Wednesday, February 22, 2017

TOP 5 WEDNESDAY: Books to Get You Out of a Reading Slump

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 books to get you out of a reading slump!

Winter is a hard season for a lot of people and many of us are slumpy. Let's talk about some books that are great for getting you out of a slump! 

5. Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn

This may seem like an odd choice, since it's not exactly easy or relaxing reading, but Gillian Flynn's bestselling mystery is one I've read five times now, and plan to read many times more. No matter how little reading I'm doing at any given time, I always devour this book -- which is especially impressive since I now know all the plot twists and the ending. Every time I read it, I find a new bit of foreshadowing or character depth or some other cool detail that makes the story feel that much more real. It's also a good, quick read -- it's not overly long, and the story is incredibly fast-paced, with something crucial coming out every chapter. 

4. Confessions of Georgia Nicolson - Louise Rennison

This is a series of ten books about a shallow, sarcastic teenage girl and her quest to find true love, and each and every one is a gem. I mean it, they're ALL laugh-out-loud hilarious. I'd recommend starting at the beginning of the series, but they can be read in any order and still be enjoyable. Georgia's narration is raunchy, brutally honest, and incredibly amusing, and the books are all quite easy to get through in one or two sittings. And when you finish one book, you're desperate for the next one. Thank goodness we don't have to wait for new releases anymore! (Because the series is over. ...BRB, sobbing.)

3. How to Get Suspended and Influence People - Adam Selzer

I think Adam Selzer might be one of the most criminally underrated YA authors out there. This is his first book, as well as the first one I read, and from page one, it's smart, hilarious, and fast-paced. Following the misadventures of a middle school "gifted" kid who's tasked with making a sex ed video, this book tackles censorship in a thoughtful but funny way. It's a very short book -- I finished it in a day -- but it's well worth the read, and it sets the tone and lays the groundwork for Selzer's other books, all of which are set in the same town. (And some have vampires. Long story.)

2. Paper Towns - John Green

"The Fault in Our Stars" may have been the John Green book to take the world by storm, but for my money, "Paper Towns" is his best work. I'd recommend it for getting out of your slump not only because it lacks the soul-crushing angst of some of his other books, but it's also freaking hilarious. Not only that, it's incredibly moving! If you like a good road trip story or a good demolishing of the "manic pixie dream girl" trope, definitely pick this book up. Even if you're not a fan of Green's other works, I'd suggest at least trying it, and keeping an open mind. Don't get me wrong, I love Hazel Grace and Augustus, but to me, the characters in this book feel much more relatable, realistic, and by extension, enjoyable. I've read it many, many times, and it always leaves me wanting more.

1. The Harry Potter Series - J.K. Rowling

Yeah, yeah, sorry to be so predictable. But I, like many millennials, grew up on Harry Potter, and I've read every book at least three times. No matter what sort of books I'm into at any given time, or what sort of trends are going on in the publishing industry, I am ALWAYS down to read Harry Potter. These were some of the first books I can remember reading, and it's the first fandom I was ever deeply involved in. Whenever I'm having difficulty getting through a book or reading anything longer than a Buzzfeed article, I can always retreat back into the world of Hogwarts -- no matter what.


Thank you so much for reading! What are the books you read when YOU'RE in a reading slump? Comment them below!

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Thursday, February 16, 2017

BOOK REVIEW: Famous Last Words

TITLE: Famous Last Words

AUTHOR: Katie Alender

GENRE: mystery, paranormal

PLOT SUMMARY: Willa has been transplanted from Connecticut to Los Angeles when her mother marries Jonathan, a successful director. Still reeling from the death of her father two years ago, this would already be a trying time, even without her strange visions. But Willa does have visions -- visions where she becomes a murder victim in their last moments. As she tries to settle into her new life, Willa realizes that her visions may have something to do with the Hollywood Killer, a serial killer that's been terrorizing Los Angeles, recreating famous movie death scenes with young, up-and-coming actresses. And now, Willa's seeing even stranger visions in her new home -- which an old Hollywood starlet is rumored to have died in year prior, by the way. She's seeing writing on the wall, dead bodies in the pool, and a second reflection in the mirror. Who is the ghost that's haunting her, and what are they trying to tell her? Could it have something to do with the Hollywood Killer? Like, for instance... is she next?

FIRST THOUGHTS: This is a book that would've been very, very easy to write poorly. There are plenty of "gotta catch the killer before he gets me next" stories out there, and the vast majority of them are... underwhelming, or at the very least convoluted. This book, however, was neither. I read it in two sittings (granted, those two sittings were about two months apart because reasons), and while it's not a challenging book, it is a compelling one. It benefits from likable characters and high stakes, and manages to work in its paranormal angle remarkably well. The novel isn't the most thought-provoking or challenging, but I liked it. It's a good read for when you're looking to lose yourself in an adventure, and face a bit of danger on the way.

THOUGHTS ON PLOT: The main focus of the novel is right where it should be -- on the murder mystery. Willa's psychic visions and her researching The Hollywood Killer drive most of the plot, while also tying in quite well with the subplot of her trying to settle into her new life in California. There is a romantic subplot, and what I feared would become a love triangle, but I was pleasantly surprised when it didn't take over everything and distract from the mystery. The romance is also remarkably well-written; it grows slowly, taking its time, and develops naturally, rather than being forced Because Destiny Says So or something. Even if you're completely against romantic subplots in books, I'd still advise giving this one a chance -- even if you don't personally ship it, the couple doesn't detract from the adventure. And the adventure itself is a very good one. All the pieces of the mystery fall into place slowly, and while a couple of the twists are a bit predictable, there was one about halfway through that genuinely surprised me. The climax of the novel gets a little long for my tastes, but it's well-written, and the stakes are incredibly high, so it held my interest for the most part.

8 / 10

THOUGHTS ON CHARACTERS: When I first started reading, I wasn't so sure I'd like Willa. She's a bit antisocial and bratty, and is incredibly morose. But, as you get into her backstory, you realize that she has good reasons for being that way (beyond just being a teenager), and you also find that she has a good heart underneath it all, and the capacity to be very brave and capable. Same with her partner in crime (and lab work), Wyatt. Wyatt's a bit of a jerk, definitely, but he's still likable, and a genuinely interesting character -- his borderline-unhealthy interest in the Hollywood Killer is something a lot of teenagers can relate to, I think. We know it's probably not good to take such an interest in the dark and twisted parts of the world, but we still do it. Wyatt also realizes when he crosses the line, and is quick to apologize and try to make amends, which is what allows him to still be a hero. Wyatt and Willa bring out the best in each other, and work very well as a team. (Once they can stop arguing long enough to do it, of course.) Rounding out the cast is Willa's mother and stepfather, both of whom are mostly delegated to supporting roles, but can provide wisdom or help at a crucial moment, Reed, a charming young man who works for Willa's stepfather, and Marnie, Willa's first (and for a while, only) friend at her new school. Marnie, I feel like was a bit of a wasted opportunity. For the most part, there's not much to her except for being shallow and attention-hungry. There are hints of something deeper beneath the surface every now and then, suggesting that she has a kind heart buried deep somewhere in there, or issues of her own she needs to address, but unfortunately, the narrative doesn't really give her much room to grow or change. (I like to believe that the ending implies she may be learning from the error of her ways, but it's probably just wishful thinking on my end.) There's also a one-scene character, a psychic Willa and Wyatt go to talk to during their investigation, that I wish we'd seen more of. She's mainly there to infodump and push our heroes in the right direction, but she's so laid-back and clever and funny while she does it that I kind of hoped she'd show up one more time before the last page to help save the day. Oh, well -- the one scene she's in is memorable enough. One character that did genuinely surprise me from how well he was executed was the Hollywood Killer himself. His introduction was a big "oh, shit" moment, for both Willa and the audience, but what really surprised me was how well he was written. He wasn't a generic "mwahahaha I'm evil" YA villain, or just unpleasant; this guy is genuinely scary. The more we get to know him, once we actually meet him, the more he creeps us out, and makes us genuinely afraid for Willa. It takes us until almost the end of the book to meet the guy outside of Willa's visions, but once we do, he lives up to the hype.

7 / 10

THOUGHTS ON WRITING STYLE: The writing in this novel is fast-paced, accessible, and very wry -- which makes sense, seeing as how it's Willa's internal monologue. The story's not laugh-out-loud funny, nor is it supposed to be, but Willa's narration does occasionally provide a much-needed sarcastic comment or observation to lighten things up. Not only does it keep the atmosphere from being too "doom and gloom," but it also reflects the character well. Willa uses her wit as a means of survival; at first, just to cope with her grief and get through high school in one piece, but then, just to keep herself sane as her life literally hangs in the balance. The mystery aspect of the novel is also handled very well; we're given enough hints that the reader might piece it together before Willa does, but it's never blatant, and the resolution isn't pulled out of nowhere, either. There were a few lines that, after the big reveal, I looked back on and went, "Ohhhhhhh." And as I already mentioned above, the Hollywood Killer's actual appearance in the novel is genuinely unsettling to read, making the danger feel very, very real.

7 / 10

THOUGHTS ON POLITICAL STUFF: This book falls into a common trap of YA lit. There's nothing overtly racist or homophobic about it -- because there are no POC or LGBT people in the story to speak of. While one could argue that it makes sense that Willa's world would be very white, since she does live in the notoriously white-favoring world of Hollywood, I would argue that it's writers' responsibility to create more roles for POC actors in the first place -- and one way to do that is to write them into your books. To be fair, none of the characters ever have their ethnicity specified in the first place, but that feels a bit like cheating to me. There was also the use of casually ableist language -- the kind that I'm sure the author didn't notice, or intend to come off as offense to anyone. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if most readers wouldn't notice, either. It was the sort of thing that I myself wouldn't have thought twice about two or three years ago (referring to a neat and organized character as "being super-OCD," for instance), but now that I know better, I notice it and don't like it. That said, I do like the aversion of the "disability grants supernatural powers" trope. (For more on why that's considered ableist, read THIS blog entry by The Bookavid.) Willa is depressed and is implied to have some form of PTSD, and she has psychic visions -- but they're not connected, they just happen to coincide. One character is also revealed to be a compulsive liar, and I have mixed feelings about their portrayal. On the one hand, the character isn't the most pleasant person in the world, and they cause quite a bit of trouble, but on the other hand, their condition is portrayed as not being their own fault, and it's also clear that they're not a completely horrible person -- just prone to selfishness. As for how accurate the portrayal is, I have no idea, having no experience with pathological lying myself.

5 / 10

FINAL THOUGHTS: In spite of the political issues I discussed above, I genuinely enjoyed this book, and the mystery was very well thought out. It definitely makes me want to check out some of the author's other work. (One of which is titled "Marie Antoinette: Serial Killer," so I pretty much HAVE to know.) I'd recommend it to anyone looking for an exciting, fast-paced read, especially to other filmophiles such as myself.

FINAL GRADE: 6.75 / 10


Thanks for reading this review! If you read the book, too, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

TOP 5 WEDNESDAY: Favorite Non-Written Novels

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 non-written novels!

This was a hard topic to name, but this is about all books that are not 'written' novels! So graphic novels, comics, manga, audiobooks, etc. Shed some light on books in other forms. 

As someone who LOVES graphic novels and visual novels, I was excited to take this on! So, let's start the countdown.

5. Amelia Rules!Jimmy Gownley

This is one of those series that was near and dear to my heart as a wee Susie, but I never really hear anyone else talk about, which is odd since, by all accounts, these books sold quite well when they were still being published. This was the first graphic novel series I was ever really into, and it was what really introduced me to the medium outside of the comic section in the local newspaper.

The series follows Amelia McBride, an eleven year old girl who's transplanted from New York City to suburban Pennsylvania when her parents divorce and she and her mom move in with her former rockstar aunt, Tanner. Over the course of the series, Amelia and her friends navigate their adolescence in the only way they know how: sarcasm, convoluted schemes, and dressing up as superheroes to pick fights with the local group of ninjas. There are eight books in the series, each covering a couple months of Amelia's life, beginning when she's in fifth grade and ending when she's in eighth grade. For my money, the best book is the third one, "Superheroes," but they're all amazing. They're definitely aimed at middle grade readers, but I'd recommend them to anyone; even now, I still find them hilarious, and the dramatic and sad moments are remarkably well-done. Overall, it's a great coming-of-age story for all generations.

4. Dramacon - Svetlana Chmakova

Another throwback to my childhood! "Dramacon" is the very first manga I ever read, and it's one of the few manga series that was originally written and published in English, which makes it much more accessible to Western audiences; it's also set in America, and written with Western tropes and standards in mind. I first read this when I was twelve and on a long road trip, and I devoured all three volumes in one sitting. The funny, fast-paced writing style and light and fluffy nature makes it perfect for some relaxation reading.

The series follows Christie, a perky, cheerful aspiring manga writer who's attending her first-ever anime convention with her artist boyfriend. An argument with her boyfriend over his tendency to hit on other girls leads to Christie storming off, causing her to literally collide with Matt, a sarcastic, antisocial, but otherwise goodhearted con attendee. Despite their initial bickering, Matt and Christie grow fond of one another, and slowly become friends in spite of themselves. From there, we follow Christie as she gets entangled not just with Matt, but with his sister, and other artists, writers and fans she meets at the convention.

There are three volumes in the series, each volume covering one weekend at the annual convention at which Matt and Christie meet. Over the course of three years, we get to see the characters change and grow, and their relationships deepen and grow more complex. It also offers some funny commentary on fandom culture. If you've ever been to a con, you know these people. It's also one of the very few series I've seen that actually does a bad boy properly. Matt's definitely got an edge to him, and he's definitely a "bad boy," but he's not a bad guy. In a world where so many writers think "bad boy" means "abusive asshole," it's refreshing. Matt's many things, but never abusive. If you want to read the series, I'd definitely suggest buying the "ultimate edition." It's got all three volumes, plus quite a lot of bonus content, such as author's notes, fanart, and even a bonus story. It may not be the most challenging or inspired manga, but it holds a special place in my heart, and it's a great read for when I'm feeling down.

3. The Killing Joke - Alan Moore

I think that as a die-hard Batman fan, I'm sort of contractually obligated to put this one on here.

"The Killing Joke" provides one of many backstories for the caped crusader's most famous foe, the Joker. As we learn his story, the Joker tells Batman that it only takes one bad day to drive the sanest man alive to madness. He attempts to prove this point by driving Commissioner Gordon over the edge by kidnapping him and brutalizing his daughter. (Nice of him, isn't it?) 

I almost feel like there's nothing I can say about this story that hasn't already been said. The art style is phenomenal, and the story, while deeply depressing, is very well-written and intriguing. Whether or not you choose to believe this version of the Joker's history, it provides some interesting background to one of the most famous villains in all of pop culture, and his interactions with Batman in this story are downright heartbreaking in some places, terrifying in others. I won't pretend I don't have a problem with the way women are treated in the story (they only seem to exist to be killed or horribly maimed), but I still enjoy the book wholeheartedly every time I read it.

2. Don't Take This Risk - Poison Apple Tales

This is a visual novel -- a form of interactive media that's like a cross between a book and a video game. They're usually quite simple to play, and focus more on storytelling than gameplay. Since I love a lot of the storytelling present in video games but suck at actual gameplay mechanics, visual novels tend to be right up my alley.

You play as a nameless young woman who receives a phone call from someone who mistakenly thought your number was the local suicide hotline. From there, what happens is up to you. You can try to persuade the man to call the hotline rather than go through with his plans to kill himself, you can try to hold a conversation with him, or you can meet him face-to-face. Depending on what route you take, you may find yourself dealing with a bit more than you bargained for. It's clear in all routes that the man is deeply unhappy and in need of help, but in some, you find that he's just as much a danger to you as he is to himself.

This visual novel is not what I'd call "fun." It is not. It is, however, deeply thought-provoking, and it definitely warrants discussion. There are nine possible outcomes, none of them particularly happy, and they all depend on one thing above all else: how much danger you're willing to put yourself in to try and help this complete stranger. It's not just a question of if you will do so -- it's a question of if you should. The man is certainly deserving of sympathy, and maybe even guidance, but depending on which route you take, you may find yourself wishing you hadn't taken his call, the more you get to know him. I will warn you right now that this is not for the faint of heart -- besides the heavy themes already mentioned, there's quite a lot of disturbing audio, an incredibly stalker-ish vibe in certain aspects, and the man will go through with it in most routes. This is a story that's equal parts horrifying and heartbreaking, and while I'd recommend giving it a look, I would not recommend playing it when you're home alone at night, as I stupidly did.

1. Death Note - Tsugumi Ohba

Often considered to be one of the greatest manga series of all time, "Death Note" has spawned an anime adaptation, multiple movies, a TV drama, a stage musical, a couple spin-off books... even an upcoming Netflix adaptation! (Which cast a white guy as the lead character despite him being explicitly Japanese, because Americans be ruining everything.) Even if you don't consider it to be one of the greatest, you can't deny it's one of the most popular. And I, being my basic-ass self, rank it at the top of my list.

For any of my readers who aren't much into anime and manga, I'll give a quick rundown of the plot. Light Yagami is a brilliantly intelligent, handsome, charismatic young man with three major flaws: his borderline-suicidal boredom, his rather immature view of justice, and a raging god complex. When he finds the Death Note, a notebook that can kill anyone simply by writing down their name, he declares himself Kira, god of the "new world," a world that will exist without criminals. Of course, people notice when criminals start dying in droves for no reason, and the police force brings in L, a reclusive genius detective, to catch Kira. From there, things get complicated. There are plans, deception, and internal monologues. And apples. Lots of apples. 

While I will be the first to admit that the series can get too much hype, and that certain parts of its massive fanbase can be kind of annoying, I still hold that "Death Note" is so incredibly popular for a reason. Its characters are incredibly memorable, and the battle of wits between Light and L is ceaselessly entertaining -- no matter which side you root for. L is one of my favorite fictional characters of all time, even if I do want to smack him upside the head about 75% of the time he's talking. (Fun fact: the manga's creator based him off of Batman!) The manga isn't too long, running for 12 volumes (believe me, for manga, that's short), and even if you're not into graphic novels, the anime is a very faithful adaptation. (Some people swear by the original Japanese cast with English subtitles, but personally, I'll take the English dub any day of the week. ...Please don't kill me.) If you like a dark story with lots of twists and turns, and characters you're not sure if you can side with, I urge you to check it out. Like I said: one of the most popular manga series of all time for a reason.


Thanks for reading! If you have any favorite "non-written" novels, please, share them below! 

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Sunday, February 12, 2017

Top 10 Reasons I Give Up on Books

Some people finish every book they start. Or at least claim to. 

I... do not. 

Look, I do my absolute best to give every book a fair shot. But sometimes, I just can't get through it, no matter how hard I try. These are ten things that make me 90% more likely to give up on a book.

10. Misleading back covers. 

This has to be one of the most annoying things that keeps happening to me when I try to find something to read. The back cover of a book promises me one plot, but then when I read it, I get a completely different one instead. I put this one at the lowest end of the list, because it's not a guaranteed DNF, If the book is still well-written and engaging, I'll probably get over it and finish it. But if the book's actual plot is a disappointment compared to the one given on the back cover, and it doesn't interest me, I'm almost guaranteed to quit.

9. Lots of spelling or grammar errors.

This is a problem that applies mainly to indie publishing, but I see things slip through the cracks with traditionally published books, too. I can understand a handful of grammar errors getting past the editor, maybe even a misspelled word every now and again, but if I'm catching an error in every single chapter, we have a problem. I understand that indie publishing is hard work, and the authors may not have the money to pay for a professional editor, but I still need to be able to follow what's going on, without being constantly distracted by errors.

8. Romantic subplots where romantic subplots do not belong.

No. No no no. Please, God, no.

Okay, look, sometimes I like romance, and I've read some really well-written ones. And, if a book is specifically advertised as a romance, then, yeah, of course I'm not going to get mad when there's a lot of romantic fluff in it. But far too often, I find myself reading a book that was NOT advertised as a romance, and skimming over the love scenes so I can get back to the actual plot. You know, the thing I picked up the book to read. If a romantic subplot is poorly written, a love triangle, or, horror of all horrors, a poorly written love triangle, I'm much more likely to give up. ESPECIALLY in cases where the subplot overtakes the whole book, to the point where it's more about these two teenagers' relationship than the evil force they're supposed to be battling.

7. Romanticized abuse.

Look. No relationship is perfect. Everyone has their problems, and those problems tend to influence their relationships. So sometimes, relationships are tempestuous, difficult, and exhausting. Hell, some relationships are downright unhealthy.

And I love reading about those relationships in fiction!

What I don't love, however, is when those relationships are presented as acceptable or something to be striven for. I'm talking Ana and Christian, Bella and Edward, Patch and Nora -- these are all deeply toxic relationships, but the problem is that they're portrayed as romantic, or even the ideal relationship. This is especially annoying in young adult fiction, since its target audience's worldview is still developing. Believe me, we do not need fiction to be sending the message that it's okay for your significant other to control every aspect of your life or be downright abusive. Certain public figures do that plenty as it is.

6. Being too predictable. 

This should be fairly self-explanatory. If I can predict exactly what's about to go down in the next three chapters, I'm probably not going to be paying enough attention to finish the book. Next!

5. Purple prose.

I know some people don't mind this as much as I do, but for me, using fifty words when you could've used ten just seems ridiculous, especially outside of NaNoWriMo. It's not so bad if it's just one or two characters that do this, and it's part of their personalities, but when the whole narrative is like this, it can get incredibly tiresome. Flowery and ornate descriptions can be done well, but they usually aren't. 

4. Walls of text.

This is related to the problem above, though it's more a layout problem than an actual writing problem. Plain and simple, huge blocks of text are a pain to read, and it's easy to lose your spot or zone out. Line breaks are your friend!

3. The empty shell protagonist.

It seems to be a popular trend in YA to make your protagonist as nondescript as possible so the reader can easily project themselves onto them and live their adventures. While I can see the logic, and understand why some people don't mind this, I've never liked it. Relatable characters are great, not to mention necessary, but if a character has no personality of their own, it's hard to really get invested or care about them -- or remember them after the fact. Not to mention, I can withstand a pretty weak plot if I like the characters, but not the other way around. You could have the most unique plot in the world, but if the characters aren't engaging, it's just hard to get into.

2. Moving at a snail's pace.

I usually try to give the book three chapters to grab me before moving on, since the first chapter is usually devoted to exposition, laying the groundwork, that kind of thing. But one of my major pet peeves is when we're ten chapters in and nothing has really happened yet. My favorite books tend to begin right when the action of the story does, and fill in the details of the world and the characters as we go along. Slow-paced books that are done well are certainly out there, but they're few and far between. Most of the time, I just find myself asking, "Oh my God, are we there yet?"

1. Completely unlikable characters.

This is definitely the #1 reason I give up on books, TV shows, and all sorts of media. I am all for morally grey characters, characters with an edge to them, characters who do bad things. But if there is nothing to like about them -- and I mean nothing... then, what's the point? This doesn't necessarily mean I want all my characters to be GOOD people. Take, for instance, the two major players of "Gone Girl," both of whom are deeply, deeply flawed. Some may even call one or both of them evil, and not be entirely wrong. But I still enjoy reading about them because they're both clever, highly motivated, and engaging, with deeply interesting personalities. I may not like them as people, but I still like them as characters. Characters that are not only awful people, but are also completely repulsive and, in worst-case scenarios, uninteresting, simply fail to hold my interest.

...Am I too picky? Probably. Do I give up too easily? Maybe. But, such is life.


Thank you so much for reading! What are some reasons you give up on books? Or are you the sort that finishes every book, no matter what? Tell me in the comments below!

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Saturday, February 11, 2017

BOOK REVIEW: Kill the Boy Band, or, Fandumb

 Kill the Boy Band

AUTHOR: Goldy Moldavsky

GENRE: thriller, comedy, satire

PLOT SUMMARY: An unnamed teenage girl and her three friends, Erin, Apple, and Isabel, are joined together by one common interest: their obsession with a boy band called The Ruperts. Bonding over stalking the guys, keeping up-to-date on all the latest news about them, writing fanfics about the band, and each fixating on their preferred Rupert, the four decide to rent a suite at a hotel where the boys are staying, all in the hopes of getting to meet them. At least, that’s all the narrator hoped for. Instead, however, she’s wound up being an accomplice when Apple accidentally kidnaps a member of the band – and the most useless member, at that! Things quickly spiral out of control, and the narrator is forced to ask herself how much she’s willing to participate in her friends’ insanity. Everyone knows fandoms can be crazy, but how far is too far?

FIRST THOUGHTS: I admit, I sometimes judge a book by its cover. In this case, my first thoughts upon seeing the cover were just, “Okay, I have to know.” Goes to show you what a good title can do! As I began reading, I was instantly hooked. The tone and general reminded me a lot of the movie “Heathers,” which is one of my favorite films of all time. The book is a dark satire on fandom, how society views fandom, and why fandom exists in the first place. It’s like if the worst of Tumblr got made into a book. (I swear, that’s a compliment.) The story’s a good, quick read, with a lot of black comedy to keep things from getting too heavy, but it also asks some valid questions. Why do people, teenage girls in particular, latch onto celebrities so much? Why do manufactured boy bands get so popular when even their own fans admit they’re not exactly the most inspired musicians ever? And will the popularity of boy bands be the end of society as we know it? (Okay, as the narrator says in regard to that last one – probably not.)

THOUGHTS ON PLOT: With a title like that, I expected some dark humor going in, and right from the get-go, I got my wish. This book is hilarious, while also having some genuinely dramatic and tense moments. From the very first page, the book’s plot pulled me in and kept me reading, hanging on its every word until the very last page. The story takes a turn from satire to mystery about halfway through, and while I kind of saw the resolution to the mystery coming, it still managed to be a fun ride while we got there. The book provides some fun, snarky commentary on fandom culture, while also criticizing society’s tendency to make fun of teenagers (especially teenage girls) for enjoying anything. I admit the ending was a bit of a disappointment. There’s no big climax where everything gets resolved – after all the drama is over,life simply goes on. Maybe it’s more realistic, but I expected a book this good to go out with a bang. It’s not a bad ending, just not the most exciting one. A word of warning – while it’s not a complete downer, it’s also not the most cheerful ending.

8 / 10

THOUGHTS ON CHARACTERS: Considering one of the main points of the book is to satirize fandom, especially those surrounding boy bands, I was expecting a cast of delightfully crazy fangirls, and the book definitely didn’t disappoint. Our four main characters are the narrator, her best friend Erin, the social media mogul Isabel, and the lonely rich girl Apple. Each girl has her own distinct personality, and it was great fun to watch them bounce off each other. They all felt like real people – if you’ve ever been deeply involved in a fandom, you probably know at least one of these girls. From the confused, semi-sane narrator to the vicious and attention-hungry Isabel, they all were a delight to read about. All four had another layer to their personality. If you think you’ve got them figured out from the get-go, keep reading – they may surprise you! I know they surprised me. I won’t reveal who surprised me the most, but let me just say, one of these four is the definition of a wild card. I also appreciated that the Ruperts themselves weren’t just bland, boring plot devices. They also all had distinct personality, and with each girl being fixated on a particular member of the band, they also served as great foils for our main characters. The Ruperts surprised me as I read the novel, though I didn’t find them quite as compelling as the girls. The Ruperts mostly got to shine in the rare scenes where we see them interacting with one another – there’s one scene about halfway through the book where three of the boys are arguing with each other, and it actually made me laugh out loud. The book’s cast is rounded out by Griffin (the band’s stylist), and Michelle (one of the boys’ sort-of girlfriend). Neither of them are particularly well-developed, but they’re both a nice addition to the story, and they both serve a definite purpose. Overall, the characters of this novel were an absolute delight, even if some (or even most) of them aren’t the nicest or most moral people around.

8.5 / 10

THOUGHTS ON WRITING STYLE: By far the author’s biggest strength is that she’s really, really funny. She also has a clear understanding of the age group she’s writing for and about. The dialogue feels mostly realistic, and there’s quite a bit of vocabulary that are staples of fandom. There are a couple instances where the girls use internet slang in spoken conversation, which most teenage girls don’t tend to do, but it’s nothing too bad. Overall, Moldavsky knows how to write a compelling story, and how to keep her reader interested. This is her first novel, and I definitely can’t wait to read more from her!

9 / 10

THOUGHTS ON POLITICAL STUFF: The novel has not one, but four leading ladies, at least two of whom are WOC. (Apple is Asian and Isabel is Latina – Erin and the narrator never have their ethnicity specified.) Hooray for diversity! Each girl appears to display a fangirl stereotype at the beginning, but as the plot goes on, their characters are examined more, and the stereotypes become greater insights into their personalities. Even if not all of them come off as particularly likable, none of them came off as lazy, one-dimensional characters. There’s also quite a bit of discussion on slut-shaming and how wrong it is – and at least one instance where the narrator catches herself slut-shaming someone else, and then immediately calling herself on it. She’s not perfect, but you can tell she’s making an honest effort to get past that sort of thinking, like so many of us are. I was glad to read that Apple was a larger girl (hovering around 250 pounds), though I was a bit put off that she was mainly the “fat comic relief” character, and that one of her biggest character traits was her insecurity about her weight. I would’ve liked to see her overcome that, but it is an unfortunate reality that most teenage girls would like to be thinner, regardless of their actual weight or health. Although I would’ve preferred to see Apple in a less stereotypical role, I did appreciate that none of the characters make any negative comments about her weight – except for one, but when it happens, it’s from a mostly unsympathetic character, and the comment is supposed to cement his role as an asshole, so it’s a more tolerable example than most. And, honestly – fat girls are a rarity in YA fiction. I’ll take what I can get. There are at least two LGBT characters, and the fact that one is closeted plays into the plot quite a bit. (There’s also, I may add, a perfect missed opportunity for a romance between Erin and the narrator, but I digress.) Although it doesn’t come up often in the story, there’s also mentions that the narrator has had issues with depression in the past, and she herself brings up the possibility that she’s mentally ill in other ways, but not yet diagnosed. The portrayal of her mental health never comes off as stereotypical or offensive, nor does it get used as her sole defining characteristic, while still making it clear how it affects her personality and daily life. Her depression isn’t her whole personality, it’s just something she has and has learned to live with.

7 / 10

FINAL THOUGHTS: If you’re a fan of dark comedy, I’d definitely recommend this book. It’s not the most challenging book, but if you’re looking for something fun and satirical, this may be the book for you. It’s one of the best books I read in the crapstorm that was 2016, and I expect to be reading it again, and again, and again. Now, who do I write to about getting a movie made?

FINAL GRADE: 8.1 / 10


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