herself on the painful end of a disastrous break-up, no amount of Ben & Jerry’s or trashy rom-coms can cheer her up. She wants to take a more drastic approach to dealing with her heartbreak, and one that only her sister – and perhaps a sprinkle of science – can help with . . . Will Sarah find love where she least expects it, or is it really all in the chemistry?

Arc received through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

All I wanted was for this to be a light-hearted, quick summer read. That’s not asking a lot. And while the blurb definitely excited me, the book unfortunately didn’t meet any of the required criteria. About halfway in I debated DNFing but I pulled myself through. Not that I would have missed much if I hadn’t.

My first and main problem with the book is that it’s advertised as romance and that there is zero chemistry. The book is written in dual POV switching between orphan sisters Molly and Sarah and thus it contains not one but TWO developing romances; in some ways even a third. Yet I didn’t care. I can forgive a lot in chicklit books. As long as the romance is compelling there is a lot I can turn a blind eye to. But if not even that is compelling… it makes for a very boring read.

Sarah was in no way relatable (she made no sense at all) and even Molly was only slightly likable. They were very flat and superficial, as was every other character. The love interests were more or less interchangeable and apart from some stereotypical traits they had no personality or even a life. Molly and Sarah made choices I couldn’t possibly understand or stand behind and could only be explained as plot convenience. And too often there was drama for the sole purpose of DRAMA. So many things were exaggerated and could have been avoided if only people communicated.

The plot was … weird. It focused on the wrong parts of the story in my opinion and was often more tell than show. Some parts were awfully rushed while others that didn’t matter at all were given too much attention. But even then it was often just plain wrong or utterly unbelievable. This book is supposed to show empowered women but fails miserably. At some point it almost told me to feel sorry for people cheating on their partner, like boo-hoo they have it bad too. 

And then there’s the ‘love solution’ plot. Molly and her boss Ewan are working on some top-secret artificial hormone that is nicknamed the ‘love bug’. It’s some sort of chemical combination that will make people fall for each other. It’s dubious in itself but the way it was used in the story was so awfully wrong I couldn’t get over it. Also, despite it being top-of-the-art and not even disclosed to other members of the company, Molly tells her sister all about it. How does that make sense? But none of that as bad as using it to make your cheating fuck of an ex-boyfriend take you back. 

The writing itself was below average. The dialogue was off. I can’t quite pinpoint what didn’t work exactly but reading it felt like watching a bad soap opera; everything obvious and melodramatic. Except for the word “shagging” probably. Never have I seen the verb “shag” used this often before. I was this close to turning the book into a drinking game.

The only good thing I can give you is that the cover of the book is cute. When I looked at it I could see myself fall in love with these characters. But a cover is not the book, you still have to open it up and take a look. ‘Cause under the cover you discover that the king may be a croo- Yeah fine, no more Mary Poppins but I guess this tells just how much I didn’t care. The book was boring and sort of problematic. Would not recommend. Moving on to better things.

Review: Again, but Better by Christine Riccio

again but better christine riccio
again but better christine riccio

Title: Again, But Better  
Author: Christine Riccio  
Series: Stand-alone  
Genre: Contemporary, Romance, YA  
Publication date: May 7, 2019 
Rating: ★★★ 

Shane has been doing college all wrong. Pre-med, stellar grades, and happy parents…sounds ideal—but Shane's made zero friends, goes home every weekend, and romance…what’s that? Her life has been dorm, dining hall, class, repeat. Time's a ticking, and she needs a change—there's nothing like moving to a new country to really mix things up. Shane signs up for a semester abroad in London. She's going to right all her college mistakes: make friends, pursue boys, and find adventure! Easier said than done. She is soon faced with the complicated realities of living outside her bubble, and when self-doubt sneaks in, her new life starts to fall apart. Shane comes to find that, with the right amount of courage and determination one can conquer anything. Throw in some fate and a touch of magic—the possibilities are endless.

The Queen of BookTube publishes a novel. I know it’s a controversial topic, BookTubers getting book deals. Many resent them for it, saying it’s more about their online reach than the actual book. I think it’s both? From a publisher’s perspective it makes sense to take a chance on someone with a large following, to make the “smart” choice. And it’s not like BookTubers got their audience for free. They had to work really hard to build it. So I’m proud of these lucky few for accomplishing what so many of us can only dream of.

So is Christine’s book any good? It is! It also… isn’t.

The book tells the story of Shane Primaveri, a pre-med student going to London for a semester. She is eager to get away from her dull life and start over abroad where she not only plans to finally make some friends, but also to ditch pre-med and follow a writing program instead. Before long she realises that life with friends, and also falling in love, is not as uncomplicated as it had once seemed but she is determined to make this the experience of a lifetime. To finally get out of her shell and live the life she’s always wanted for herself.

I really liked the setting, it’s the main reason I gave this book three stars. When I was in college I also took a semester abroad so everything felt very relatable. Being new and more or less alone in a foreign country, having to take care of yourself and be responsible without an adultier adult to fall back on. It’s challenging for sure but it’s also an extraordinary experience. Meeting wonderful new people, late-night meetings in the dorms, taking trips all around Europe - basically living on the edge. So I immediately felt at home in this book. It was really nice to revisit this and it’s easily the best part of the book.

That part was great. The names of the side characters were decidedly less so. I appreciate a fun creative name for a character but there is such a thing as overdoing it. Shane’s friends are Babe, Atticus and Sahra (which okay) but to top it all off, there is love interest Pilot Penn. Yes, you got that right. Pilot Penn. Ehm so yeah, no. But they were all likeable enough. They seemed like a fun crowd to hang around with and I liked Pilot. I had more issues with main character Shane. 

It’s simple, really. Christine is her main character; or the main character is Christine, whichever you choose. I don’t watch a lot of Christine’s videos, she’s just too “loud” for me, so I honestly didn’t think I knew all that much about her. Except clearly I do because I couldn’t separate Shane from her. Everything SCREAMS Christine. From Shane’s constant fandom references (Lost, The Mortal Instruments, Harry Potter, Taylor Swift) to her online username (FrenchWatermelon19) to the way she spoke and carried herself and reacted to things and people… Even their appearances are similar. I don’t think this book is supposed to be autobiographical? So that’s a problem. That’s a real problem. As an author you have to be able to distance yourself from your characters. 

Shane also suffers from social anxiety. I realise that this means different things to different people but here it felt kind of unauthentic. Yes, Shane was a bit awkward around people at first and she sure stumbled over a lot of chairs but social anxiety is more than that, I think. That could have been explored a lot better in my opinion. 

I did like the pop culture references. That really is a hit or miss with me. Sometimes it works, sometimes it really really doesn’t. But Christine managed alright. I especially liked it because a huge part of the book is set in 2011 and it was nice to be reminded of what was ‘hot’ back in the day. I never really understood the obsession with Angry Birds but I mean, we ALL had that friend.

The book is a really fast read. The writing is pretty basic but it’s entertaining and flows naturally. I liked the banter and I was invested in Shane’s journey. However I clearly hadn’t read the blurb closely enough because the actual magic in it surprised me. I honestly thought I was reading a regular contemporary. But it strangely sort of works. It was a different approach and I was curious as to what would happen.

Overall this is a quick, light read. It’s not groundbreaking but it’s not terrible either. I liked it, if mostly because I have such a personal connection to the whole study-abroad thing. And it carries a powerful message. Live your life for yourself, not for someone else. Make your own choices and don’t let someone else tell you what to do. I think that’s important. 

` `