Tuesday, May 22, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: My Plain Jane by The Lady Janies

NOTE: This book has not yet been released. I was given a free Advance Reading Copy by HarperCollins and Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. This book will be released on June 26, 2018. If you would like to send me an ARC, please see this page.


TITLE: My Plain Jane

AUTHOR: Brodi Ashton, Cynthia Hand, Jodi Meadows (The Lady Janies)

GENRE: historical, paranormal

PLOT SUMMARY: Jane Eyre has left her oppressive boarding school to take on a job as a governess, teaching the child of the elusive and mysterious Mr. Rochester. But Jane has a secret: she can see ghosts. This ability has caught the attention of a society dedicated to capturing ghosts, who want Jane to come and work for them. Jane has no interest -- but her friend, Charlotte Bronte does. Charlotte manages to strike a deal with a worker for the society: if she can get Jane to work for them, she gets to work for them, too. But between Jane being in love with Rochester, and Rochester's own secrets, that may be easier said than done...

FIRST THOUGHTS: You may remember that last year, I posted a glowing review of My Lady Jane, a historical fantasy comedy written by the same team of authors. This isn't a sequel, per se, but it's a companion, and has the same general setup. Since I was just a big fan of the previous installment, I was thrilled to get an advance copy of this one. And yet... My Plain Jane just didn't do it for me. It's not that I think it's a bad book, and I can think of people that would like it, but compared to its predecessor, it didn't fulfill its full potential. At least, not in my opinion.

THOUGHTS ON PLOT: Okay, I feel like I should preface this whole review with a disclaimer. I have not read Jane Eyre! (Yes, I managed to get through multiple high-level English classes without being forced to read it. I do intend to read it eventually, I just... haven't gotten there yet.) However, the book was written in a way that even someone who didn't even know what Jane Eyre is could understand what was going on. And, credit where credit is due, I thought the authors did that very well. I think there were a couple references and jokes that went over my head, but the actual plot, nothing was lost. Unfortunately, the plot didn't feel very substantial. My main problem with it was that the Evil Plot that the villains were carrying out wasn't revealed until the last minute. While the "hidden agenda villain" thing can work, here it felt rushed and tacked-on, almost like an afterthought. There were also a lot of plot developments that felt really contrived. Sometimes that was supposed to be part of the joke, but, well... a lame plot point is still a lame plot point, and the jokes weren't funny enough to just shrug it off and move on. (For an example of funny plot contrivances done right, see the "forest of coincidence" scene in Galavant.) There were also a fair number of plot twists, but they all lacked the proper buildup, and just left me going, "...Really?" I think the authors were trying to make it so it wasn't a straight-up rehash of the original novel, but the end result was rather lacking and difficult to get into.

4 / 10

THOUGHTS ON CHARACTERS: Nothing special, which is a real shame. I will admit that this is one place where never having read the original probably detracted from my experience a bit. Part of the fun of retellings is seeing how familiar characters are reimagined and changed. The characters as they were, however, weren't anything spectacular. (Nothing spectacularly bad, either, so that's good, at least.) I liked the way Charlotte was written, but I didn't care much for Jane. I think part of the problem was that Charlotte has such a strong and dynamic personality, so Jane, who's a bit of a shrinking violet, gets lost in the process. Not that there's anything wrong with having a shy and demure main character, but it can be hard to write well, especially when you put them next to someone more outgoing and forceful. The side characters were all pretty one-note, so not much to say there.

5 / 10

THOUGHTS ON WRITING STYLE: Okay, this was the real letdown. By far the best thing about My Lady Jane was the humor, especially in the narration. While this book had some of that, it just wasn't as funny. There were some witty asides here and there that made me chuckle, but it wasn't anything LOL-worthy. It also lacked the same "can't put it down"-ness of the first book. I basically skimmed the last half, just to finish it. I wanted to know how it ended, which is something, but overall, I just wasn't invested.

5 / 10

THOUGHTS ON POLITICAL STUFF: This is a rewrite of a novel from the 1800s; unsurprisingly, there are no POC or queer people to be seen. I personally don't think being set in a historical period is a good excuse for not having any diversity, but I'm also not very surprised. There's nothing glaringly offensive, though.

4 / 10

FINAL THOUGHTS: I can't help but wonder if I'd have liked this book more or less if I'd read Jane Eyre first. Jane Eyre is on my reading bucket list (which you can look at here, if you're curious), so I do plan to read it eventually. As a followup to My Lady Jane, however, this was a major disappointment. I won't let it turn me off from checking out any other books in the series, since they all stand alone, anyway, but as one of my most anticipated books of 2018, this was a huge letdown. Here's hoping the third installment picks up the pace again.

FINAL GRADE: 4 / 10


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Thursday, May 17, 2018

DNF: Those Other Women by Nicola Moriarty


TITLE: Those Other Women

AUTHOR: Nicola Moriarty

GENRE: contemporary

SUMMARY: Poppy's world is turned on its head when her husband dumps her... for her best friend. Things only get worse when Poppy finds out her ex-BFF is pregnant. See, Poppy doesn't want kids. Ever. And she's getting pretty sick of everyone judging her for it. Helped by her new BFF Annalise, Poppy starts up a Facebook group for the other never-gonna-be-moms of the area. At first, the rivalry between the moms and the not-moms is harmless and playful... but then, shit gets real.

HOW FAR I GOT: 62/308 pages

WHY I DIDN'T FINISH: While this book had its strong points -- I liked Poppy, and a lot of her interactions with Annalise were funny -- I just wasn't drawn into it. It was a disappointment, since the judgment placed on women who don't want kids is a struggle I know all too well. I was intrigued by the synopsis, but the book failed to grab me. After skimming the first five chapters, I decided to call it quits. I'm not saying I'll never finish this book -- I didn't get far, after all, so maybe I'll give it another go -- but right now? Nah. Not for me.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus


TITLE: One of Us is Lying

AUTHOR: Karen M. McManus

GENRE: mystery

PLOT SUMMARY: Five students enter detention. Ten minutes later, one leaves in a body bag. The deceased Simon ran an app that spread malicious gossip about the students at his high school, so after his death is found to be a murder, suspicion turns to the four students in detention with him. Bronwyn, the geek, Addy, the princess, Nate, the criminal, and Cooper, the jock, couldn't be more different, and would never be friends under normal circumstances. But now that all four of them are being accused of killing their classmate, they're forced to band together to figure out who killed Simon... and are they being framed?

FIRST THOUGHTS: This book was a wild ride. I wasn't quite sure what to expect going in -- the summary was intriguing, so when my friend Annie told me she'd liked it, I decided to give it a go. The best way I can think of to describe the plot is Riverdale meets The Breakfast Club. It's fun, it's exciting, and it has an eclectic cast of characters to enjoy the ride with. The story had a very cinematic feel to it; it felt almost more like I was watching a movie or a TV show than reading a book. If someone's bought the adaptation rights, I haven't heard about it, but I hope somebody does soon. However, the book on its own is great, and one of the best mysteries I've read recently.

THOUGHTS ON PLOT: I thought the mystery in this book was awesome. It was one of the few YA mysteries I've read that genuinely kept me guessing all the way up until the reveal. When I did find out who killed Simon, I was shocked. I didn't think that the subplots were as good as the main plot, unfortunately. I think that's a side effect of having four viewpoint characters, each of whom has a secret -- things get real complicated, real quick, and things sometimes fall through the cracks. I also thought that the conclusion (specifically, the last chapter) was a bit of a letdown in comparison to the big twist that had come earlier. That said, the mystery was good enough that I still think it was worth my time.

7 / 10

THOUGHTS ON CHARACTERS: This book is very "Breakfast Club," in that each character is presented as a typical high school archetype, but then as the story goes on, we see other layers to them, and see them grow beyond the stereotype. While I liked some of the leads more than others, it was interesting to see all of them grow and mature and change. So while the characters in this book aren't always likable, they are always engaging. And they're definitely realistic. There are times when the main four act like idiots, or say things they shouldn't, or make dumb choices, but, well... ever met a teenager? Now, ever met a teenager who's under extreme stress, and is currently undergoing a traumatic event that will probably change their life forever, no matter how it pans out? Yyyyyeah. Even when I wanted to slap one of the main characters for being stupid, I always understood why they were being stupid. So I can forgive it.

7 / 10

THOUGHTS ON WRITING STYLE: As mentioned above, this book had an incredibly cinematic feel. Just for the hell of it, I decided to challenge myself to get through it in one day, and I did. In fact, I got through most of it in just one sitting. I have no major complaints about the writing style, though I will say that having four viewpoint characters did feel a bit crowded at times, especially since each character narrated their own sections. While all the character voices felt unique, I did think that it would've been better to have one or two narrators instead of four -- they would've been better developed that way.

7 / 10

THOUGHTS ON POLITICAL STUFF: Not bad, not bad at all. For the most part, this isn't a very political story, so the representation is almost entirely incidental. But that's not a bad thing in itself -- as I've said elsewhere on this blog, the idea that books need a "reason" to be diverse is nonsense. That's like saying people in real life need a reason to be gay, black, disabled, or whatever. So I was glad to see that this book wasn't entirely straight and white. That said, I have seen some criticism of how the twist was handled. I can't get too into detail without spoiling it, but I have seen some say that they think the way the book addressed the problem of male entitlement (specifically, white, straight male entitlement), is clumsy at best and outright problematic at worst. While I personally thought the way the book handled it was well-done, I won't tell you what to think. Everyone's free to draw their own conclusions.

7 / 10

FINAL THOUGHTS: This was a solid, easy-to-read, easy-to-enjoy mystery. If you're looking for something a little more daring than standard YA fare, I'd highly recommend it.  I think it'd make a great read for a long bus trip, or a book for when you're trying to get out of a reading slump. Judging from the reviews on Goodreads, reactions to this book and its ending are a tad... divisive, and I can sort of understand why, but I really liked it. No matter your personal opinion on it, I give this book a sold thumbs-up. It's a fun ride, with an ending you won't see coming.

FINAL GRADE: 7 / 10


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Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Editing and Excuses

*shows up 15 minutes late with Starbucks and a meme that's outdated by 4 years*

'Sup?

Photo courtesy of Pexels.
This won't be a very long post -- this is mostly a life update, mainly to explain where the hell I've been for the past couple weeks. I've never tried to hold this blog to a tight schedule, since I know myself well enough to know that that wouldn't work. But I don't like that this place has been a ghost town recently. Let's change that!

So... the promised explanation.

Many of you know that I've written a book. I won't get too much into the plot, but if you know me personally, you've heard me talk your ear off about this thing anyway. I will, however, say that this book is my baby. I'm extremely proud of it, and I think that once it gets published (because it WILL, by God), people will read it.

I hope you all like it as much as I do.

Anyway, I've been shopping it around, and while I won't go into too much detail (don't wanna jinx it), someone has expressed interest! However, they asked me to make some edits to the manuscript before they gave me a definite "yes" or "no." So, that's where I've been the past two weeks -- editing my manuscript, trying to make it the best it can be. I've now sent it off to my good friend/Fearless Editor, Annie, who will tear it to shreds, and then send it back. Then, I'll do even more edits and send it back to Annie, and this process will repeat for as long as it takes for me to feel comfortable sending the manuscript back to the person who requested the edits in the first place.

I don't know how this'll pan out, but I'm really pleased with the edits I've made. Even if the person who expressed interest ultimately passes on the manuscript, it'll be worth it. The book's stronger now.

So, yeah. That's where I've been.

We will now return to your semi-regularly scheduled blog. Thanks for your patience.

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Again, I'm so sorry for being radio silent over here! Here's to hoping I can get back to updating at a reasonable pace soon. 

If you'd like to support my work, click on either of the buttons below to donate -- Buy Me a Coffee is a small, one-time donation, but becoming a Patron has several benefits and rewards. Either way, it's a huge help to me. A special thanks to those of you that choose to contribute! Even if you can't donate, you can feel free to follow me on social media; the links are in the top-right corner.




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Monday, April 23, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Mariam Sharma Hits the Road by Sheba Karim

NOTE: This book has not yet been released. I was given a free Advance Reading Copy by HarperCollins and Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. This book will be released on June 5, 2018. If you would like to send me an ARC, please see this page.



TITLE: Mariam Sharma Hits the Road

AUTHOR: Sheba Karim

GENRE: contemporary

PLOT SUMMARY: The summer after Mariam's freshman year of college, disaster strikes when a photo of her best friend Ghaz modelling underwear appears on a Times Square billboard. Ghaz's ultra-conservative parents are furious, and keep her under lock and key. Mariam and their other best friend, Umar, quickly hatch a scheme to rescue Ghaz, and help her sneak out of her room in the middle of the night. The three friends then get in Umar's car and hit the road, hightailing it to Louisiana. Trekking through the American south, the three find themselves on an adventure of family, prejudice, the ghosts of the past, and drag queens.

FIRST THOUGHTS: This hasn't been the greatest month for me, reading-wise, which is making me sad, because so far, I've liked everything I've read this April. Mariam Sharma Hits the Road is no exception. This is a light, fun read, perfect for summer vacation. Although it tackles serious issues, this book is funny, heartwarming, and incredibly enjoyable. I wasn't sure what to expect going in, but I'm really glad I took the time to read it, and I think you will be, too.

THOUGHTS ON PLOT: So my biggest complaint is that this book doesn't have much, as far as plot goes. It's mostly just a series of random things happening -- much like a real road trip, now that I think of it. I know this is a common sentiment in other reviews, so I'm glad to know it wasn't just me. Now, don't get me wrong; the book handles the "random events plot" thing very well where a lot of other books don't. And, hey -- no romantic subplot! That's always a nice change! But if you're looking for a strong, plot-driven story, this may not be the right book for you. Now, if you're looking for a book with strong characters, on the other hand... see the next section.

5 / 10

THOUGHTS ON CHARACTERS: By far this book's greatest strength is its characters. All three leads are so unique and realistic. They're all about my age, and let me just say that the way they're written is extremely accurate. I felt like I really knew these people, and if you're in college, you probably will, too. I especially loved the friendship they had with each other. A lot of the book is just them having various conversations, and honestly? That's all it needs to be. The conversations are that good. The side characters, unfortunately, are mostly pretty one-note, but it makes sense; most of them, the main three only meet for a couple hours at most. The major exception to this is Mariam's mom, who is amazing, and one of my favorite fictional parents lately. She reminded me a lot of my own mother, to be honest, and I really loved her and Mariam's relationship.

8 / 10

THOUGHTS ON WRITING STYLE: This is an extremely easy read. I got through most of it extremely quickly (despite how long it took to write this review...), and I know a lot of other people had the same experience. You're mostly reading conversations between Umar, Ghaz, and Mariam, mixed with Mariam's internal monologue, so most of the prose is light, breezy, and simple. Honestly, that's the way I like it -- I've never been one to read lengthy descriptions. (I have a short attention span. Sue me.)

7 / 10

THOUGHTS ON POLITICAL STUFF: YESSSSSS. This is one of the most political books I've read in awhile, though I wouldn't say the politics are the whole point of the story. All three of our main characters are Pakistani, Umar is Muslim and gay, Ghaz is an ex-Muslim who still faces Islamophobia, and Mariam is half-Indian. The discrimination the three face on a day-to-day basis is central to the story, and there are multiple discussions about it. This is also an extremely intersectionalist book -- the ways racism, Islamophobia, homophobia, and sexism are all intertwined are examined thoroughly. If you're looking for a beautifully diverse and honest story, this is the book for you.

10 / 10

FINAL THOUGHTS: This book is, in a word, fun. I'm glad it's coming out in the summer, because I think it'd make a great beach read. You could easily get through it in a couple hours, and it's a great ride, so seriously, check it out. It grapples with serious issues, but never in a way that gets depressing or difficult to get through. It's a bittersweet story, but the sweet is always greater than the bitter.

FINAL GRADE: 7 / 10


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Thank you so much for reading this review. If you liked it and would like to support my work, click on either of the buttons below to donate -- Buy Me a Coffee is a small, one-time donation, but becoming a Patron has several benefits and rewards. Either way, it's a huge help to me. A special thanks to those of you that choose to contribute! Even if you can't donate, you can feel free to follow me on social media; the links are in the top-right corner.

If you've read or are planning to read Mariam Sharma Hits the Road, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!



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Wednesday, April 11, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: The Land of Yesterday by K.A. Reynolds

NOTE: This book has not yet been released. I was given a free Advance Reading Copy by HarperCollins and Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. This book will be released on July 31, 2018. If you would like to send me an ARC, please see this page.


TITLE: The Land of Yesterday

AUTHOR: K.A. Reynolds

GENRE: fantasy

PLOT SUMMARY: After Cecelia's little brother dies in a tragic accident, her entire life has been upended. Things only get worse when Cecelia's mother leaves for the Land of Yesterday, the forbidden realm where the dead go, to search for her son. The spirit that inhabits her family's home, Widdendream, blames Cecelia for everything horrible that has happened, and holds her father hostage until she can get her mother back. So, Cecelia sets off alone to the Land of Yesterday, determined to put her broken family back together.

FIRST THOUGHTS: First of all, I feel like I need to apologize approximately 1,000 times for taking SO DAMN LONG to write this review after reading! I thought this review would be a breeze, since I loved this book so much. But, obviously, that's not the way this worked out. But seriously -- this book was incredible. I don't know if it's going to be a series; it stands very well on its own, but the story of Cecelia and the Land of Yesterday has plenty more to offer. This is a magical, melancholy read, perfect for all ages.

THOUGHTS ON PLOT: When I read the description of this book's plot on Edelweiss, I just knew I had to have it. I love how it's slightly darker than most middle grade fiction, but not overly-so. The story mostly follows Cecelia's journey through the Land of Yesterday, but I took it to be, more than anything, a story about grief, and how we deal with loss. All of the Dahls (plus Widdendream) react differently to the loss of Cecelia's brother, and the consequences for dealing with grief badly are disastrous. I think this book could be a great way for kids, especially younger ones who don't really have a grasp on their emotions yet, to learn about and understand grief, especially the kind that comes after losing a loved one. I don't know if that was the author's intent, but that's what I took from it. Loss is a messy, complicated thing -- and it's something we all go through. It's great to see a book, especially one for children, that handles it so well.

8 / 10

THOUGHTS ON CHARACTERS: The two characters that stood out to me the most are our heroine, Cecelia, and our villain, Widdendream. Cecelia is a great lead; flawed, but endearing and deeply sympathetic. She came off as a very real kid to me, handling situations the way a real child might. I especially loved the way her reaction and handling of her brother's death is portrayed; you just want to go into the book and give the poor girl a hug. Widdendream, meanwhile, really surprised me. I thought right from the word "go" that the idea of a sentient house (or house spirit, same difference) was cool, and added a lot to the world the story took place in. When Widdendream becomes villainous, it's genuinely saddening, since it has such history with the family. And, without getting into spoilers, the last couple chapters added a lot to Widdendream's character. Even though it's the antagonist, and, ya know, a house, it's still strangely relatable, even though you know what it's doing is wrong. You know you have a gem of a book when a freaking house manages to get an emotional reaction out of your reader.

7 / 10

THOUGHTS ON WRITING STYLE: I've described this to my friends as "very Roald Dahl," which I don't think is a coincidence -- check Cecelia's last name. If I had to choose one word to describe the prose, I'd choose "whimsical." There are a lot of fanciful descriptions and turns of phrase, which for the most part were a delight to read. There were, however, sections where it was a bit overdone, sometimes to the point where I had to reread to know what was even going on. While it didn't detract from how much I enjoyed the story, it did make the reading experience less fluid, which is never good. However, while I know the Dahl-esque style isn't for everyone, I really liked it. If you also happen to like that sort of thing, you'll probably like this.

8 / 10

THOUGHTS ON POLITICAL STUFF: Not too much to talk about here, but I did really like that Cecelia is a WOC. Her exact ethnicity is unclear (and it's a fantasy world where countries as we know them don't even exist, which does make specifying race and ethnicity slightly complicated), but both the cover art and a few offhand lines made it clear (at least to me) that she's not white. There's not a whole lot of diversity in fantasy fiction, so it's always a breath of fresh air when an author averts that problem. I've already mentioned how much I liked the story's handling of grieving and mourning, so I won't go too into that.

7 / 10

FINAL THOUGHTS: If you're looking for a magical, wonderful read, add this book to your TBR pile. I've never read anything from K.A. Reynolds before, but I'll definitely be checking out the rest of her work now. I'd really love to see more from this world, but what we have is already so good, that if she chooses to leave it, I'd be okay with that. I can't wait for this book to come out -- I want to hear what everyone else thinks! So, seriously, go pre-order it. I'll wait.

FINAL GRADE: 7.5 / 10


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Friday, March 30, 2018

DNF: Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova



TITLE: Labyrinth Lost

AUTHOR: Zoraida Córdova

GENRE: fantasy

SUMMARY: Alex is a bruja -- a magic-user -- and she's the most powerful in a generation. The only problem is, she hates magic. Desperate to rid herself of her gift, Alex tries to perform a cantos that would rid her of her power. Not only does it not work, it backfires, and her entire family vanishes into thin air. Forced to team up with someone she doesn't trust, Alex needs to learn how to control her gift, and rescue her family.

HOW FAR I GOT: 126/326 pages

WHY I DIDN'T FINISH: This is definite "It's not you... it's me" thing. I thought that the magic system was really cool, and I LOVED the fact that the entire cast is Latinx, and that the main character is bisexual. Diversity is fantasy that is SORELY needed. But, unfortunately, I just couldn't get into this book. I had trouble connecting to the characters, and I had to force myself to keep reading. So, while I'm glad a lot of other people enjoy this book, it's not my thing, and I will not be continuing on with the rest of the series.

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Thank you so much for reading this review. If you liked it and would like to support my work, click on either of the buttons below to donate -- Buy Me a Coffee is a small, one-time donation, but becoming a Patron has several benefits and rewards. Either way, it's a huge help to me. A special thanks to those of you that choose to contribute! Even if you can't donate, you can feel free to follow me on social media; the links are in the top-right corner.

If you've read Labyrinth Lost, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!



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