Unteachable by Leah Raeder

UnteachableUnteachable by Leah Raeder
My rating: 5 of 5 teacups

I’ve had several comments on my reviews of the NA experiment books asking why I insist on putting myself through all this torture. The simple answer: to find books like this one. Unteachable isn’t a perfect book. It sits comfortably within the contemporary romance genre that we’ve come to expect from New Adult and – plot-wise – it cannot be considered groundbreaking. But the writing, the mood, and the characters made this a book I couldn’t put down. You want to get some idea what this book is like? Look at that cover. Look at the explosion of bright colours winding off into a neon portrait of a young woman. That might give you some idea. A gif to represent this book? Here you go:

But really, what is Unteachable? I’ll tell you. It’s a lyrical, intoxicating novel that creates an atmosphere of such feverish intensity you feel a little high, a little out of control, just by reading it. I fell into this story and got lost amongst the lights of the carnival, the smell of beer and sweat, and the MC’s apprehension. I felt the pull of this story from the very beginning when Maise takes a ride on that fateful rollercoaster at the carnival and her life starts to change forever. Because this book is a romance and the romantic aspect is the foundation of the story, but it’s also about something else. I suppose it is really a coming-of-age tale. Of being a young woman balanced between childhood and the scary world of adults. It asks what it means to grow up. And if any of us ever really do.

Maise O’Malley is the star of this show and I loved her instantly. I didn’t expect her to be so funny. She’s wickedly sarcastic, she’s shamelessly rebellious, she’s not afraid of being more than a little crude at times. But, of course, she’s so much more than all of that too. Maise is a fascinating combination of:

And a bitter, sad fragility. She feels more real that any of the NA protagonists I’ve met with recently, there’s something genuine about the way she boxes her troubles up and locks them away behind doors with sexy, devil-may-care smiles. I feel like there’s something known about pain here. All these NA novels I’ve read about girls with issues, girls running from dark pasts, girls who were abused… and none of them seem to capture that darkness, that melancholy of being fucked up for a very long time. There’s something sadder about the way Maise brushes it off with a shrug and a joke about Freud, it affected me more than the melodrama of other novels. I don’t know the author’s story, but she certainly writes with a convincing flair that suggests some level of firsthand experience with the thoughts and emotions swirling away behind Maise’s closed doors. I love it when an author writes something, a thought or a feeling, that you never realised was exactly how you felt at a certain time or in a certain situation until it was laid out before you in a book. Inexplicable sensations are suddenly explained and it’s hard not to smile or laugh or cry along with the characters.

Raeder’s writing was, for me, perfect. Atmospheric, pretty without quite hitting the purple end of the scale, just beautiful. Like this:


I biked up to the water tower on the hill overlooking the prairie. Climbed the rust-eaten struts up to a crow’s nest some stoners had hammered together out of Mississippi driftwood. It wasn’t as hot tonight, and a restless wind raked through the grass, smelling of loam and barley. From here the carnival lights looked like fireflies swirling madly in place, trapped under an invisible jar. Just like me.

I especially love the use of past tense in this book, the way Maise tells the story from a present the reader is far away from reaching. She keeps talking about how “I didn’t know back then” and “I wonder what would have been different had I made another choice that day” and I actually loved it. The hindsight makes the whole thing seem somehow tragically inevitable. It works. You know certain things are coming and, rather than dampen the tension, it heightens it an incredible amount. I was sat there with a pounding heart, knowing what was coming, and sometimes wanting to hide behind my hands and not watch what I knew would happen. This, combined with the film metaphors woven throughout, made for a stunning, exciting novel.


Images and words flash past too fast to parse, like the cliche dying moment in film, when life flashes before someone’s eyes. Except that isn’t what happens when you die – it’s what happens when you live. It all flashes past. You barely have time to feel it before it’s gone.

Now for the relationship. Teacher and student. All kinds of wrong. All kinds of room for a really hot mess. But I think this relationship is used well here, not just to feed the reader’s forbidden fantasies. For one, it’s legal (phew) and they “hooked up” before the awkward classroom encounter and she had lied about her age. For another, he is so adorable I do not have words. I’ve got used to expecting a certain type of love interest from these NA novels. Arrogant, self-obsessed, controlling, annoying… Evan is none of those things. He is sweet, kind, considerate, he puts her first (which adds up to more than letting her come first) and he still manages to be totally sexy. His character development extends beyond his looks, he has faults and he has his own past that isn’t so peachy – I think if I could write an ideal NA male love interest, it would be exactly like him. I find it amazing that the NA relationship that is technically most inappropriate is the one that has felt most real and honest to me.

And because I liked Maise and I liked Evan… I loved them both together. And that made the sex scenes really hot. Just sayin’.

Now to get a couple of negatives out of the way. The most notable blemish to this novel’s perfection occurs around the middle where there is a slow chunk made up of nothing but sex. I know, I know, I’m such a spoilsport. But there were one or two sex scenes too many if you ask me. Your sex shouldn’t get tedious and there was a point somewhere between orgasms when I was hoping it would just move along a bit. Don’t worry, though, it picks up again. My other issue was with the handling of Hiyam’s character. I would have liked her to have been more well-rounded rather than just a mindless villain used as a tool to threaten the novel’s harmony. I also wish Maise had used a different term to describe insecure teenage girls than “bulimic”, it didn’t sit well with me and seemed to trivialize a serious illness. I understand it was Maise’s skewed view of them, but I ‘d just rather it wasn’t in there.

Now, let’s get back to the good! I haven’t mentioned the cast of secondary characters that I feel were extremely well-developed for a romance novel. Wesley, Siobhan… and I personally think Maise’s mum deserves a novel of her own because we barely scratched the surface with her. She is one of the worst mothers ever, but I’d love to get her story. The strength of all of them, I felt, was in the witty dialogue zipping back and forth. You could almost take out everything but the dialogue and it would still be a four star novel. I recall what I said in my recent review of Hopeless about how I wished the author had the guts to write a typically unlikeable “slutty” protagonist and make us love her. I got that here. I also got the closest thing to a feminist I’m probably ever going to find in these NA books. I imagined myself and Maise as partners in crime when I read this:


I looked at my desk. Someone had carved RIHANNA = SLUT. I thought about adding CHRIS BROWN = DOMESTIC ABUSER, but Mr Wilke probably would’ve caught me before I finished.

I really did like this book. A LOT. A lot more than I thought I was going to. It does the one thing I really wanted the NA genre to do from the start: capture that feeling of loneliness and desperation that occurs when you have no idea where you’re going next or who you’re going to be when it comes time to “grow up”. It’s about how teens grow up, and it’s about how sometimes adults never did. I don’t even care that the ending had more than a touch of cheese. I was ready for it. I was like an empty toasted sandwich, waiting to be cheesed <<<<<< Don't judge me, I will likely never again have chance to use that sentence. One last quote, Emily? Well, if you insist:
That’s all life is. Breathing in, breathing out. The space between two breaths.

Fledge (I Am Just Junco, #2) by J.A. Huss

Fledge (I Am Just Junco, #2)Fledge by J.A. Huss
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This book just made me mad. I tried really hard to get on board and like it but no. It’s not for me. It’s not you, book, it’s me. Except it’s not.The story is so goddamn contradictory and annoying that I have thirteen pages worth of highlights. Thirteen. Not to illustrate anything other than why this books fails me.
Sigh.
Junco has to go through a “fledge” that is really just a hunger games for avians. Without the extra oomph that the capital made Katniss go through, and all for shock value. There was a little boy that Junco decided to take under wing and everything. And then (view spoiler).

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Junco even points out the absurdity in having a fledge fight to the president (who happened to have all kinds of time to just give her randomly) and he’s like, “oh well blah blah it’s necessary because genes” and I’m just sitting there like, dafuq? There are so fucking many examples like that.
How about when Junco all of a sudden decides she’s actually in love with Tier, only to turn around and (view spoiler) And if you know me even a little bit you know I’m all for women and their libidos and it being all good, but that was total bullshit. No guilt either. Nothing. And that’s not touching the intimacy she exhibited with Ashur either: sleeping together (literally), cuddling in his wings, a make-out session, knowing he had feelings for her and doing nothing to dissuade him. So much garbage.

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It’s like how in the synopsis for the first book we’re told straight up that there are no answers, but there comes a point in time where that plot device becomes much more detrimental to my enjoyment than it being clever or effective. There’s more, but there’s not much point to keeping this going because it’s pretty obvious I hated it, lol.

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July 2014: Exciting New Releases

LandlineLandline by Rainbow Rowell

Georgie McCool knows her marriage is in trouble. That it’s been in trouble for a long time. She still loves her husband, Neal, and Neal still loves her, deeply — but that almost seems besides the point now. Maybe that was always besides the point.

Two days before they’re supposed to visit Neal’s family in Omaha for Christmas, Georgie tells Neal that she can’t go. She’s a TV writer, and something’s come up on her show; she has to stay in Los Angeles. She knows that Neal will be upset with her — Neal is always a little upset with Georgie — but she doesn’t expect to him to pack up the kids and go home without her.

When her husband and the kids leave for the airport, Georgie wonders if she’s finally done it. If she’s ruined everything. That night, Georgie discovers a way to communicate with Neal in the past. It’s not time travel, not exactly, but she feels like she’s been given an opportunity to fix her marriage before it starts . . .Is that what she’s supposed to do? Or would Georgie and Neal be better off if their marriage never happened?
Buy: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Powell’s Books

On the FenceOn the Fence by Kasie West

She’s a tomboy. He’s the boy next door…

Charlie Reynolds can outrun, outscore, and outwit every boy she knows. But when it comes to being a girl, Charlie doesn’t know the first thing about anything. So when she starts working at a chichi boutique to pay off a speeding ticket, she finds herself in a strange new world. To cope with the stress of her new reality, Charlie takes to spending nights chatting with her neighbor Braden through the fence between their yards. As she grows to depend on their nightly Fence Chats, she realizes she’s got a bigger problem than speeding tickets-she’s falling for Braden. She knows what it means to go for the win, but if spilling her secret means losing him for good, the stakes just got too high.

Fun, original, and endearing, On the Fence is a romantic comedy about finding yourself and finding love where you least expect.
Buy: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Powell’s Books

One Plus OneOne Plus One by Jojo Moyes

Suppose your life sucks. A lot. Your husband has done a vanishing act, your teenage stepson is being bullied and your math whiz daughter has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that you can’t afford to pay for. That’s Jess’s life in a nutshell—until an unexpected knight-in-shining-armor offers to rescue them. Only Jess’s knight turns out to be Geeky Ed, the obnoxious tech millionaire whose vacation home she happens to clean. But Ed has big problems of his own, and driving the dysfunctional family to the Math Olympiad feels like his first unselfish act in ages . . . maybe ever.

One Plus One is Jojo Moyes at her astounding best. You’ll laugh, you’ll weep, and when you flip the last page, you’ll want to start all over again.
Buy: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Powell’s Books

The Kiss of Deception (The Remnant Chronicles #1)The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson

In this timeless new trilogy about love and sacrifice, a princess must find her place in a reborn world.

In a society steeped in tradition, Princess Lia’s life follows a preordained course. As First Daughter, she is expected to have the revered gift of sight—but she doesn’t—and she knows her parents are perpetrating a sham when they arrange her marriage to secure an alliance with a neighboring kingdom—to a prince she has never met.

On the morning of her wedding, Lia flees to a distant village. She settles into a new life, hopeful when two mysterious and handsome strangers arrive—and unaware that one is the jilted prince and the other an assassin sent to kill her. Deception abounds, and Lia finds herself on the brink of unlocking perilous secrets—even as she finds herself falling in love.
Buy: Amazon | http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-kiss-of-deception-mary-e-pearson/1116931467?ean=9780805099232 | Powell’s Books

Half a King (Shattered Sea, #1)Half a King by Joe Abercrombie

Prince Yarvi has vowed to regain a throne he never wanted. But first he must survive cruelty, chains, and the bitter waters of the Shattered Sea. And he must do it all with only one good hand.

Born a weakling in the eyes of his father, Yarvi is alone in a world where a strong arm and a cold heart rule. He cannot grip a shield or swing an axe, so he must sharpen his mind to a deadly edge.

Gathering a strange fellowship of the outcast and the lost, he finds they can do more to help him become the man he needs to be than any court of nobles could. But even with loyal friends at his side, Yarvi finds his path may end as it began—in twists, and traps, and tragedy.
Buy: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Powell’s Books

ConversionConversion by Katherine Howe

t’s senior year at St. Joan’s Academy, and school is a pressure cooker. College applications, the battle for valedictorian, deciphering boys’ texts: Through it all, Colleen Rowley and her friends are expected to keep it together. Until they can’t.

First it’s the school’s queen bee, Clara Rutherford, who suddenly falls into uncontrollable tics in the middle of class. Her mystery illness quickly spreads to her closest clique of friends, then more students and symptoms follow: seizures, hair loss, violent coughing fits. St. Joan’s buzzes with rumor; rumor blossoms into full-blown panic.

Soon the media descends on Danvers, Massachusetts, as everyone scrambles to find something, or someone, to blame. Pollution? Stress? Or are the girls faking? Only Colleen—who’s been reading The Crucible for extra credit—comes to realize what nobody else has: Danvers was once Salem Village, where another group of girls suffered from a similarly bizarre epidemic three centuries ago . . .
Buy: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Powell’s Books

Let's Get LostLet’s Get Lost by Adi Alsaid

Four teens across the country have only one thing in common: a girl named LEILA. She crashes into their lives in her absurdly red car at the moment they need someone the most.

There’s HUDSON, a small-town mechanic who is willing to throw away his dreams for true love. And BREE, a runaway who seizes every Tuesday—and a few stolen goods along the way. ELLIOT believes in happy endings…until his own life goes off-script. And SONIA worries that when she lost her boyfriend, she also lost the ability to love.

Hudson, Bree, Elliot and Sonia find a friend in Leila. And when Leila leaves them, their lives are forever changed. But it is during Leila’s own 4,268-mile journey that she discovers the most important truth— sometimes, what you need most is right where you started. And maybe the only way to find what you’re looking for is to get lost along the way.
Buy: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Powell’s Books

The Cure For Dreaming by Cat Winters

The Cure for DreamingThe Cure for Dreaming by Cat Winters
My rating: 5 of 5 teacups


“Come along. Let’s get out of here and go toast to youth and vampires and rebellion.”

Cat Winters has done it again. I have been captivated by this book for every spare minute of reading I’ve managed to fit in. I’m not quite sure how Winters manages to so thoroughly take me out of this world and plant me into another time full of atmosphere, history and a little dash of the paranormal. But she does.


“I’ve said this before,” he said through his teeth, “and I’ll say it again: This is all for your own good. You do not need to be burdened with impossible dreams.”

In the opening years of the twentieth century, women’s dreams often remained just that. Expected to leave school, marry, and look after the home, the world’s wonders would glitter off in the distance and women had to accept that they would never have the opportunity to reach for them. But that didn’t mean these women didn’t dream and want and hope and – eventually – fight. Winters has a certain knack for bringing ambitious and feisty women into a setting completely at odds with their personalities. As with her first novel, In the Shadow of Blackbirds, Winters once again portrays the difficulties of being a young woman with dreams in a society that won’t let them happen.


“Your future is to become a respectable housewife and mother. Women belong in the home, and inside some man’s home you’ll stay.”

Prepare to be more than a little pissed off. And then be prepared to grin madly as Olivia repeatedly proves everyone wrong. Then there’s that whole part of this novel with the sexy almost-French hypnotist… what more do you need from a book, anyway?

There are a number of interesting and complex things happening in this novel – all of which, I found fascinating. Firstly, there is the relationship between Olivia and her father – who I wanted to die a million painful deaths – and yet… I felt a certain glimmer of sadness for him in the end because he was nothing but his own worst enemy. Then there is the historical woven with the paranormal aspect that just completely transported me into the time and place of the novel. The author captures the time perfectly and the feeling of frustration that many women must have felt.


“I love that books allow us to experience other lives without us ever having to change where we live or who we are.”

In this book, Olivia’s father hires a hypnotist to cure Olivia of her “unfeminine” dreams of college, suffrage and freedom. However, Henri Reverie instead makes her see the world “as it truly is”, giving those she cannot trust a monstrous visage. I can hardly begin to describe the array of emotions this book took me through: anger, sadness, frustration, warm fuzzies… all of them in a good way. It is, in the end, a book about equality and how silencing a group of people will only make them more determined to fight harder.

I loved it.

Wicked Games by Sean Olin

Wicked GamesWicked Games by Sean Olin
My rating: 4 of 5 teacups


By the time they crossed the Georgia state line, they’d forgotten all about the green Mazda, but if they’d looked, they would have seen that it was still behind them…

Well… holy shit. I nearly passed this one up because of all the negative reviews – just look down the page at all those one stars – but it was Khanh’s review that piqued my curiosity. I often find myself being in the minority on books, though it’s usually a case where I wasn’t feeling the magic from a book everyone else is raving about, so I decided to take a chance on this one. My thought was “I’ll just try a few pages and see…” and the next thing I knew it was over and my heart was literally racing.

Personally, I think whoever did the design and marketing for this book got it all wrong. This is not a lusty teenage romance full of empty-headed characters; in fact, it’s far closer to being a psychological thriller of the Abigail Haas variety. I was literally hooked. It’s frightening. It’s engaging. It has well-developed characters. Being a teen makes most people experience the edge of insanity from time to time and I think Olin shows that, and then proceeds to show how someone can cross the line bit by bit every day.

The, in my opinion, AMAZING characters:

This book is about three people – Lilah, Carter and Jules – who do some pretty damn awful things. But I felt like characterization and careful understanding and sympathy are never neglected by the author. These people are appalling. Carter is dating Lilah but cheats on her with Jules, and Lilah is absolutely fucking crazy (no exaggeration). And yet… and yet I felt completely absorbed into their lives and stories. It was a rare occasion where cheating, though still not forgivable, is told in such a way that I understood and sympathised with both parties.

Lilah:

Similarly, I loved the way Lilah’s character was handled. I can’t help smiling to myself now as I recall how bitter, twisted and insane she was. She is a fantastic portrait of a teenage girl’s gradual descent into insanity. She is interesting, she is a villain, but she’s more than that too. Because, whatever she may go on to do, I felt such a sadness for Lilah – especially towards the beginning – because I remember how it feels to be an angsty teenager and worry that you’re not good enough and nothing will ever be right again.

I’m surprised more people don’t sympathise with Lilah’s self-destructive personality. Obviously it’s completely unhealthy, but I found her a highly sympathetic character in the beginning of the book – maybe this says something about me as a teenager ^_^ – and there were certain scenes that seriously wrenched at my gut. I think it would have been very easy for the author to drop these kinds of characters into boxes but he steered clear of them all. There was zero slut-shaming, the guy was sweet and gentlemanly… I liked Wicked Games a lot.

Really bloody scary:

I do not get scared. I swear. Only with real life spiders because they’re obviously up to something (why else would they need EIGHT legs, hmm?). But this book freaked me out. Like heart-pounding “the door’s locked, right? are you sure???” kind of freaked out. It’s just that I’m more likely to be affected by scary real life things than scary horror things because, duh, I’m probably not going to get eaten by a werewolf anytime soon. And, honestly, parts of this book are genuinely terrifying.

Ending:

Also, I LOVED the ending. I thought that was just sheer brilliance, to be honest. I’m not sure if the author has set it up for a sequel or if he intends to leave it hanging there (which would be deliciously evil), but I’m good with both.

So, I’m pleased to be in the positive minority for once, but I’m a little surprised. I wonder if part of it has something to do with the way this book appears to be something it isn’t… a lot of readers – sometimes myself included – don’t like to get something they hadn’t bargained for. We don’t want to pick up a “dystopia” and get a romance, even a well-written one. It’s like… I like chicken and I like ice cream but I wouldn’t want to get one when I ordered the other. Okay… what am I even talking about anymore? Just: maybe take a chance on this one, you might be surprised 🙂