Genre: Modern

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Aug 06

Review of Night Swimming by Steph Bowe

Book Reviews 0 ★★★½

Review of Night Swimming by Steph BoweNight Swimming by Steph Bowe
Published by Text Publishing on April 3rd 2017
Genres: Modern, Young Adult
Pages: 311
Buy This Book from Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide
Goodreads three-half-stars
one-flame

Imagine being the only two seventeen-year-olds in a small town. That’s life for Kirby Arrow—named after the most dissenting judge in Australia’s history—and her best friend Clancy Lee, would-be musical star.

Clancy wants nothing more than to leave town and head for the big smoke, but Kirby is worried: her family has a history of leaving. She hasn’t heard from her father since he left when she was a baby. Shouldn’t she stay to help her mother with the goat’s-milk soap-making business, look after her grandfather who suffers from dementia, be an apprentice carpenter to old Mr Pool? And how could she leave her pet goat, Stanley, her dog Maude, and her cat Marianne?

But two things happen that change everything for Kirby. She finds an article in the newspaper about her father, and Iris arrives in town. Iris is beautiful, wears crazy clothes, plays the mandolin, and seems perfect, really, thinks Kirby. Clancy has his heart set on winning over Iris. Trouble is Kirby is also falling in love with Iris…

I bought this book after reading a review of it over on Paper Fury. Because Cait does amazing reviews, and I’d be wanting to read something from an Australian writer/publisher, and she’s Australian so obviously she would be a good judge of Australian YA books! Perfect. This was, actually, my very first Aussie read (I feel embarrassed admitting that but ehhhh I’m going to try not to feel awkward). So without further ado, my review of Night Swimming!

Feels: Just…awwwww. Lots and lots of awwww moments. Between the besties Kirby and Clancy to the awkward anxiety of a new crush, there was just so many times I got a case of the warm fuzzies. Also, Kirby’s grandfather. My heart hurt for him, and for Kirby and her family. I remember my great-grandmother as dementia set in for her, and it was absolutely heart breaking. It’s difficult sometimes as a teenager or young adult to see our loved ones growing older when we feel like we’re just starting out in life.

Characters: I love Kirby. She is unapologetically (though sometimes embarrassed) nerdy and unfashionable, and I wish I had her self confidence. Her quirky family, complete with unaffectionate mother and absentee father, is endearing even while they exasperate Kirby. Clancy is just hilarious and unpredictable (except to Kirby, who knows him better than he knows himself, it seems) and I loved how he repeatedly scandalized their small town with his antics.

There is a lot of minority representation in this book. That was probably my favorite part, besides the general Australian-ness (is that a word?) of it, which had me chuckling over slang I didn’t quite understand. Kirby is gay, while Clancy and Iris are both minorities. I was a little sad that the book glossed over Iris’s mental health issues, but I guess you can only do so much in a relatively short book.

Plot: So, this is where I felt the story was a bit weak. The plot line just sort of dragged while it skipped around somewhat and left me a little bit confused about what was going on in places (though maybe if I had paid a little more attention to the dates at the top of some of the chapters, that would have helped). There are a couple of side plots that were interesting but then turned out to not be so interesting or they were just finished off so quickly it felt a bit disjointed. Then at the end it felt like the author realized something exciting needed to happen and threw that little disaster in the works to shake everything up. Which it did, but it didn’t have enough time to resolve, in my opinion.

Oh! How could I forget.

You’re welcome.

STANLEY! You should definitely read the book just for Stanley. Because everyone, apparently, needs a pet goat.

Overal, 3.5 stars. 1 flame because there are a couple slightly sexy scenes but nothing over the top or that I felt would be inappropriate for a young teen reader.

three-half-stars

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Jul 12

Review of The Hate U Give

Book Reviews 2 ★★★★★

Review of The Hate U GiveThe Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
on February 28th 2017
Genres: Modern, Young Adult
Pages: 453
Buy This Book from Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide
Goodreads five-stars

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.
Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil's name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.
But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

I’ve been trying to write a review of The Hate U Give for weeks and weeks now. It’s difficult to put my thoughts about it into a cohesive form, so I’m just kind of going to put a few things out there. Also, I’m aware that this book is HUGE because of it’s subject matter and representation. I read it BECAUSE of that, because I know that I am in the majority and I want to understand what the minority goes through and feels. I realize a book will never give me a complete understanding, but I do think reading #ownvoices books can help. The entire point of reading is to learn and to travel and experience things in our mind that we can’t or don’t have the opportunity to experience in our place in the world.

THUG is an important book because it so thoroughly places the reader into another person’s shoes. Because it was written by someone who has been there. She didn’t have to do research to see how Starr and her friends and family would talk – she knew, because her family is Starr’s family, her town is Starr’s town. This isn’t someone from the outside looking in and writing about it, this is someone writing what they have seen right in front of them.

Read The Hate U Give to see the world outside your comfort zone. Read it to understand why people have and do react the way they do to words, implications, and events. READ. IT.

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The truth casts a shadow over the kitchen—people like us in situations like this become hashtags, but they rarely get justice. I think we all wait for that one time though, that one time when it ends right. Maybe.

The Great 

  • Angie Carter does a fabulous job of giving her characters unique voices. I could hear each character distinctly and it was amazing. I felt like I was following Starr around, eavesdropping.
  • I was completely immersed in the story. When the pivotal point of the story, the shooting, happened, I felt like I’d been sucker-punched. I felt sick. I had to put the book down and go compose myself. At first I tried reminding myself that it was just a book, but of course that didn’t work because OH YEAH STUFF LIKE THIS HAPPENS PRETTY OFTEN and IN OUR WORLD and…yeah.
  • This book helped me understand a lot of things. It helped me see a lot of things for the first time. Every town I’ve ever lived in (except in Korea, heh) had two sides and I never completely understood why it was that way, when segregation was a thing of the past decades ago…supposedly. Starr’s struggle to be more, her struggle with her feelings for Chris, and to bridge what seems to her (and to the reader) to be the two sides of her life, encapsulated everything I’ve ever been confused about or wondered why when it came to those two sides of town.
  • FAMILY. I freaking love Starr’s family. Her parents’ relationship isn’t perfect but it’s there. Her entire family – her blended family, there are step and half brothers and sisters in there too – is there for each other. They pull together. They may picker and fight but in the end they are there and it’s amazing.

The Other Thing:

  • I, personally, was really disturbed by the wrecking of the town and the looting/destroying of property that went on during some parts of the book (mirroring, obviously, a lot of actual events as well). HOWEVER. What really came home to me was that while no, I didn’t agree with the characters doing it, I finally understood to some extent why. I understood that it was a form of expressing how angry and scared Starr and her friends and neighbors were, of the injustice and prejudice that seem to meet them at every turn. Did that make it right? No. Starr even says so later. But I finally had some sense of why things like that happen.

Sometimes you can do everything right and things will still go wrong. The key is to never stop doing right.

5 stars.

five-stars

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Apr 22

You’re Welcome Universe Review

Book Reviews 3 ★★★★★

You’re Welcome Universe ReviewYou're Welcome, Universe by Whitney Gardner
Published by Knopf on March 7th 2017
Genres: Modern, Young Adult
Pages: 304
Buy This Book from Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide
Goodreads five-stars

A vibrant, edgy, fresh new YA voice for fans of More Happy Than Not and Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, packed with interior graffiti.
When Julia finds a slur about her best friend scrawled across the back of the Kingston School for the Deaf, she covers it up with a beautiful (albeit illegal) graffiti mural.
Her supposed best friend snitches, the principal expels her, and her two mothers set Julia up with a one-way ticket to a “mainstream” school in the suburbs, where she’s treated like an outcast as the only deaf student. The last thing she has left is her art, and not even Banksy himself could convince her to give that up.
Out in the ’burbs, Julia paints anywhere she can, eager to claim some turf of her own. But Julia soon learns that she might not be the only vandal in town. Someone is adding to her tags, making them better, showing off—and showing Julia up in the process. She expected her art might get painted over by cops. But she never imagined getting dragged into a full-blown graffiti war.
Told with wit and grit by debut author Whitney Gardner, who also provides gorgeous interior illustrations of Julia’s graffiti tags, You’re Welcome, Universe introduces audiences to a one-of-a-kind protagonist who is unabashedly herself no matter what life throws in her way.

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This book made me happy. Happy in the contented, yeeeeees this was good kind of way. I don’t read that many contemporaries (usually find them trite and boring), so I don’t think I’m easy to please – but this book. I pretty much clutched it to myself and gave it a hug when I finished. Also can I please have this quote on t-shirt:

“I’m not easy. Never have been.”

Julia is a tough cookie. A tough cookie with an artist’s heart and soul. I love her so much, even though I’m not sure she would like me, hehe. She has been hurt so many times in life that she just builds up walls against everyone, which is something I can definitely relate to – though not for the same reasons. I love her independence and how she embraces her Deafness, refusing to allow it to be a liability or anything negative in her life. Not to say she doesn’t struggle and hurt – she does. But she overcomes and she doesn’t wallow in her sadness.

I bury my face in the cushion of my beautiful armchair, my command center, and scream. Over and over, my throat vibrating and crackling with fire. Nobody comes to see what’s wrong. Nobody can hear me.

This was my first experience in the Deaf world. I have some older family members who are deaf, but they are far removed so I really don’t have any contact with anyone Deaf. While this is not an OwnVoices novel, the author appears to have THOROUGHLY done her research, as many people who either are deaf or have close deaf family members have reviewed this book and given it mad props for an accurate portrayal of the Deaf community. SO HAPPY about that! I was very intrigued by the fact that there are “Deaf” people and “deaf” people…I had no idea.

Julia does a lot of growing in this book. And in case anyone doesn’t remember from being a pre-teen or teenager…growing pains are real. Both the physical and mental kind. In this case Julia learns a lot about friendships, and letting people go. It HURTS, people…but she grows through it and it’s a beautiful thing.

Diversity is HUGE in this book, and (to me, a very NOT marginalized person) it seems to be presented as such a normal thing, no one bats an eye (except one teacher at some point in the narrative, but that’s only realistic I suppose).

  • Julia is Indian American, and while it only occurs once in the book itself, she is often the target of racial slurs – many of which don’t even apply to her, but are due to people making ASSUMPTIONS based on her skin color. #RAGE
  • Julia has two moms. I’m embarrassed to admit this is the first book I’ve met with that kind of representation, but I really enjoyed seeing/reading it. It’s so completely normal, and they both play such huge roles in Julia’s life. The narrative spent just enough time explaining the relationship between the 3 of them to help the reader avoid having a constant “but how…?” in the back of the mind while reading.
  • Julia is Deaf, and her moms are both Deaf as well. See above comments.
  • Julia is a graffiti artist – this may not technically qualify under the diversity label, but come on – graffiti artists are DEFINITELY in the minority. I loved that pictures of her art were included in the book – I have troubling picturing things without pictures and finding out that the illustrations were included was one of the main reasons I bought a hard copy instead of an ebook!

I might be burning bridges, but they’re my bridges to burn.

Burn, baby, burn.

I loved pretty much everything about this book. Please go read. I’m super excited to have found another debut author that I absolutely love!

 

five-stars

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Mar 18

Forget Me Not Review

Book Reviews 4 ★★★★★

Forget Me Not ReviewForget Me Not by Ellie Terry
Published by Feiwel & Friends on March 14th 2017
Genres: Middle Grade, Modern
Pages: 336
Buy This Book from Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide
Goodreads five-stars

A girl with Tourette syndrome starts a new school and tries to hide her quirks in this debut middle-grade novel in verse.
Calliope June has Tourette syndrome. Sometimes she can't control the noises that come out of her mouth, or even her body language. When she and her mother move yet again, she tries to hide her TS. But soon the kids in her class realize she's different. Only her neighbor, who is also the class president, sees her as she truly is—a quirky kid, and a good friend. But is he brave enough to take their friendship public?
As Callie navigates school, she must also face her mother's new relationship and the fact that she might be moving again—just as she's starting to make friends and finally accept her differences. This story of being true to yourself will speak to a wide audience.

I ran across this book by reading Mishma’s author interview over on her blog, Chasing Faerytales. It’s amazing, PLEASE GO READ. I’ve been participating in the Diverse Reads 2017 challenge, hosted by Mishma and Shelley, and while I had already chosen my March book (still waiting on it to arrive), after I read the preview of this one on Amazon I simply HAD to read it. And oh, look at that! It’s also a 2017 debut novel, so I FINALLY get to add one to that challenge as well!

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Ancient Greeks called the planets

      planetoi

because it means “wanderers,”
and because planets don’t stay

in
one
fixed
place

they’re constantly moving,
wandering between the stars,

like me.

Calliope June has Tourette’s Syndrome. She also has either an extremely heartbroken or extremely immature mother, I can’t decide which. I waffled between feeling sorry for her mom, or being absolutely furious with her. Regardless, Cassie has lived in 10 different places in the past 9 years. Every time her mom breaks up with a guy, they move. With no warning. While Callie recognizes that her mom loves her, she also slowly comes to see that she is also wrong in some of the ways she “shows” her love. I was really happy when, towards the end, Cassie found the inner strength to confront her mother about some of those things.

Callie’s tics cause her a lot of embarrassment. She tries so hard to control them, but that only seems to make them worse. Her consciousness of them and yet the constant betrayal by her body were very eye-opening. I’ve never known anyone with TS and my only real media exposure is the bartender in The Boondocks Saints. It’s sad that there isn’t more education on this condition and that so much fun is made of it. The kids at Callie’s school never thought twice, and even her own mother is embarrassed by it. HER MOTHER! Callie is embarrassed enough, she certainly doesn’t need anyone telling her to try to stop, or hide her tics. Despite all that, she is such a huge-hearted person and continues to pick herself up and continue on. Sure, she has emotional moments – but we all do, and most of us don’t struggle with a health condition that has our own body backfiring on us every second of every day.

I loved the verse in this book – and I am so, SO far from being a poetry person. In fact, when I first saw that this book was written in verse I nearly didn’t look any further because of that. But I was intrigued by the concept, and I’ve never read anything that had a character with TS, so I read the excerpt on Amazon and I had to have the rest of the book RIGHT HERE RIGHT NOW. Turns out that there are two points of view in the story: Callie’s, the verse, and Jinsong’s, the prose. It works beautifully. The verse feels like a stream-of-consciousness narration.

The characters took me back to middle school. Callie and Jinsong are so very real. Jinsong made me angry for awhile, because even though he likes Callie at first he feels too embarrassed by her to stand up for her. It was really sickening…but he grows. He finds his backbone, and his heart, and it’s just the most adorable thing ever.

My heart broke for Callie the entire way through the book. The amount of resilience and tenacity she shows is incredible. Even when the very person who should help her and care for her the most barely gives her the time of day. Also, kids are so, so MEAN. I loved that as embarrassed and hurt as she would sometimes be though, Callie still found it in her to fight back.

“They all have friendship lockets.
Every girl at Black Ridge has one,
except you.”

I glance at Beatriz’s neck.
“And you.”

BURN, baby, burn.

This was a phenomenal book. I really felt like the author put us right into Callie’s shoes. The writing was flawless – not once did I feel jolted out of the story by any sort of author intervention, and the ending…well. My heart broke into a thousand pieces. But it’s worth it! It fits. And there is hope, because Callie is not the sort of person to let her condition or her mother stop her.

There are a lot of quotes from the book that I would love to share. I bookmarked SO many. But I really think this is one you need to go read for yourself. So please, go buy a copy or request your library to buy one!

forget me not review
five-stars

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Mar 11

Archer’s Voice Review

Book Reviews 2 ★★★★

Archer’s Voice ReviewArcher's Voice by Mia Sheridan
on January 25th 2014
Genres: Modern, New Adult, Romance
Pages: 345
Goodreads four-stars
five-flames

When Bree Prescott arrives in the sleepy, lakeside town of Pelion, Maine, she hopes against hope that this is the place where she will finally find the peace she so desperately seeks. On her first day there, her life collides with Archer Hale, an isolated man who holds a secret agony of his own. A man no one else sees.
Archer's Voice is the story of a woman chained to the memory of one horrifying night and the man whose love is the key to her freedom. It is the story of a silent man who lives with an excruciating wound and the woman who helps him find his voice. It is the story of suffering, fate, and the transformative power of love.
THIS IS A STAND-ALONE NOVEL. The first three books in the series need not be read to enjoy this book. New Adult Contemporary Romance: Due to strong language and sexual content, this book is not intended for readers under the age of 18.

Ok, let me make something quite clear: I don’t read romance. Especially modern romance.

However…I saw someone gushing about this book on Twitter and was kind of in a reading slump and thought, “Well, why not…everyone needs a little spicy love story now and then.”

Let me make something else clear: If it wasn’t for that gosh darn stupid cover, I would buy a hard copy of this book for my shelf. But I’m a cover snob and I hate “sexy” covers with a passion. Not because I don’t appreciate a well-muscled male back as well as the next person…but I find them highly embarrassing to read in anything but the deepest privacy – which happens next to never, for me. So I bought the ebook (it was a total impulse buy and read).

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Oh, hi there. Yes, this book is VERY hung up on how sexy Archer (the male MC) is. Buuuuut…it’s totally ok.

Archer’s Voice is all about feelings. ALL THE FEELS. I did have a few minor quibbles with the plot and the writing style. For instance, somewhere in the middle of the book, the author repeatedly has Bree use the word “tummy” in descriptions of her sensual feelings and OMG JUST STOP. I actually saw another reviewer mention this before I started the book, and thought that surely they were just overreacting…no, they most absolutely were not. Note to self: when writing sex scenes that word is NEVER A GOOD IDEA. The plot is somewhat predictable…ok, a lot predictable. It’s a romance. It’s a New Adult (NA) romance, so it contains a fan-yourself-go-take-a-cold-shower (or…don’t) quantity of steamy sex. What was supposed to be a big plot twist was…not that shocking, and actually didn’t make a lot of sense but okay whatever. View Spoiler »

I went into this book skeptical of its ability to give me feels. Romances usually have me rolling my eyes and tossing them into the corner halfway through. I was intrigued by the premise of the male MC in this book though – no voice? I originally thought he must be deaf, but no.

Archer (male MC) and Bree (female MC) are both severely wounded, scarred people. Somewhat physically, but mostly emotionally. I could identify strongly with that. Bree’s wounds are more recent, and she had a mostly happy, healthy childhood to give her a strong foundation to stand on even despite her recent horrors. Archer on the other hand, has never had a normal life with a functional family and a devastating accident when he was 7 years old robbed him of both his parents and his voice. Raised by an eccentric, paranoid (but caring) uncle, he has been almost a complete recluse his entire life. Until Bree, fleeing her life in Ohio after some very traumatic events, stumbles into his little town and almost literally into him.

Trying to come up with the guy that MUST have been Mia Sheridan’s model for Archer…

Aside from his voice, physically Archer is perfection. His life of hard work (and apparently, good genes) have give him a god-like body. Bree is understandably smitten after just a few meetings. But he is an emotional cripple. Almost completely anthropophobic, but highly intelligent, he has spent his 23 years becoming self-sufficient and as well-educated as reading every book he can get his hands on can make him. I really didn’t think an author would be able to sell a recluse as a romantic interest, but Mia Sheridan does it very well. Maybe too well.

Maybe there was no right or wrong, no black or white, only a thousand shades of gray when it came to pain what we each held ourselves responsible for.

I was…well, I can’t say that I think Bree’s attraction to Archer is wrong. Or even unhealthy. But I think it could very quickly have gone that way, had he not been as willing to fight his fear of people and his limitations as he was. And as in love with him as she was, I’m not sure she would have had the backbone to leave an unhealthy situation. Because Bree is a healer. She is a caregiver. She wants to fix things. She wants to make Archer feel cared for and loved (besides the intense physical attraction). Multiple times though, she mentions that Archer reminds her of a little boy or a small child needing reassurance or love and…feeling like your significant other is a child in need of care is not really a good thing, in my opinion. As someone who was married to an extremely insecure person who eventually became vindictive and bitter in his insecurity, and knowing that I often felt a constant, exhausting need to reassure him of my love/respect/admiration/dedication – that is NOT a good thing. Now in this case, Archer was growing and learning and slowly coming out of his shell, and he was inherently sweet and gentle-hearted (qualities my ex most definitely lacked). He slowly accepts Bree’s love and compassion, but he also gives her his own and takes care of her. He melted my heart.

He looked like a little boy in that moment, and I realized how much he needed me to tell him that I wouldn’t go away like everyone else.

I ached along with Bree to ease some of the pain of all those years of mistreatment and neglect he had suffered. Even while alarm bells rang in my head about his intense emotional neediness…which, thankfully, his willingness to give as well as get and to push himself out of his comfort zone, more for Bree’s sake than his own, eliminated.

Complete honesty was the only thing I would give him. I would never purposefully hurt this beautiful, sensitive, wounded man more than he had already been hurt.

Archer’s biggest appeal is in the disconnect in his physical appearance and his attitude. He is, as Bree notes, a quick study and good at anything he has been taught or taught himself. He is completely unpretentious and unconscious of his physical appeal. If anything, he sees himself as broken, flawed, and undesirable due to his one “defect.”

Bree’s physical appearance is given less attention. She seems to be your typical girl-next-door type of cute, but Archer becomes completely smitten with her and she attracts attention from a few other guys as well – mostly due to her being new to the small town, it would seem. I was slightly worried by what seemed like her apparent willingness to just give up EVERYTHING to be with Archer, but she was already running from her past life and in need of someone to restore her faith in humanity. Archer, for all his issues, turned out to be that person. I loved how closely he paid attention to her likes and dislikes, even down to what chips out of a bag she liked (folded over tortilla chips, hehehe).

“Think of the strength of spirit you have to have to come through what he did and not be as mad as a hatter, to still retain a gentle heart.”

The strength of the human spirit is the real backbone of the story. The plot mostly centers on Bree and Archer overcoming their various personal demons, and for the most part doing it together. View Spoiler » There is a side plot going on with what happened to Bree and the death of her father, as well as the small-town drama around Archer, but they are truly secondary and stay mostly in the background. There is some tension created by Bree’s conversations and relationships with Travis, Archer’s cousin, town police officer and local heartbreaker. They never truly have a relationship but Travis’ ego becomes a sticking point and his childhood tormenting of Archer resumes, creating a good deal of conflict and pain on all sides.

This was a HEA I could believe in. Shocking, yes, for someone as jaded and anti-love-at-first-sight as myself. But Bree and Archer are not perfect, and their relationship is not perfect. They are so human, but so in love and SO RIGHT for each other. I would definitely recommend this book, and that’s not something I can say about many straight-up romance novels. I might even try another of Mia Sheridan’s NA novels.

four-stars

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Nov 04

Book Review: Of Flame and Light

Book Reviews 3 ★★★½

This book was such a fun read and nice break from all the YA I’ve been buried in lately! I participated in the blog tour when it released a couple of weeks ago (you can read an excerpt in that post). I love YA, don’t get me wrong, but you know how adding salt to caramel just makes the flavor POP so much more? That’s what mixing in different genres does for my reading. The different “flavors” really enhance all the flavors. Anywho. Enough comparing books to ice cream and chocolate.

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Like this amazing cake from Chowhound (click for recipe)

Of Flame and Light is fast-paced, hilarious, and full of super-sexy men and women intent on screwing the living daylights out of each other. 4/5 FLAMES (not stars, FLAMES…there’s supposed to be flame icons somewhere but I can’t get them to work, haha…still figuring out the new website). I really think this is one of those books that, while you CAN read it as a stand-alone and enjoy it, I would definitely have understood more and enjoyed it more if I had been following along through the entire Weird Girls series. So while I was somewhat confused at points, there’s enough explanation to get a who’s-who and a general idea of the supernatural creatures and world. I definitely plan to start at the beginning and read through at some point. Actually vaguely considering obtaining the other 6 and binge-reading on a weekend…this was a terrific feel-good book and I could use some more.

The plot never stagnates and I was CERTAINLY never bored. This was the main part where I felt like I was missing things, as this book focused on the werewolves and witches and only briefly mentioned the vampires (which seem to have played a bigger part in previous books). Of course Taran’s strange limb and the new magic fusing with her old starts the story off, but it’s soon overtaken by the bigger, overarching problem of a dark, wicked power rising. I liked the conflict between the weres and the witches, but I wish I understood it a little better. I’m guessing the zombies were new to this series?

Taran is a hilarious narrator. Her descriptions of her attempts at “training” with the witches had me snickering as I read. Other than that, honestly…she was pretty bitchy. I wasn’t super fond of her and found her kind of hard to relate to…her strange powers, those I could imagine. But her perfect (except for the arm, which is basically a crazy prosthetic she can’t take off) body, her constant tight dresses and platform heels…THAT I didn’t get. Same goes for her sisters, who all seem to have perky boobs, tiny waists, flat stomachs…yadda yadda. Also, there are SO MANY strapping, hot werewolf men in this book…holy bejeezus, I felt like I was constantly fanning myself! Gemini, Koda, Aric, Bren…phew. She definitely has the sex appeal of werewolves on point. 😉 Of course now I want to know ALL the stories…anyway. I absolutely despised Vieve, the witch coven’s leader. I wanted to reach through the pages and stab her with a fork.

The world-building was good but I still got confused on some things. Like I said before, I’m pretty sure this is partially because I picked up this book partway through the series. Her descriptive powers certainly lit a fire in MY imagination. Did I already mention sexy werewolves? Oh, right, I did.

Issues I had: I was kind of bothered by the fact that – in my opinion – the whole conflict between Taran and Gemini could have been solved if they had JUST SAT DOWN AND TALKED. That’s all. I kept thinking there would be something bigger revealed…but no. Just one big miscommunication that they were too scared to talk about. Besides my annoyance with Taran’s personality, I felt like she really had NO IDEA how to handle her magic, she just happened to get lucky every time it worked for her. She also never really seemed to learn anything from her time with the witches. I find it seriously hard to believe that one person could be that lucky THAT many times.

Overall, 3.5/5 stars. I’m really looking forward to the rest of the series! I just downloaded the first, Sealed with a Curse, onto my Nook. 🙂

Thank you so much to Cecy Robson for providing a review copy in exchange for an honest review!

 

three-half-stars

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Nov 02

Book Review: Anna Dressed in Blood

Book Reviews, Books/Writing 6 ★★★★★

Book Review: Anna Dressed in BloodAnna Dressed in Blood (Anna, #1) by Kendare Blake
Published by Tor Teen on October 17th 2011
Genres: Thriller, Young Adult, Modern
Pages: 320
Goodreads five-stars

Cas Lowood has inherited an unusual vocation: He kills the dead.
So did his father before him, until he was gruesomely murdered by a ghost he sought to kill. Now, armed with his father's mysterious and deadly athame, Cas travels the country with his kitchen-witch mother and their spirit-sniffing cat. They follow legends and local lore, destroy the murderous dead, and keep pesky things like the future and friends at bay.
Searching for a ghost the locals call Anna Dressed in Blood, Cas expects the usual: track, hunt, kill. What he finds instead is a girl entangled in curses and rage, a ghost like he's never faced before. She still wears the dress she wore on the day of her brutal murder in 1958: once white, now stained red and dripping with blood. Since her death, Anna has killed any and every person who has dared to step into the deserted Victorian she used to call home.
Yet she spares Cas's life.

YES. THIS. This is the book I’ve been waiting for the entire month of October. Don’t get me wrong, I read a couple of other winners, like Stalking Jack the Ripper and The Architect of Song, but this is THE PERFECT Halloween book. I knew there was something behind it being on at least half of the TBR lists for the Halloween Read-A-Thon. It actually wasn’t on my TBR, but after the DNF on my “horror or thriller” category, I decided to give it a whirl.

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There will always be more dead, and the dead will always kill.

I actually wasn’t expecting much out of a YA horror book. My skeptical brain said, “How bad can it be?”  Two nights afterwards, I was still jumping an embarrassing foot back from anything unexpected when the house is dark. The cat. A sock in the floor. The door. A fart.

Cas, our ghost-slayer, is a cynical piece of work who seems to rather enjoy his job. He was definitely HUGELY influenced by the death of his father in the line of this duty. The origins of said duty are never fully explained…but I guess that would have taken a lot longer than the span of this format. Still, I would have enjoyed finding out! Anyway. He’s not your typical 17 year old, but he doesn’t rub it in the face of his classmates…at least not most of them. He’s rather cold and uncaring in the beginning, but throughout the story he really grows and develops into a much more feeling person by the end. No thanks to coming up against more powerful ghosts, which he is grudgingly forced to admit, he can’t take down alone. I wasn’t particularly thrilled with any of the side characters, but I really liked that he had to reach out of his comfort zone and take the risk of trusting other people.

Anna – yes, the one dressed in blood – I love her. I feel horribly sorry for her. I practically shook in my chair when reading the flashback scenes. Like holy shit. No one deserves what she went through. I liked that she took personal responsibility for everything she did after she became a ghost, even if it wasn’t truly all her fault. She was influenced…but it was still her hands that did it. I could see the attraction between Cas and Anna, but I wasn’t entirely convinced. I mean…she’s a GHOST. Even if she really appears corporeal at times. Come on, Cas. And I didn’t want her suddenly returned to life to make a happy ending because…yeah no.

The plot moves along quickly. I was a little shocked when I realized that Anna was NOT the ghost that killed Cas’ father (not a spoiler, as if you read the blurb carefully, it DOES say that…I just somehow did the old 2+2=5). Kendare Blake does an AMAZING job of dropping ALL the hints that you just KNOW are leading up to something HUGE…and then smacking you in the face with the truth you didn’t see coming. I sat with my jaw hanging open even as I mentally ran back through all the foreshadowing. Yep. There it was. I just…didn’t realize…yep. Total awesomesauce.

“Don’t be afraid of the dark, Cas. But don’t let them tell you that everything that’s there in the dark is also there in the light. It isn’t.”

The descriptions were amazing. Gory at times, but um, if you weren’t expecting that by the title…well, maybe you should look at the cover again. Just saying. I had chillbumps. I curled into a little ball and pulled my hoodie as far over my head as possible while still being able to see the book.

I swear I could hear the blood dripping from Anna’s dress. I felt the wind, the chill in the air…oh, right. I was also reading this as the weather was getting decidedly colder. BUT THIS IS WHY IT WAS SO AWESOME!! I was looking for a book that could make me feel like I did as a little kid, like Halloween wasn’t just costumes, but maybe something darker…maybe the veil really does grow thin on October 31st. Well. Mission completely fucking accomplished. My almost-30-year-old self no longer wants to go to bed alone.

5/5 stars. I immediately ordered the second one and HIGHLY recommend this one if you like creepy and young adult books.

 

five-stars

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Oct 11

Book Review: The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic

Book Reviews, Books/Writing 4 ★★★½

This cover is horrible. Seriously, when I saw it, I thought the book was published in the 80s. WHAT WAS YOUR GRAPHIC ARTIST THINKING, YO.

This cover is horrible. Seriously, when I saw it, I thought the book was published in the 80s. WHAT WAS YOUR GRAPHIC ARTIST THINKING, YO.

Nora Fischer’s dissertation is stalled and her boyfriend is about to marry another woman.  During a miserable weekend at a friend’s wedding, Nora wanders off and walks through a portal into a different world where she’s transformed from a drab grad student into a stunning beauty.  Before long, she has a set of glamorous new friends and her romance with gorgeous, masterful Raclin is heating up. It’s almost too good to be true.

Then the elegant veneer shatters. Nora’s new fantasy world turns darker, a fairy tale gone incredibly wrong. Making it here will take skills Nora never learned in graduate school. Her only real ally—and a reluctant one at that—is the magician Aruendiel, a grim, reclusive figure with a biting tongue and a shrouded past. And it will take her becoming Aruendiel’s student—and learning magic herself—to survive. When a passage home finally opens, Nora must weigh her “real life” against the dangerous power of love and magic.

This book was recommended to me by one of my oh-so-awesome penpals (no, WordPress, I do NOT mean pencils…as I’ve spent 5 minutes trying to give a cease and desist letter to your autocorrect)! I’ve been on a real fantasy kick lately and she provided some spot-on recs…like Sabriel.

I was instantly doubtful of The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic. However, I am happy to report that the actual reading improved the impression I had drawn based on the cover (gag) and title (odd). Overall I’m giving it 3.5 stars…I am leaning towards 4, but…the sheer length of it is taking a half star off for me. I don’t mind longer books, as I read faster than average…but honestly this one could have been edited a little better, starting with less scenes of boring medieval castle chores. The writing itself is of excellent quality, I have no complaints whatsoever! Emily Barker has created a colorful world peopled with interesting characters. I finished it in about 3 days, despite the staggering 570 pages!

I’m a sucker for any books that have to do with books or bookish people, and Nora’s grad school/literary critic/teacher occupation intrigued me. Her personal life woes in the beginning are oh-so-very first world, but thankfully we don’t spend much time with that before she goes wandering and plunges headlong into the other world. The first, oh, about 60 pages…I felt like I was drunk and wandering around trying to figure out what was going on. At first I was extremely annoyed and though I wouldn’t be able to finish the book, but then as I kept going I realized that the feeling was intentional, to make us feel how Nora feels when she first enters the alternate world. Well done indeed. Maybe keep it to 40 pages next time though. 😉

The world she enters has a deep history and so many interesting characters – most of which are MUCH more interesting than Nora herself. There are stories within stories – both in the form of sub-plots, and actual stories characters are telling. I loved that part. I absolutely despised Aruendiel until the last 100 pages or so, but his story was just so DAMN INTERESTING I had to keep reading. So much intrigue – and so much innuendo and crimes hinted at but not fully explained. Which, I suppose, is quite in keeping with the medieval type society depicted. Oh…don’t even get me STARTED on all the patriarchal nonsense that Nora has to put up with. I did really like that she was constantly resisting all that malarky, even when it was shoved on her day in and day out.

The overarching conflict was very long in coming to its conclusion (see comments on editing). I could have done with a few more fight scenes. If the tempo of the last 200 pages had been over the majority of the book, it would have definitely been 4 solid stars. Emily Barker has, thankfully, avoided the dreaded tropes of either a love triangle or a special snowflake. Nora is underwhelmingly average, as she is frequently reminded. I can really appreciate that after so many books lately just chock-full of ALL THE SPECIALNESS.

Just when I thought the ending was resolving itself…oh, haha, nope just kidding! We’re left hanging by a thread and while part of the conflict was resolved we never find out what happens to some of the main characters. *flail* This is so unfair! Especially since there is no hard and fast date for a sequel. *cries* I. Must. Know. I actually checked my book to make sure no one had torn out the last chapter (I had a library copy). Nope. Just a massive cliffhanger. I will definitely be looking at for the next one, even if from the sounds of the author comments on GoodReads, it might be a long time in coming.

three-half-stars

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Oct 04

Book Review: The Dream Thieves

Book Reviews, Uncategorized 4

Usually, the desire to fangirl over a book turns me into a heart-fluttering, obsessive mess. However, the fangirl aroused by THIS book, was inspired by much deeper feelings. Feelings that just left me staring off into space and generally just trying to process. This book, you guys. This. Book. (WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS FOR THE FIRST BOOK)

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“I’ve been all over the world. More than one country for every year that I’m alive…I’m not saying that to show off. I’m just saying it because I’m trying to understand how I could have been so many places and yet this is the only place that feels like home. This is the only place I belong. And because I’m trying to understand how, if I belong here, it…”
” — hurts so much,” Blue finished.

And that is how I feel about my lovely home in Virginia (I swear Maggie Stiefvater patterned Henrietta after my adopted hometown). Because even though I don’t live there now, and won’t for who knows how long (if ever)…I’m pretty sure it will always, always feel like home. It hurts, because it doesn’t make the most sense for me to live there, because there are part of it that make me angry and sad, and yet…this. So much this. That someone understands all the deep, intense emotions I have about home is so rare, and then to find it in a book…I’m pretty sure that The Raven Cycle is going to be one of my all time favorites.

 

It was a massive old forest, oaks and sycamores pushing up through the cold mountains soil. Leaves skittered in the breeze. Ronan could feel the size of the mountain under his feet. The oldness of it. Far below there was a heartbeat that wrapped around the world, slower and stronger and more inexorable than Ronan’s own.

For beautiful, heartfelt, feel-it-in-your-blood prose like this.

Anywho. Gansey, who actually plays less a part in this one, nevertheless starts off with a bang as he spouts off one of the most hilariously quotable lines in the book (I’m practically stalking for an opening in a conversation so I can use it):

“So what you’re saying is you can’t explain it.”
“I did explain it.”
“No, you used nouns and verbs together in a pleasing but illogical format.”

Bahahahahahaha. Ahem.

The Dream Thieves continues the story of the Raven Boys and Blue Sargent as they search for the Glendower, the long lost king of Wales. This second of four books focuses more on Ronan Lynch than the first, and he is arguably the MC/POV but all the others still figure well into the story. For myself, I kept wishing we would see more of Maura and the Gray Man, but then the book would probably have been too long…ah well, maybe in the next one.

Ronan is still a complete and total dick. No worries, guys, your daredevil bad boy isn’t going anywhere. He just proves to a be a badass with a soft spot for home, and family, and the balls to go with his sharp tongue. He’s the emo, complicated boy type at its finest. With a couple of twists. Like the whole dreaming deal he has going on. I’m trying reeeeeeeally hard not to give actual spoilers but…yeah. Oh, and Ronan also has an extremely quotable line (I’ve already used this one, and I want the fucking t-shirt, damn it):

“I am being perfectly fucking civil.”

His depth of love and commitment to his family is his most redeeming quality. Ronan is so far from perfect…but the Raven Boys and Blue need him. They need him as the avenging angel that will sacrifice himself to do whatever is needed to protect them. Ronan has pretty much given up his right (and let’s be honest…he gets off on the thrill so it hasn’t been THAT hard for him) to an easy conscience. He still doesn’t do anything SO bad…but he will protect his own, no matter what it costs him. We still get to see a softer, more vulnerable side sometimes – with his brother Matthew, and with Chainsaw. Who knew a raven could be cute?

There’s a lot of development of the other characters as well, almost to the detriment of the overall plot. I suppose that’s a point against, but I didn’t actually mind it, I was so interested in seeing more of Ronan’s family, and Blue’s 300 Fox Way family.

For Blue, there was family – which had never been about blood relation at 300 Fox Way – and then there was everyone else.

I adore Blue…she’s some awesome combination of spunky and unsure and sweet…someone I’d want for a friend. Her killer kiss curse isn’t quite so much in the forefront in this book, which I liked. This one just overall felt less like high school. They were focused on more important things in general, even though there’s still a bit of tension of love/like between them. There’s one part in particular where Blue and Noah – Noah, of all people! – almost broke my face in half, I was grinning so hard at their awkward adorableness – totally non-romantic, but adorable. I loved that we saw more of Maura, and that she was more than just Blue’s mom. That’s something so often left out of YA novels, it was very refreshing. Especially as an older reader, I felt like I could relate to her.

The appetizers were delicious, not because of the kitchen, but because all food eaten in anticipation of a kiss is delicious.

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The waiting, yo, the waiting.

Last but not at all least, there is Adam. To me Adam has always been a sympathetic character and one I could identify with, for several reasons. I guess in the first book he sometimes seemed a bit whiny, but really…his backbone, ability to pick himself up again and again, and his work ethic won me over. His pride, which so often gets in the way of others helping him, is so much a part of him that no one really wants him to get rid of it. In this book he’s struggling with the parts of him he’s inherited from his father, struggling with being able to express himself without being cut down (either literally or figuratively) for it – and guess what? He’s a teenage boy. With issues. It’s hard. He makes mistakes. But he’s just…he’s such a sweetheart. And the fact that, of all the Raven Boys, he feels the most alone…it just breaks my little heart. I wanted to make him hot chocolate and tuck him in bed, to make him feel safe and cared for.

If he had no one to wrap their arms around him when he was sad, could he be forgiven for letting his anger lead him?

I really hope that Adam finds some real happiness in the next two books. If he doesn’t, I swear…I’ll be reduced to writing fanfic to give him some.

I gave this book 5/5 stars, which surprised me, especially since the first one was only 3.5/5! I just loved it so freaking much, for so many reasons. I really fell in love with all the characters in this one, much more than in the first. I’m still very intrigued in the Glendower part of the story (especially with the complete realization of Ronan’s ability to dream things into being), but right now I would follow these characters anywhere.

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Sep 23

Book Review: The Cruelty

Book Reviews, Books/Writing 2 ★★★

Book Review: The CrueltyThe Cruelty by Scott Bergstrom
Published by Feiwel & Friends on February 7th 2017
Genres: Modern, Thriller, Young Adult
Pages: 384
Goodreads three-stars

When her diplomat father is kidnapped and the U.S. Government is unable to help, 17 year-old Gwendolyn Bloom sets off across the sordid underbelly of Europe to rescue him. Following the only lead she has—the name of a Palestinian informer living in France—she plunges into a brutal world of arms smuggling and human trafficking. As she journeys from the slums of Paris, to the nightclubs of Berlin, to the heart of the most feared crime family in Prague, Gwendolyn discovers that to survive in this new world she must become every bit as cruel as the men she’s hunting.

This book has already had a lot of buzz, mainly because of the author’s condescending and inflammatory comments about YA in general. I have a LOT of thoughts on his comments and general attitude, but I tried – I really, really tried – to not let my view of the author color the book. I agreed to the review before knowing anything about all the drama, so I felt like that was only fair. Usually when I try a new author, debut or not, I don’t research a lot about the author. I like to let the book speak for itself. In the end, I feel like The Cruelty (Scott Bergstrom’s debut, releasing in February 2017) mostly did that. I ended up giving it 3/5 stars, in spite of feeling like the author himself probably deserves 2/5. Or maybe 1/5. Because really, sir, you are not special, your book is not going to revolutionize YA, and it’s definitely not going to dazzle long-time readers of the genre. Also, sidenote: even though you’ve already made enough money to be able to quit your advertising executive career, you might want to work more on networking with your fellow writers instead of alienating and insulting them. But enough about Scott Bergstrom. After all, a lot of creative people lack social skills and if their work is dazzling enough we excuse them for it, right? Anyway, that was how and why I approached reading this book. Sadly, overall I felt like Mr. Bergstrom is not genius enough to be excused for his behavior.

So, the positive: the pacing is really spot on. I whizzed through this in a single afternoon/evening. There’s none of the stream-of-consciousness dwelling that bogs down some YA books. Even though there were aspects of the writing and characters that bothered me, I was interested enough in the plot line to ignore everything else I had planned for the day and read it all in one go. Also, the ending left me with enough questions (while not being a true cliffhanger) that, had the sequel been available, I would have picked it up right away. That in itself added the extra half star to me. The suspense and anticipation is definitely the most well-written thing about this book.

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The story takes place in several different countries. In my experience, you can almost always tell when an author is writing about a locale they’ve never personally seen or lived. It just rings false or like they’re ticking off a list, and having lived abroad myself I notice it more than I ever did before. Now, I haven’t been to all of the countries Gwen visits and don’t claim to be any kind of expert, but the descriptions feel very real. I think that Bergstrom has probably visited these countries or he researched very, very well.

Now for the negatives. I’m going to try not to rant on and on about these…but who am I kidding, I’m probably going to rant.

The book starts off REALLY rocky. I almost DNFed it at page 15. We start off with the special snowflake trope (OMG, she speaks French! even thinks in French and accidentally blurts it in class! oops!), followed by much angst. Sigh, page turn, and then –

I pull a book out of my backpack and lean against the door as the train shoots through the tunnel under the river toward Queens. It’s a novel with a teenage heroine set in a dystopian future. Which novel in particular doesn’t matter because they’re all the same. Poor teenage heroine, having to march off to war when all she really wants to do is run away with that beautiful boy and live off wild berries and love. 

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Let’s start off by throwing rocks at dystopian YA!! Yay!! Because we’re not writing almost the EXACT SAME type of book and calling it special, are we, Precious? *insert much eyerolling* I’m not even that much a fan of the dystopian type books! What I’m NOT a fan of, is generalization – and buddy, you just hit every student in the room with your spitwad. And this wasn’t even the point of the almost DNF.

Guys out on the sidewalk in front of the shops whistle and catcall after me. They love this – the school uniform, the flash of seventeen-year-old legs. 

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What the…? I mean…who even talks or thinks that way? It seems totally out of place in the current context and setting, and is just such a jolt of stupid and bad writing that I came *this close* to throwing the book across the room and doing something else with my afternoon. However, I continued. Mostly because I wanted to see if it could really be THAT bad. There were a few similar instances, like this one:

He uses as his tools reason and facts, a whole orchestra of them. But in the end, they bounce off the armor of my stubbornness.

Not quite on the same level as the seventeen-year-old legs quote, but close. Most of the female-specific points or themes in this book sound utterly redonkulous. Like a seventeen-year-old boy was trying to imagine how girls think. Big fat fail. The body image comments really grated on me…like somehow, when the book begins, we’re supposed to see Gwendolyn as overweight…I think? Only she’s an overweight gymnast, which totally makes sense. Also she doesn’t like being looked at but dyes her hair bright red…and then in the grand scheme of changing herself so she can go hunt for her father she has to dye her hair a more unnoticeable shade and become this lean, muscled, martial artist type. Well, I have news for you…that shit doesn’t happen overnight, and not even in the several weeks Gwendolyn has to work on it. If she’s indeed overweight/out of shape as it seems we’re supposed to believe. I don’t know. I’m confused as to what the perception there was supposed to be.

Then, the love interest is lame. A plot device. Gwendolyn needs an ally back home, one with smarts, money, and connections…and suddenly she’s all weak-kneed for this boy she’s barely even looked at before. There was no buildup, just suddenly she runs into him and starts shaking. Sorry, but I have no feels for this at all.

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Yeah, no.

Actually, I pretty much have no feels at all for the entire story, which is really sad. I mostly feel annoyance. I wanted more from the characters. Characters are easily the biggest and most important part of a book, to me. Gwendolyn, her father, even the people that help her, just aren’t generally likable and while yes, Gwendolyn definitely changes through the book, I found the changes a bit far-fetched. She morphs rather quickly from a slightly bitter, spoiled high school girl to a lean, mean, killing machine. Really? But, ok. I’m willing to suspend disbelief a bit – after all, that’s what we do for any book, right? But it’s the author’s job to sell us on it. Sadly, the writing style is such that I couldn’t STAY suspended in my disbelief. I was repeatedly jarred out of it. But I still wanted to know what happened. How’s that for a quandary?

“Justice isn’t some abstract thing, Gwendolyn. What your did tonight, that’s what it looks like. Ugly and mean.”

Best line in the entire book, I swear. And it does get ugly, the longer it goes on. It’s like a train wreck you can’t stop watching, as Gwendolyn delves deeper and deeper into the criminal underworld in her search for her father. She develops an amazing poker face and some steel nerves, even in the face of a rising body count and discovering a sex trafficking ring – somehow she manages to stay cool. But at what cost? That’s the real question, and in the end, the question of what was saved and what was lost is still somewhat up in the air.

Many thanks to Feiwel & Friends for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review!

three-stars

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