A good concept with smart characterization that can’t sustain its page count.

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36 QUESTIONS THAT CHANGED MY MIND ABOUT YOU

Two strangers take part in a psychological experiment on intimacy in the era of social media.

Hildy and Paul are total strangers who both happen to take part in a local university study for the princely sum of $40. The study centers on the titular 36 questions, a series of (real-life) inquiries that are designed to engineer affection between two partners. Circumstances prevent the pair from finishing the assignment in one sitting, but over the course of several days, the two straight, white teens engage in an online back and forth that eventually completes the questionnaire. The questions chip away at Paul’s and Hildy’s reservations, and the two eventually reveal home lives fraught with emotional abandonment and dishonesty. The concept of the 36 questions is a clever enough line to hang the burgeoning romance upon, but the novel is far too long. There’s a lot of repetition here, and while Hildy and Paul feel real enough to fall for each other and engage readers, they lack the full three dimensions this book’s length needs to work. The story also suffers from late reveals that are telegraphed and hinted at and drawn out so extensively that any emotional effect these reveals have is long gone. The secondary characters are well-conceived, Hildy’s parents and friends thematically and structurally underlining the primary romantic argument for honesty and emotional availability.

A good concept with smart characterization that can’t sustain its page count. (Fiction. 14-17)

Pub Date: Oct. 17, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7624-6318-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Running Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2017

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An emotionally engaging closer that fumbles in its final moments.

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ALWAYS AND FOREVER, LARA JEAN

From the To All the Boys I've Loved Before series , Vol. 3

Lara Jean prepares for college and a wedding.

Korean-American Lara Jean is finally settled into a nice, complication-free relationship with her white boyfriend, Peter. But things don’t stay simple for long. When college acceptance letters roll in, Peter and Lara Jean discover they’re heading in different directions. As the two discuss the long-distance thing, Lara Jean’s widower father is making a major commitment: marrying the neighbor lady he’s been dating. The whirlwind of a wedding, college visits, prom, and the last few months of senior year provides an excellent backdrop for this final book about Lara Jean. The characters ping from event to event with emotions always at the forefront. Han further develops her cast, pushing them to new maturity and leaving few stones unturned. There’s only one problem here, and it’s what’s always held this series back from true greatness: Peter. Despite Han’s best efforts to flesh out Peter with abandonment issues and a crummy dad, he remains little more than a handsome jock. Frankly, Lara Jean and Peter may have cute teen chemistry, but Han's nuanced characterizations have often helped to subvert typical teen love-story tropes. This knowing subversion is frustratingly absent from the novel's denouement.

An emotionally engaging closer that fumbles in its final moments. (Romance. 14-17)

Pub Date: May 2, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-4814-3048-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2017

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Packed to the brim with intrigue and the promise of a third installment.

LADY SMOKE

From the Ash Princess series , Vol. 2

A rebel queen fans the sparks of revolution.

Picking up immediately after the events of Ash Princess (2018), Sebastian’s expansive sequel finds young Queen Theodosia—her title newly reclaimed—fleeing her country and throne. With her people still enslaved, Theo will need allies and an army to free them, and her aunt, the fierce and manipulative pirate Dragonsbane, insists that the only way to acquire either is if Theo marries—something no queen has ever done in Astrea’s history. Wracked by nightmares, guilt, and fear that she is losing herself (and more), Theo balks but, with few options open to her, grudgingly agrees to meet with suitors at a grand invitational hosted by the king of the opulent Sta’Crivero. Readers looking for further immersion and expansion of Theo’s world will not be disappointed here. The narrative suffers marginally from lengthy details picked up and soon put back down with no real service to plot or character development, but Theo’s first-person narration remains enthralling with emotional immediacy as she learns more and more about her world and the people (and cruelty) within it. Vengeance, political corruption, and mystery are the main drivers, and questions of trauma, empathy, and sacrifice hold the reigns as Theo grapples with emergent magic, inconvenient romances, and the crushing weight of her choices as a leader.

Packed to the brim with intrigue and the promise of a third installment. (maps) (Fantasy. 14-17)

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6710-5

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2019

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