Keep This Book In Your Contacts: a Review of Emergency Contact by Mary H. K. Choi

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Genre:
Young Adult, Contemporary
Publisher: Simon Schuster Books
Publication date: March 27th, 2018
Format: ARC Paperback
Source: Pansing Books
Page Count: 391

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Blurb:

For Penny Lee high school was a total nonevent. Her friends were okay, her grades were fine, and while she somehow managed to land a boyfriend, he doesn’t actually know anything about her. When Penny heads to college in Austin, Texas, to learn how to become a writer, it’s seventy-nine miles and a zillion light years away from everything she can’t wait to leave behind.

Sam’s stuck. Literally, figuratively, emotionally, financially. He works at a café and sleeps there too, on a mattress on the floor of an empty storage room upstairs. He knows that this is the god-awful chapter of his life that will serve as inspiration for when he’s a famous movie director but right this second the seventeen bucks in his checking account and his dying laptop are really testing him.

When Sam and Penny cross paths it’s less meet-cute and more a collision of unbearable awkwardness. Still, they swap numbers and stay in touch—via text—and soon become digitally inseparable, sharing their deepest anxieties and secret dreams without the humiliating weirdness of having to see each other.

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I’m pretty happy with how Emergency Contact turned out as a YA/NA Contemporary. Rarely do I find YA books centering around college students, and while Emergency Contact doesn’t exactly showcase the horrors of starting college, the plot and writing were very well done. I enjoyed the book in its entirety.

I love how race wasn’t the main focus of this book even though Penny is of Korean descent. That said, MARY CHOI did a great job in identifying some racial issues in the book and how racism is subtly infused in our social life.

Emergency Contact allows us to enjoy the growth of a beautiful friendship between two people who feel out of place in this world. I’m a sucker for friendship stories compared to romance, so I loved how three quarters of Emergency Contact was solely focused on Penny and Sam’s blooming friendship. Their openness to each other and their co-dependence are how I would define a great friendship. Emergency Contact is definitely not a cliche, cheesy YA love story and that’s why I think it’s such a great book.

“People were odd.
Fiction was fine, but real life was the true freak show.”

The plot was well-written for a contemporary, where it had a good mix of eventful situations that brought the story forward and tied up the entire book well together. We get to know Sam and Penny more in depth, and I’ve always enjoyed books that allow the readers to relate and empathize with its characters. Both characters have been through a traumatizing past and how Emergency Contact brought forth the stories together was pretty interesting. And seeing the friendship grow and blossom into something more was also a joy to read.

One thing readers might want to know about Emergency Contact is that the story is heavily centered around Sam and Penny, with minimal interaction with other characters in the book. If you do not mind dialogues between just the main characters, then I’m sure you’ll enjoy Emergency Contact.

Overall, Emergency Contact is one of the few YA books I’ve enjoyed reading this year. The ending threw me off a bit as I thought it was rushed without much conclusion, but I still think Emergency Contact is worth picking up. We don’t see enough of this book on social media, so I hope you pick it up if you see it in stores!

“Everyone is capable of putting words down,
Or telling a story
But not everyone will actually do it”

For fans of mature YA reads questioning racial and rape culture with a great focus on friendship and self-comfort, Emergency Contact is a highly recommended read. 

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Thank you Pansing Books for providing a copy in exchange of an honest review.

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Where Truth Requires Thorns: a Review of The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo

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Genre:
Young Adult, Fantasy
Publisher: Imprint
Publication date: September 26th, 2017
Format: Hardback
Source: Personal
Page Count: 281

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Blurb:

Love speaks in flowers. Truth requires thorns.

Travel to a world of dark bargains struck by moonlight, of haunted towns and hungry woods, of talking beasts and gingerbread golems, where a young mermaid’s voice can summon deadly storms and where a river might do a lovestruck boy’s bidding but only for a terrible price.

Inspired by myth, fairy tale, and folklore, #1 New York Times–bestselling author Leigh Bardugo has crafted a deliciously atmospheric collection of short stories filled with betrayals, revenge, sacrifice, and love.

Perfect for new readers and dedicated fans, these tales will transport you to lands both familiar and strange—to a fully realized world of dangerous magic that millions have visited through the novels of the Grishaverse.

This collection of six stories includes three brand-new tales, all of them lavishly illustrated with art that changes with each turn of the page, culminating in six stunning full-spread illustrations as rich in detail as the stories themselves.

 

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“This goes to show you that sometimes the unseen is not to be feared and that those meant to love us most are not always ones who do.”

First off, I am not familiar with Grishaverse. I have never read LEIGH BARDUGO’s Shadow and Bone trilogy so reading The Language of Thorns was an entirely new experience. I don’t think it’s crucial for you to be familiar with Grishaverse, but I would expect you could have a deeper appreciation for The Language of Thorns if you were.

The Language of Thorns is a collection of 6 short stories from various regions in Grishaverse. I don’t often read short stories collection simply because I don’t like investing that much time in a story only for it to end so quickly. But The Language of Thorns was pleasantly entertaining. Its details in the fantasy realm of Grishaverse were very grotesque and intense, which I loved. Naturally, there were some stories which I thought were too draggy for my taste, but The Too-Clever Fox was one of my favourites in this.

The Language of Thorns ultimately tells the tales of unconventional characters and how your typical fairy tales shouldn’t end the way they did. It questions the typical happy ending of folklore we normally hear about, and turns the story around to bring a sense of uncertainty and curiosity. I love how this book shined light on nimble, presumably weak characters who at first glance, were thought to be the villains in this story or unfit to survive the tale. But as each story unfolds, strength is revealed within each character. And not only to survive the situation they’re thrown in, but to make something for themselves and change the story entirely.

“She had not been much to look at in her youth, and she knew well that only courage is required for an adventure.”
 

Now lets talk about those beautiful illustrations The Language of Thorns is so famously known for. Each tale brings a different feeling of euphoria and wonder as the illustrations develop with each page. I was blown away by how beautiful the illustrations were done. Details are added with each page turned, and you can’t help but to try to find hints to how the tale will end from each added detail. But that said, at the end of each tale, the illustrations develop into its final version revealing the ending. I would suggest you try to avoid this part before finishing each tale so as to not get spoiled!

If you need a reason to read The Language of Thorns, then let it be for these beautiful illustrations. The stories will no doubt amaze you, as Bardugo brings us on this exciting journey in a familiar land filled with curious creatures, magic and power.

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And the Camera Keeps Rolling: a Review of Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed

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Genre:
Young Adult, Contemporary
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Publication date: January 16th, 2018
Format: Paperback
Source: Pansing Books
Page Count: 255

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Blurb:

A searing #OwnVoices coming-of-age debut in which an Indian-American Muslim teen confronts Islamophobia and a reality she can neither explain nor escape–perfect for fans of Angie Thomas, Jacquelyn Woodson, and Adam Silvera.

Maya Aziz is torn between futures: the one her parents expect for their good Indian daughter (i.e.; staying nearby in Chicago and being matched with a “suitable” Muslim boy), and the one where she goes to film school in New York City–and maybe, just maybe, kisses a guy she’s only known from afar. There’s the also the fun stuff, like laughing with her best friend Violet, making on-the-spot documentaries, sneaking away for private swimming lessons at a secret pond in the woods. But her world is shattered when a suicide bomber strikes in the American heartland; by chance, he shares Maya’s last name. What happens to the one Muslim family in town when their community is suddenly consumed with hatred and fear?

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Any book with a Muslim character will automatically get me excited. So when I heard a debut author, SAMIRA AHMED is coming out with a book about an Indian Muslim American teenager dealing with Islamophobia in the West, it peaked my interest.

But to be honest, Love, Hate & Other Filters didn’t really captured my full attention. Love, Hate & Other Filters at the core feels like any other YA Conteporary: light, fluffy with an unavoidable romance with the hottest guy in school. What made Love, Hate & Other Filters different was how the main character, Maya, had to deal with racial discrimination after a terrorist attack occurs in the US. I believe Love, Hate & Other Filters is worth reading because of the last 40% which gives us a sliver of an insight into how terrorism has affected the lives of both Muslims and non-Muslims in the West. Love, Hate & Other Filters questions our ability to empathize with everyone regardless of gender and religion, and how small towns take the biggest hit since its diversity isn’t that great.

“My body remembers what part of my mind wants to forget—because there are times when I struggle to reconcile what I gave up to be here, in this very moment, despite how much I wanted it. How much I do want it. The past may be prologue, but it’s with me, every day.” 

Asides from that, the book did shed some interesting light on modern Muslim teenagers living in America, and just like any new generation, their hold on faith and religion is different than that of their parents. I couldn’t help to compare this book to Saints and Misfits by Sajidah Ali. The difference between these two books is that despite having American Muslim teenagers as the MC, their religious and spiritual standings couldn’t be more different. Maya is more open about her sexuality and interests in boys, with little regard to how her religion plays a part in her life. I found this aspect of her characteristic intriguing because I believe there needs to be more discussion on how the youth nowadays find relevance in religion shaping their lives. Love, Hate & Other Filters makes you think more about this, and I loved it for it.

The plot was typically Asian and cliche for me: Maya trying to break away from her Indian Muslim parents’ expectations of her becoming a lawyer/doctor, so she can go to film school. Maya’s courage to follow her dreams and make a name for herself was encouraging to read despite the plot being typical. She’s strong minded and apparently talented, although the scenes in which she does film and record her life has me a little doubtful. I wish those parts were better written.

Unfortunately the side characters weren’t really impressionable, including the hot guy Maya is heads over heels for throughout the entire book. I realise I have this aversion for YA characters crushing on hot high school boys who are always conveniently on the football team. Honestly, are there not other guys to crush on in YA books??

But overall, it was an entertaining read. Definitely worth a try if you want a more diverse palette in your YA genre.

Perfect for fans of light YA reads that shines a light on importance of diversity and the need to overcome racial discrimination, Love, Hate & Other Filters will have you cheering for Maya and her strength to stay true to herself.

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Thank you Pansing Books for providing a copy in exchange of an honest review.

Where Beauty is Opulence and Death: a Review of The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton

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Genre:
Young Adult, Fantasy
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Publication date: February 6th, 2018
Format: ARC Paperback
Source: Pansing Books
Page Count: 434

Series: The Belles #1

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Blurb:

Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orléans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orléans, the people are born gray, they are born damned, and only with the help of a Belle and her talents can they transform and be made beautiful.

But it’s not enough for Camellia to be just a Belle. She wants to be the favorite—the Belle chosen by the Queen of Orléans to live in the royal palace, to tend to the royal family and their court, to be recognized as the most talented Belle in the land. But once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favorite is not everything she always dreamed it would be. Behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns that the very essence of her existence is a lie—that her powers are far greater, and could be more dangerous, than she ever imagined. And when the queen asks Camellia to risk her own life and help the ailing princess by using Belle powers in unintended ways, Camellia now faces an impossible decision.

With the future of Orléans and its people at stake, Camellia must decide—save herself and her sisters and the way of the Belles—or resuscitate the princess, risk her own life, and change the ways of her world forever.

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“May you always find beauty….”

Just like everyone else, I was stoked when The Belles came out. A brown girl on the cover, looking gorgeous and slayin’ it, no doubt is bound to be an epic fantasy read no?

Well, I have my reasons on why I didn’t exactly enjoy The Belles as much as everyone else did.

First off, the plot was excruciatingly slow. Is there some new trend in YA Fantasy where the plot takes 200 pages to build? Honestly, I haven’t got a clue how did I survive 200 pages where nothing happens and Camille, our protagonist wanders from client to client doing beauty work.

But despite a very slow start, I must admit the world building and writing in The Belles was very good. We’re introduced to a vibrant world of colors and jewels and extravagant customs that make the Orleansians such unique human beings. Being born gray and colourless, people of Orleans need to pay to get beauty work done on them in order to stay beautiful. Now, this is the most disturbing part of the book in my opinion. Constantly having to get beauty work done on you and trying to keep up with the latest trend….where have we heard that before? The Belles questions very well how media has played with the beauty image card for too long, leading to people not satisfied with their looks. This definitely made The Belles such an interesting read to begin with.

Asides from the world building and satisfactory writing, I don’t see what the hype surrounding The Belles is about. The protagonist is one of the least memorable aspects of this book, having so little to do with the scenes and not actually doing much asides from trying to figure out who she should please in the palace. It got a bit irritating when she did that one thing to someone, as if she’s weak when she was portrayed to be brave and a bit reckless from the beginning.

We were introduced to so many characters who played a crucial part in the ending of The Belles. Granted, these characters had very questionable traits in the sense of not being solid enough to give off memorable impressions. For example, I would have loved to know more of Belle history and of Camille’s other 5 sisters, but unfortunately the story revolved entirely on her adapting as the favourite Belle at the palace. Even her love interest fell bland for me, with no substance leaving me thinking “Good God, what does she see in him?”. But, if you’ll be reading The Belles for one reason, let that reason be for the princess. Her cruelty and savage personality is so delicious, she was the only thing I was most interested to read about in the end.

Overall, I wasn’t very impressed with The Belles but can see the appeal and why people are obsessed with the world CLAYTON has built in Orleans. I still think this is worth a try. Let me know if you’ve read it! Screen Shot 2017-05-13 at 3.46.50 PM

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Thank you Pansing Books for providing a copy in exchange of an honest review.

A Dark Mysterious Fairy Tale Unravels in the City: a Review of The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

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Genre:
Young Adult Fantasy
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publication date: February 8th, 2018
Format: ARC Paperback
Source: Times Reads
Page Count: 359

Series: The Hazel Wood #1

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Blurb:

Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the strange bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate – the Hazel Wood – Alice learns how bad her luck can really get. Her mother is stolen away – by a figure who claims to come from the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother’s stories are set. Alice’s only lead is the message her mother left behind: STAY AWAY FROM THE HAZEL WOOD.

To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother’s tales began

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“Look until the leaves turn red, sew the worlds up with thread. If your journey’s left undone, fear the rising of the sun.” 

Well where do I begin. I read the raved reviews on Goodreads and the high ratings given. But within 200 pages in, I still couldn’t get into The Hazel Wood. And here are some of my reasons why.

The main protagonist of The Hazel Wood is Alice who lives on the run with her mother, Ella. She knows very little of her recluse author-grandmother, Althea other than the fact she wrote Tales of the Hinterland, a fairy tale book with dark, twisted tales inside. Little do we know, Hinterland proves to be very real and Alice gets sucked into its weird parallel world in order to save Ella, who went missing.

The entire plot fell very flat to me. All 357 pages of it felt excruciatingly painful to finish because it seems MELISSA ALBERT randomly puts Alice in various scenarios with very little finishing as an excuse for a plot. The writing and cast of characters were not as great as I expected a 4-starred-on-Goodreads book to be. Every chapter felt like an awkward transition for Alice, who throughout the entire book, floated around not actually doing anything. And it frustrates me because at a point in the book, Alice claimed to be smart and brave for she is Althea’s granddaughter. But her actions were far from brave or bold as there was always someone to save her ass from a messy situation. It became clear towards the end of The Hazel Wood that Alice can’t seem to function well on her own. Sparse scenes where she supposedly ‘thinks on her feet’ were too weak to make an impact in The Hazel Wood.

As if it wasn’t bad enough, The Hazel Wood just had to have the most annoying protagonist ever. I’m sorry, but Alice did not appeal to me in any way. Sure she came off as this angry, reckless teenager in the beginning, but she truly was without her own rational sense of mind. Alice was whiny, temperamental, and treated her friends who tried to help her terribly. Not to mention, it was a bit weak of her to start regretting her attitude when one of them had an accident. Also, her story did not develop fully in The Hazel Wood because it had such a shaky start. I wish Melissa Albert had given much thought to the type of protagonist The Hazel Wood should have. I truly despise books with female characters who cannot defend themselves nor have their own vision of what needs to be done in the story.

And it amazes me how she survived throughout the entire ordeal– oh wait, that’s because she had a bunch of other characters keeping her from actually dying. Silly me. Must be nice to have someone have your back the whole time without you having to think at all.

Overall, this was one of the weakest first novel in a YA Fantasy series I’ve ever read. I definitely will not be continuing the series. I still have no idea how Sony Pictures has bought the rights to making The Hazel Wood into a movie. You can give The Hazel Wood a try, and I hope you enjoy it more than I did!

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Thank you Times Reads for providing an ARC in exchange of an honest review!

The Questionnaire of Love: a Review of 36 Questions That Changed My Mind About You by Vicky Grant

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Genre:
Young Adult, Contemporary
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Publication date: October 19th, 2017
Format: Paperback
Source: Pansing Singapore
Page Count: 288

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Blurb:

Two random strangers. Thirty-six questions to make them fall in love.

Hildy and Paul each have their own reasons for taking part in the psychology study (in Paul’s case it is the $40, in Hildy’s the reasons are significantly more complex). The study poses the simple question: Can love be engineered between two random strangers?

Hildy and Paul must ask each other 36 questions, ranging from “What is your most terrible memory?” to “When did you last sing to yourself?” By the time Hildy and Paul have made it to the end of the questionnaire, they’ve laughed and cried and lied and thrown things and run away and come back again. They’ve also each discovered the painful secret the other was trying so hard to hide. But have they fallen in love?

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36 Questions That Changed My Mind About You is your typical YA Contemporary of two teenage star-crossed lovers who meet each other in a psychology study and answer 36 questions to determine intimacy effects in a digitally-obsessed generation. I sort of knew what I was getting myself into when I started reading this book.

And I pretty much got all that I expected. A cheesy love story where two teenagers start out hating each other before settling down to actually answer the questions and realising they have a lot to learn about one another. That said, there were a few elements of the book that I found myself enjoying, surprisingly.

Overall, the plot is nothing special. It’s a typical fluffy YA romance where you just know how it’s going to end. But, I found myself enjoying learning about Hildy and Paul as they answered the questions throughout the book. Grant did a fairly good job in arranging the story so that we saw glimpses of Hildy’s life as she chats to Paul and get to know him via the questions. The troubles she went through at home and how she opened up to Paul was one of my favourite parts of the book. It reminded me of my friendship with one of my best friends and how we’d throw each other questions just to know more of the other’s personal lives.

Other than that, I don’t find anything memorable about 36 Questions That Changed My Mind About You. Hildy’s friends and family occasionally appear and don’t make much of a concrete impression. The book focused entirely on the two teenagers and their budding friendship. So if you enjoy reading about just two people falling in love, 36 Questions That Changed My Mind About You is perfect for you.

But, bear in mind, this is a very fluffy read. So a lot of the conversations in here were cheesy and unrealistic. Hildy and Paul have nothing in common and Hildy isn’t really the kind of character I would root for. Her being whiny and desperate for love was kind of a turn off for me. But it was pretty easy for me to overlook those annoying traits and still enjoy the book to an extent.

Perfect for a quick summer read, 36 Questions That Changed My Mind About You teaches us that there is always more to a person than meets the eye. 

 

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Thank you Pansing Singapore for providing a copy in exchange of an honest review.

A Love Story Set Light Years Away: a Review of The Loneliest Girl in the Universe by Lauren James

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Genre:
Science Fiction Young Adult
Publisher: Walker Books
Publication date: September 7th, 2017
Format: Paperback
Source: Pansing Malaysia
Page Count: 290

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Blurb:

Can you fall in love with someone you’ve never met, never even spoken to – someone who is light years away?

Romy Silvers is the only surviving crew-member of a spaceship travelling to a new planet, on a mission to establish a second home for humanity amongst the stars. Alone in space, she is the loneliest girl in the universe until she hears about a new ship which has launched from Earth – with a single passenger on board. A boy called J.

Their only communication with each other is via email – and due to the distance between them, their messages take months to transmit across space. And yet Romy finds herself falling in love.

But what does Romy really know about J? And what do the mysterious messages which have started arriving from Earth really mean?

Sometimes, there’s something worse than being alone.

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Warning: mild spoilers from the book!

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“Another ship. It’s the best news I could ever have imagined.

Who are they going to send? Who’s coming?

I stare out of the helm window, straining my eyes against the infinite blackness, pressing my fingernails into my palms so hard they sting. I can’t see anything except the silver pinprick stars.

How long until I’ll be able to see The Eternity?

How long until it will be able to see me?”

Before I start this review, you should know that I have really high expectations for scifi reads, be it in YA or Adult category, due to the nature of my job as a chemical engineer. So naturally, I’d enjoy scifi novels which take great care to provide its readers with impeccable details to complement the plot and characters within the book.

That said, I found The Loneliest Girl in the Universe to fall short within my initial expectations. While the writing was good, the plot and characters involved fell a bit too bland for me. I understand that YA Scifi doesn’t really dwell into plot details or the general space conditions but rather more on the character developments. I compared The Loneliest Girl in the Universe to Claudia Gray’s Defy The Stars and Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff’s Illuminae, and The Loneliest Girl in the Universe fell behind to be honest.

To begin with, I wished there were more pages to the book. At just 290 pages, it felt too short for a scifi novel where the author was being safe in keeping Romy where she is and the plot that she maintained for the book. The plot was very simple: Romy a 17-year-old girl finds herself as the last surviving human on board The Infinity, on its was to Earth II to begin a new civilization. After 6 years alone, NASA sends a new manned shuttle, The Eternity to aid in her mission. Naturally, Romy finds herself falling in love with J, the lone crew on board The Eternity. While it made sense why Romy would fall in love with J via emails (she did spend 6 years alone after all), the rest of the book did not make sense or excite me.

The author didn’t do a good job in tying up the details of the book. It didn’t make sense for J to be the only person on this one-man mission who claimed he got to work with NASA because he knew someone on the inside. And when the plot revealed the ending, it also didn’t make sense that NASA would send someone like J on such an important mission.

I  wasn’t a big fan of how the author focused a lot on Romy’s feelings towards J. Ultimately the book became a love story where Romy’s strong personality got lost in the plot. I kind of knew there was going to be a love plot from the blurb, but I would have loved to know Romy more in detail, minus her all lovey-dovey for J. Instead of J and his sketchy personality, I was more interested in how Romy survives the loneliness and despair of living alone for the past 6 years. But long after the book ended, Romy’s character wasn’t very memorable for me. I know some people thought her as strong and independent to have gone through what she did, but I didn’t really see that while reading the book.

The plot only became interesting at the last 70 pages of the book when the story took a twist. But the pages before that were really dull for me. The ending of the book actually made The Loneliest Girl in the Universe seem more like a psychological thriller than a scifi. And I’m beginning to believe that thriller might be a better genre for The Loneliest Girl in the Universe. There was little mention of how space felt like to Romy or how The Infinity was built, so my cravings for science details were not satiated with this book.

Overall, not the best YA scifi I’ve read. I’m beginning to think this genre might not be for me after all. If you’re big on cliche YA love plots with an unexpected twist, give The Loneliest Girl in the Universe a try! But if you’re expecting a high-packed drama set in space, give this one a pass and maybe try Defy The Stars!

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Thank you Pansing Malaysia for providing a copy in exchange of an honest review.