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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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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Thursday, March 22, 2018

TOP 5 WEDNESDAY: Favorite SFF in Other Media

Top 5 Wednesday is a Goodreads group that posts a weekly "top 5" list for book reviewers to tackle! If you'd like to join in, the group is HERE.

This week's topic was favorite science fiction and fantasy in other media!

This month's babbles crossover topic involves our favorite SFF outside of books (like movies, tv shows, games, anime, etc.).

I love sci-fi and fantasy, as anyone who's even glanced at this website can guess, so it was really hard for me to narrow this down to just five! Check the end of the list for my honorable mentions.

Also, yes, I know this is a day late. Better late than never?

5. Be More Chill (musical)


Yes, this was a book first, but I've never actually read it, and I'm told that the musical is extremely different, so fuck it, I'm counting it. The show follows Jeremy Heere, a high school outcast who obtains a SQUIP (Super Quantum Unit Intel Processor), a tiny computer that implants itself into his brain and teaches him how to be cool. However, things go awry when it becomes clear that the SQUIP has a mind and agenda of its own.

This is a weird, weird show, but it has some amazing musical, lovable characters, and some truly hilarious lines. If you're into theater at all, you probably already know about it, but if you don't, I urge you to check it out.

4. Undertale (video game)


This game is set in a world where two races once ruled the earth together: humans and monsters. One day, war broke out, and the humans were victorious, sealing the monsters underground with a spell. Many, many years later, a human child falls into the underground where the monsters are being kept, and must find their way back home. Where the story goes from there is entirely up to you -- if you've somehow dodged all spoilers about Undertale, I urge you to go in blind. Your choices affect the story greatly, and it's incredible to see where you end up.

I love Undertale, both for its plot, but also for its unique and complex characters, and the genuinely interesting questions and characters grapple with. The music is also amazing, and some of the content the fandom has produced is incredible. 

(And if you're one of those annoying people who makes fun of people for liking this game because it's "cringy" or whatever -- piss off and let me enjoy my game in peace.)

3. Gravity Falls (TV show)


Dipper and Mabel Pines have been shipped off to Gravity Falls, Oregon to spend the summer with their con artist great-uncle Stan, who runs a tourist trap full of fake monsters and magical artifacts. But when Dipper finds a mysterious journal in the woods, he finds that Gravity Falls is bursting with real monsters and magic, and he begins on a quest to discover all the secrets the town holds, with Mabel in tow.

Complete at two seasons and forty episodes, this is an amazing show that's perfect for bingewatching. There are no bad episodes; it's all great. And don't be put off because it's a kids' show -- it doesn't talk down to its audience, and has some darker moments that make you wonder if it wasn't written with the adults in mind.

2. Carmilla (webseries)


Laura Hollis is excited to be out in the world for the first time, moving away from home to attend Silas University. But there are some weird goings-on at Silas. An alchemy club, the occasional zombie uprising... and Laura's hot, obnoxious roommate, Carmilla Karnstein. (Did we mention Carmilla is a 300 year old vampire who may or may not be part of a cult?)

Yes, it's a modern adaptation of the classic vampire novella... WITH LESBIANS! (Actual lesbians instead of subtext!) What more could you want?

Seriously, if you're a WLW in 2018 and you haven't seen this show yet... what are you even doing?

1. The Good Place (TV show)



This quirky, charming comedy about the afterlife has quickly become my favorite show. Eleanor Shellstrop dies, and wakes up in The Good Place, a perfect utopia where she can have a soulmate, endless alcohol with no hangovers, perfect weather every single day, a party every night, and all the frozen yogurt she can eat. The problem? Eleanor actually wasn't a very nice person when she was alive -- the afterlife's system somehow glitched, sending her to The Good Place by mistake. Desperate to not be sent to The Bad Place, Eleanor enlists the help of Chidi, her so-called soulmate who was a moral philosophy professor when he was alive, asking him to teach her how to be a good person before she gets found out.

This show has its third season coming out this fall, and honestly, I can't wait. From the first episode, I was totally hooked, and I managed to get my mother addicted, too. Not only is the show hilarious, it creates an extremely interesting version of the afterlife, demons, and angels. It's on Netflix and Hulu, so seriously -- check it out. You won't regret it.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: Death Note (anime), Star Trek (TV show), Howl's Moving Castle (movie), Ginger Snaps (movie), Jennifer's Body (movie), Spirited Away (movie), ParaNorman (movie), Firefly (TV show), Portal (video game)

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Saturday, March 17, 2018

SnarkNotes: The Faceless Ones by Derek Landy

SnarkNotes: noun. The sort of review Susie does for books that wouldn't mesh with her usual review format. Graphic novels, nonfiction, fiction she's read before, and fiction she simply doesn't have much to say about all fall under the SnarkNotes category. SnarkNotes are usually brief and snide in nature.

Today's SnarkNotes topic is... The Faceless Ones by Derek Landy!



WARNING: While this review is spoiler-free, it WILL contain spoilers for the first two books in the series. Proceed with caution.

GENRE

  • fantasy
  • comedy

SUMMARY

  • Valkyrie and Skulduggery have to deal with a new bad guy who's trying to resurrect the evil Faceless Ones
  • (again)
  • on top of that, Skul's been sacked from his job as the Sanctuary detective
  • and his replacement is a real prick
  • so not only do Val and Skul have to prevent the destruction of the world, they have to do it without government help.
  • and they have to deal with Fletcher Renn, an extremely obnoxious teenage boy that the villains want to use to bring back the Faceless Ones
  • great.
  • clearly, this won't go horrifically wrong at all.
  • nope.

PROS

  • honestly the villain in this book is really great
  • i can't talk too much about them but i've always really liked them
  • it's too bad they don't really show up again
  • CHINA BACKSTORY
  • also the scene where Tanith interacts with Val's mortal family? gold
  • and the scene where Kenspeckle is like "you should be treated like a child, because you are a child" and Val's like "you don't treat me like a child" and he says, "Of course I do. But you seem to have this ridiculous notion that being treated like a child means to be treated with less respect than an adult."
  • that entire scene is so underrated
  • so is Kenspeckle as a character, tbh

CONS

  • i honestly forgot how annoying Fletcher is in this book
  • (yeah, yeah, he gets better)
  • also, Remus fucking Crux
  • this fucking guy
  • tbh i found the explanation for why people don't like Teleporters to be kind of weak
  • "people don't like it when people can just pop in out of nowhere" YOU'RE TALKING???? TO???? A WALKING SKELETON????

OTHER NOTES

  • that ending
  • no
  • NOOOOOOOO
  • i'm gonna sue Derek Landy
  • also, just a sidenote: i'll be pausing my Skulduggery Pleasant reread long enough to read Labyrinth Lost
  • watch this blog for my review of Dark Days

RATING: 8/10

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Friday, March 9, 2018

DNF: The Looking Glass by Janet McNally

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 August 14, 2018. If you would like to send me an ARC, please see this page.


TITLE: The Looking Glass

AUTHOR: Janet McNally

GENRE: mystery, contemporary

SUMMARY: One year ago, Sylvie's older sister, Julia, up and vanished, with no word to her family or friends. Unsure of what else to do, Sylvie's been doing her best to live up to Julia's legacy at their competitive ballet school, and try not to worry. On Sylvie's sixteenth birthday, however, Julia sends her a copy of a book of fairy tales that they loved as children, and Sylvie begins seeing signs of her sister everywhere. Is it real -- and if it is, will it lead her back to Julia?

HOW FAR I GOT: 101/336 pages

WHY I DIDN'T FINISH: The main reason I end up not finishing books is because they bore me, and unfortunately, that was the case here. While I didn't find Sylvia to be unlikable, per se, she didn't really interest me, and I didn't know enough about the other characters to stick around for them. I've heard others compare this book to Black Swan, which is one of my favorite movies, but honestly? The comparison didn't seem apt at all. 100 pages in, and I didn't really care about what was going on, and I had to force myself to read. I knew that if I didn't DNF this, it'd take me a month to get through. So, definitely not a book for me.

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If you've read or are planning to read The Looking Glass, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!



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Monday, March 5, 2018

SnarkNotes: Playing With Fire by Derek Landy

SnarkNotes: noun. The sort of review Susie does for books that wouldn't mesh with her usual review format. Graphic novels, nonfiction, fiction she's read before, and fiction she simply doesn't have much to say about all fall under the SnarkNotes category. SnarkNotes are usually brief and snide in nature.

Today's SnarkNotes topic is... Playing With Fire by Derek Landy!



WARNING: While this review is spoiler-free, it WILL contain spoilers for the first book in the series. Proceed with caution.

GENRE
  • fantasy
  • comedy
SUMMARY

  • it's been about a year since Valkyrie (formerly known as Stephanie Edgley) and Skulduggery defeated Serpine and stopped him from bringing back the Faceless Ones, ancient gods who would destroy all of humanity
  • now someone else wants to bring back the Faceless Ones: Baron Vengeous
  • (subtle names are not these bad guys' strong-suits, if you haven't noticed)
  • pretty much everybody in Ireland (not to mention a contract killer from Texas) wants to kill Valkyrie, and it's all she can do to stay alive, and keep her parents from finding out about all this
  • did we mention that if Vengeous isn't stopped within the next couple days, the Faceless Ones most definitely are coming back?
  • luckily, in order to succeed, he'll first have to raise a monster called the Grotesquery from the dead
  • that's obviously not happening, right?
  • ....riiiiiiight...?

PROS

  • for starters: I can call Valkyrie by her chosen name from here on out! yay!!!
  • this is the book that introduces Billy-Ray Sanguine, and honestly he is such a legend
  • I forgot how great he was
  • this also introduces Scapegrace, another great villain
  • (well, not "great," since he's basically useless, but he's hilarious while he's being useless)
  • there's a nice balance between "Valkyrie the experienced detective's assistant" and "Valkyrie who's still new at all this and doesn't have a goddamn clue what's going on"
  • Skulduggery's motivational speeches
  • China's not in this book much, but when she's in it, she's iconic, as always
  • I liked that we got a bit more of Tanith's personality in this book, particularly what she's like when she's off-the-clock
  • more vampires!!!
  • more action!!!
  • more BLOODSHED!!!!

CONS

  • while this book is still really, really good, it's not as great as the first one was
  • that's a common issue with second books, though
  • Chamber of Secrets is the weakest Harry Potter book, no one likes the second series of Warriors books, and so on
  • that said, it's not bad by any stretch
  • though Vengeous just isn't as enjoyable as a villain as Serpine was in the last book
  • which is a shame, because most of the villains in this series are great

OTHER NOTES

  • while the big Story Arc™ is set up from the first book, this is definitely where the groundwork for later books gets laid
  • while I didn't like it as well as the first book, it's still really enjoyable, and a sign of good things to come in later books
  • (or maybe bad things to come, seeing how often Val and Skul nearly get killed)
  • (seriously these books are ridiculously violent)
  • (it's awesome)
  • stay on the lookout for my review of the third book, The Faceless Ones

RATING: 7 / 10

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