Friday, May 19, 2017

DNF: RoseBlood by A.G. Howard


TITLE: RoseBlood

AUTHOR: A.G. Howard

GENRE: paranormal romance

SUMMARY: Rune is blessed with one of the most beautiful voices of anyone that's ever lived, but cursed with an affliction that causes her to be unbearably ill after every performance. Convinced that some artistic focus is the solution, Rune's mother ships her off to a French boarding school. There, Rune's life begins to mirror that of Christine DaaƩ, the heroine of "The Phantom of the Opera." Rune soon begins to question everything she knows. Is the Phantom real? And if he is, why is he interested in her?

HOW FAR I GOT: 248/432 pages

WHY I DIDN'T FINISH: I wanted to like this book. I really did. At first, I even enjoyed it, though I realized within the first chapter that this book was not great literature. But that in itself is okay -- the original novel isn't, either. I thought this would be a fun, guilty pleasure book, and at first, it was. But then, the cracks got too big to ignore. First of all -- Rune is half-Romani, but the author always describes her as a g*psy, which, as many of you probably already know, is considered a slur when used by anyone who's not Romani themselves. (Which A.G. Howard isn't -- I checked.) And it's not just the use of an outdated term, for which I could've been willing to give the author the benefit of the doubt, since the fact that g*psy is a slur isn't as widely-known as it should be. (The word "gypped" comes from that slur, by the way, so it's probably best to not say it. The more you know.) There's also a lot of talk of curses and magic and (and this is a direct quote) "cursed g*psy blood." I wish I were kidding. It was a real disappointment, since I've never seen a Romani character in YA fiction before, let alone in a leading role -- it's a shame her heritage got reduced to ugly stereotypes. (I always say that being white is no excuse to not have POC in your book, but seriously, if you're going to stereotype and not do your homework, don't bother.)

And that was far from my only issue with this book. I could go into how the supernatural elements felt forced and totally unnecessary, or how certain parts felt a bit slut-shamey, or how the worldbuilding felt confused and only half-explained. But what I want to hone in on is how it kind of fucked over Erik. This isn't just a retelling of "Phantom." It is established that the "Phantom" story we know did happen in this universe, and this is a continuation. So when Erik is trying to lure Rune down to his lair and do basically the same shit he did when Christine was alive, it completely destroys his character development. In the original story, Erik lets Christine go at the end, having finally realized that to truly love someone is to put their happiness before yours -- and that terrorizing the opera house, killing Raoul, and forcing Christine to marry him won't allow her to be happy, or him either, really. When he lets her go, he finally stops being a bad person. Maybe he's not a good one, but he's not inherently evil, and him letting her go shows that. So to have him trying to kidnap Rune (or worse) and essentially gaslight her to get what he wants fits with his character... at the start of the original novel. Afterwards? Well, I guess we're supposed to draw the conclusion that Erik didn't really change, and has in fact learned nothing. Which completely misses what makes him such a fascinating character. Yeah, Erik has done some awful, awful things, but he is, at his core, undeniably human. This book completely misses that. It would've worked much better as a modern-day retelling rather than a continuation. (Without the racism.)

(Also, having Erik be a supernatural immortal creature that has to feed on the life of others is just lame.)

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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

TOP 5 WEDNESDAY: Summer Reads

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 summer reads!

The weather is heating up (for half of the world), so what books remind you of summer and are your quintessential summer reads? 

This one was kind of hard for me, but I managed to find five books (or series) I always tend to read while I'm on vacation.

5. How to be Popular by Meg Cabot


This book is set at the beginning of the school year, but I always seem to reread it around summer vacation, for when I don't want something that makes me think very hard. Meg Cabot's YA novel, documenting a social reject's attempts at becoming popular -- or at least tolerated -- at her high school is lighthearted, funny, and a bit cheesy, but deeply enjoyable. I first read it when I was about eleven, and now it holds a lot of nostalgia value for me. It's a quick read, and one that I enjoy every time -- corniness and all.

4. The Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich


This is a series of twenty-four books (and counting!), centering around Jersey-born bounty hunter, Stephanie Plum. Stephanie strapped for cash, and there aren't many options for employment in her town, so, she decides to take on a job hunting down people who fail to show for their court dates. Trouble is, she's not very good at it, and she attracts trouble everywhere she goes. Luckily, Stephanie has a crew of friends and family members (and two on-off boyfriends, Joe and Ranger) to help her out. While admittedly formulaic and kind of trashy, these books are a ton of fun. Stephanie is a very likable heroine, and the supporting cast keeps things from getting too monotonous, even when you have a pretty good idea of where the plot is headed. While there is some continuity, the books are written in a way that you could easily read them in any order -- I started from book one, but it's hardly necessary. There's also a movie adaption of the first book, which... exists.

3. Kill the Boy Band by Goldy Molavsky


This is a dark comedy and thriller, centering around four fangirls who accidentally kidnap a member of their favorite boy band. (And the most useless member, at that.) As they debate what to do, things very quickly spiral out of control, and the narrator is left trying to get through the night with her sanity intact. This is another quick read -- I finished it all in a day. It's fast-paced and fun, with just enough twist and turns to keep it interesting. At the moment, this is the author's only book, but I'm definitely looking forward to reading more from her. She has a great knack for mixing humor with terror, and I enjoyed every page.

2. Paper Towns by John Green


A classic! This is my favorite John Green book, focusing on Quentin as he tries to track down Margo, the girl of his dreams, who has a tendency to vanish for days on end. This time, though, feels different -- this time, it feels like Margo isn't coming back. Worried for her safety, and wanting to get out of his comfort zone, Q enlists the help of his friends to find Margo, and hopefully bring her home. With it's Floridian setting and Q's anticipation of finishing high school, this is already a perfect summer read -- and the 24-hour road trip is the icing on the cake.

1. The Serge A. Storms series by Tim Dorsey


Much like "Stephanie Plum," this is a long-running series of books (twenty so far) that can be read in any order. They're also lighthearted, comedic books that don't require too much brainpower. However, these books focus on Serge A. Storms, a cheerful, affable serial killer with a knack for moneymaking schemes and Florida history. He kills people, but only in the name of justice (which is, as it turns out, very subjective) or preserving the ecology, economy, or history of the great state of Florida. Given his affinity for death traps, Serge is a surprisingly likable and friendly guy, and he usually makes an effort to protect the other protagonist of each book -- usually some poor, ordinary person who got dragged into Serge's latest scheme by sheer bad luck. These books are fun for everyone, but they're especially great if you live in Florida, like me. Tim Dorsey, having lived in Florida since he was a baby, loooooves this state, and it shows in his writing. I've actually been to many of the places described in the books, and I've experienced some of the inherent weirdness that comes with Florida firsthand. The best way to read these books is in Florida, preferably wherever it is Serge is causing trouble in the book you're on.

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Thanks for reading this top 5 list! What books do you like to read in the summer? Are there any hot new summer releases you're looking forward to? Tell me about them down in the comments!

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Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Psycho Lesbian and You, or, Why This Trope Needs to Die

Ah, the Psycho Lesbian trope.


Overtly homophobic. Implicitly ableist. Kind of sexist if you think about it. Outdated. Inaccurate.

And yet, so, so ubiquitous.

What is the Psycho Lesbian, you may ask? Simple. It is a woman in fiction who is attracted to other women -- technically she doesn't have to be a lesbian, but let's be real. If a writer is closed-minded enough to use this trope in the year of 2017, then they're probably too closed-minded to acknowledge that bi/pansexuality exists. But she's not a sympathetic or likable character, and she's usually not a well-rounded one, either. No, the Psycho Lesbian is evil, scary, mentally unbalanced, and above all, predatory. Maybe her evil acts are driven by her lust for another female character, or maybe she makes unwanted advances on her. In more overtly ridiculous examples, she may have been straight and sane at one point, before some traumatic event turned her gay, and evil. And, of course, crazy. Her moments of expressing attraction towards other women are treated as creepy and lecherous. (This can be especially infuriating when male characters made similar comments elsewhere in the story but didn't get treated as predators for it.) More often than not, she'll be extremely violent, especially when compared to the "good" women in the story.

Oh, yeah, and she's usually dead by the time the story is done.

It's no secret that, for the vast majority of history, media has been extremely homophobic. And for the vast majority of history, homosexuality was seen as a mental illness, and that the people who were "inflicted" with it should be pitied at best, killed at worst. So it's not too hard to see where this trope started. And, thanks to societal norms and laws condemning homosexuality, and creative restrictions like the Hays Code, even writers who didn't view queer people this way (some of whom may have even been queer themselves) were forced to either conform to this trope, kill all their gay characters or have them "turn straight," or keep the gay in their stories to subtext. (And even that wasn't always enough to protect yourself. Look up Oscar Wilde's trial for a perfect example of that.)

So, yeah. Queer people in fiction tend to get the shaft. And queer women in particular have a reputation for being predatory -- which just isn't true. It's an old stereotype, one that still plagues the WLW (women loving women) community to this day. If a girl dares to show interest in another girl, she's treated like she's "forcing" herself onto the girl, regardless of whether or not she actually is. Are there predatory lesbians out there? Sure. But there are plenty of predatory straight men out there, so why don't they get stereotyped? Why is it that a teenage boy developing a crush on his female best friend is seen as perfectly normal, but a teenage girl developing a crush on her female best friend is seen as creepy and weird? And why is it that a villainous lesbian in fiction who is motivated by love is almost universally treated less sympathetically than a villainous man?

The answer: homophobia, and a deeply-ingrained tendency to see homosexuality as "the other."

Women who actively pursue romantic or sexual relationships have had a long history of being viewed as "improper," or, if you're looking for the more commonly-used term, "slutty." Slut-shaming in fiction goes a looong way back, and still continues to this day, though it is fortunately starting to die down a bit. How many horror movies feature the shy, virginal protagonist surviving, while her sexually active, forward friend dies horrifically? So media already sends the message that a woman actively seeking out sex = death, even if you're a sympathetic character. But a woman actively seeking out sex from someone of the same gender? She's not like us! She's deviant! She's evil! And she must be punished.

But Susie, you say, it's just fiction! You shouldn't get so bent out of shape over this! But to that I say, fiction does not exist in a vacuum. People's worldviews are reflected in the content that they create, and people's worldviews are influenced by the content they consume. I'm not saying that reading a book that uses this trope makes you a homophobe, but these books further enforce the idea that gay people are "the other," and that being "the other" is bad. We're told to celebrate our differences, then told that if we're too different, we deserve shame and to meet violent ends. And that's not even getting into how this trope can feel to a queer woman, especially a young one whose worldview is still developing. These characters send the message to the WLW community that we're not worthy of love, or happy endings, or even life. Or of being treated with enough basic respect to get some representation that isn't an insulting caricature. For every queer woman like me who was raised in an accepting environment and always knew I'd be okay if and when I came out, there's one who was raised to believe that being who they are is inherently bad -- and the fact that this trope is still getting used doesn't help. So not only does this trope enforce the "us vs. them" mentality that is so prevalent in homophobia, it also enforces to young women that they better be straight, or else.

So, says the inevitable strawman comment, am I saying that there can be no villainous lesbians in fiction ever? Well, no. The problem isn't as simple as that. It's not that these are villains who just so happen to be lesbians. I wouldn't mind half as much if we got some WLW villains who are just as well-developed, sympathetic, intriguing, and human as the straight ones. I wouldn't mind half as much if the WLW villain had a counterpart in the form of one (or more!) WLW on the heroic side. I wouldn't mind half as much if we got some WLW villains whose love for another woman was used to humanize them rather than make them seem more deviant, and thus, more frightening. I wouldn't mind half as much if we got some WLW villains whose sexual orientation had fuck all to do with their villainy, and was just incidental.

But we don't get that. We get dehumanizing stereotype after dehumanizing stereotype. All the heroes are straight, and the only queer person in the cast is the bad guy. The bad guy makes unwanted advances on a hero, and grows more unbalanced until they meet their (often very violent) end. They are treated as different in a context where different is the last thing you want to be. The heroes get paired off into neat, happy, heterosexual couples, while the only queer person in the cast is dead, imprisoned, or worse. And they all lived happily ever after!

Douchebags.

I've said before that this trope is dying out, and I stand by that statement. Most of the "classic" examples of this trope are pretty old. But it's not dead yet. Hell, I was inspired to write this column when a book published in 2016 used this trope. 2016. While I am genuinely curious about what the hell made the author think that was a good idea, I was mostly just pissed off and disappointed. We're getting better, but the trope lives on.

The point I'm trying to make here is that the WLW community doesn't need any more Psycho Lesbian villains representing us. We've got plenty of those, thanks.

What we need are some heroes.

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I know this may not have been the most organized column in the world, but that's what happens when I write while emotional and fired up. This rant was inspired by the shitty, shitty book "The Cabin," which I reviewed here. If you've encountered the trope I'm talking about, tell me your thoughts down in the comments below.

Thank you so much for reading this column. If you'd like to continue supporting me and my work, consider becoming one of my Patrons. Patrons get all sorts of cool rewards, and get to vote in polls like this one here. Even as little as $1 a month can get you access to exclusive content, and it's a HUGE help to me. Thank you!

Thursday, May 11, 2017

BOOK REVIEW: The Cabin by Natasha Preston



TITLE: The Cabin

AUTHOR: Natasha Preston

GENRE: mystery

PLOT SUMMARY: Mackenzie is ready to cap off the summer with a weekend at partying at a remote cabin with her six friends. (Or, more specifically, her four friends, a guy nobody really likes, and the guy's brother, for some reason.) But when she comes downstairs to find her best friend and her boyfriend dead, suspicion turns to the five survivors. Half the town is convinced either Mackenzie or one of her dearest friends is a murderer, and she's forced to take matters into her own hands to figure out who's really responsible.

FIRST THOUGHTS: This might be the worst book I didn't actually DNF. Wait, no, I should open with something positive. This book was... short. It was definitely short. As a mystery, this book was lame and stale. As a story, it was unsatisfactory and, in some parts, kind of offensive. (I'll get to that soon enough.) The only reason I didn't DNF it is because it's incredibly addicting. It's like literary heroin; you know it's awful, but once you start, you can't stop. (Hey! That's two whole positive things! ...Sort of.)

DISCLAIMER -- I NORMALLY TRY TO KEEP MY REVIEWS SPOILER-FREE, BUT THE THINGS THAT PISSED ME OFF SO SEVERELY ABOUT THIS BOOK ARE SLIGHTLY SPOILERISH. IT'S A TERRIBLE BOOK ANYWAY, SO WHO CARES?

THOUGHTS ON PLOT: Yeah, this is a pretty basic and typical mystery setup, and don't expect any new and innovative ideas thrown in. It's lame cliche after lame cliche. There's even a Pretty Little Liars ripoff in the form of creepy text messages! And don't even get me started on the romantic subplot. It is one of the most groan-worthy insta-love plots I've ever seen. (Seriously, I actually, literally groaned aloud.) The protagonist meets her love interest for the FIRST. TIME. EVER. in the first chapter, and they're making out by the second. Not that instant attraction never happens -- Lord knows it does. I wouldn't have even minded them getting together so early on, but the protagonist is head over heels for a guy she barely even knows, and is willing to risk her life for the guy, when she's known him for all of two weeks. She also repeatedly insists that he can't be the killer, because she slept with him, and she "would not get intimate with a killer." (Direct quote.) Honey, that's not love. That's lust. The ending was something else that elicited a literal groan. I didn't see it coming, but that doesn't make it good. It just felt like a cheap twist to add shock value.

2 / 10

THOUGHTS ON CHARACTERS: The key word here is "one-dimensional." I will admit that I could keep all the characters straight, but they were all defined by one or two characteristics -- especially our lead, who is one of the most boring mystery protagonists on God's green earth. Mackenzie was completely dull and had basically no personality of her own, her love interest Blake came off as insufferable, and the other four survivors were all bland and unlikable. The murderer turns out to be pretty awful, for different reasons -- see the political stuff section below. The two murder victims were also completely impossible to care about. One was meant to come off as an ass, so everyone had a motive, but the other, we're supposed to care she's gone. But we don't, because we really only know what other people say about her. And that's another thing -- we're frequently told this character is protective or that character is loyal, but we never see it. The only other character of note is the detective inspector who's investigating the murders, and suspects Mackenzie. He's a ripoff of every "eccentric detective" stereotype on TV, and it's ridiculous. I have a feeling he's supposed to be and it's supposed to be funny (and it is kind of satisfying when Mackenzie exasperatedly calls him out on his shit), but mostly, it just feels lame and forced. He was more memorable than everyone else, though, I'll give him that much.

2 / 10

THOUGHTS ON WRITING STYLE: Nothing too exciting or worthy of mention here. She could spell and use grammar, at least, and I suppose the prose wasn't awful. It was addicting, as I already mentioned. But mostly, it just felt flat and easy to skim, and I also spotted some continuity and minor grammar errors that sneaked their way past the editor. I understand that it happens sometimes, and in a better book, I'd be willing to forgive it. But this is not a better book.

4 / 10

THOUGHTS ON POLITICAL STUFF: ...Hoo boy. I could start with how there are no diverse characters in this story whatsoever. Or how it treats having an abortion as some great moral failing that is to be Regretted and Angsted Over Forever™. Or how it manages to have a bisexual character without ever once using the word "bisexual." Or how all the female characters seem to be defined by their relationships. Or how it's revealed that one character once spiked another's drink so they could have sex with them, and this is never once referred to as what it is: rape. (I shouldn't have to say this, but kids -- a "yes" that can only be given with the assistance of booze or drugs IS NOT A "YES." Only a "yes" freely and consistently given.) I COULD GO ON. But what I really want to hone in on is this book's use of the Psycho Lesbian trope. Essentially, it's exactly what it sounds like -- when a woman who is attracted to other women is portrayed as evil, unhinged, dangerous, and predatory. Her homosexuality (or bisexuality, or whatever) makes her "crazy," and her "craziness" makes her evil. So it manages to pull off that fun little trick of being homophobic and ableist in one fell swoop! This trope has been around since fiction was allowed to acknowledge that gay people exist, and fortunately, it's dying. Unfortunately, it is a slow, slow death. That's not to say no lesbians in fiction can ever be villainous, but it's definitely not okay to have only one gay character, and for that character to just so haaaaaaappen to be the bad guy. And gay women in particular get a bad reputation for being predatory towards other women -- and the character in this book fits that stereotype (that harmful, untrue stereotype) to a tee. She's the drink-spiker I mentioned earlier, and her attraction to another woman is what drives her to do evil, unforgivable things. The fact that she's gay is clearly treated as being outside the norm, and her "deviance" adds to her villainy. Her attraction to women is what makes her threatening and scaaaary, both directly and indirectly. Now, I could understand if this book was written in the 80s or 90s -- values change over time, and it wasn't that long ago that the use of this trope is 100% the norm. It wouldn't be okay, but it'd be understandable. But this book was written in 2016. There is NO. EXCUSE. The book tries to make it seem like Mackenzie isn't judging her at all for her sexual orientation, and maybe Mackenzie isn't -- but the author certainly is.

0 / 10

FINAL THOUGHTS: Don't waste your time. On the bright side, this book got me fired up enough that I'm probably going to write an article about the Psycho Lesbian trope soon. So... yay? Actually, no. No yay. This book sucked.

FINAL GRADE: 1 / 10

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Wow. Have not hated a book this much in a long time. At least writing this review was cathartic.

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Wednesday, May 10, 2017

BOOK REVIEW: The Outliers by Kimberly McCreight

TITLE: The Outliers

AUTHOR: Kimberly McCreight

GENRE: thriller, mystery

PLOT SUMMARY: Wylie Lang has never quite been able to keep up with her wild child best friend, Cassie, but has become an extreme agoraphobe after the death of her mother. However, when Cassie texts her, after days of not speaking, begging Wylie to come and rescue her, Wylie does. She's used to Cassie getting herself into one mess or another, but somehow, this time seems worse than normal. Accompanied by Cassie's boyfriend Jasper, Wylie follows Cassie's increasingly-cryptic texts, various nightmare scenarios flashing through her head as she does. But none compare to the nightmare that's about to begin when Wylie and Jasper reach their destination.

FIRST THOUGHTS: ...Ugh. Okay, okay, that's not a very adequate descriptor. There must be a better word to sum it all up. But seriously -- ugh. I'm a huge fan of another novel by McCreight, "Reconstructing Amelia," so I was sorely disappointed by this one. Actually, that's a good word to sum up my experience reading this book: disappointed. It's not terrible or anything, but it doesn't hold up nearly as well to other thrillers the YA market has to offer. What starts off as a typical but promising mystery quickly devolves into a confused mess of tangled plot lines and character motivations. It's not a very hard read, but it's hard to get lost, and even harder to care enough to try and sort it out.

THOUGHTS ON PLOT: Lord knows there is no shortage of "missing best friend" stories in the thriller genre, especially those aimed at young adults. It makes sense -- it gives your protagonist an automatic reason to care and get involved in the drama, and by extension, a reason for your audience to care, too. But with such a ubiquitous setup, you almost have to throw in a twist or two to keep it fresh. And while this book has no shortage of twists, it does not work very well, at least not for me. Part of the problem is that there are so many, done with varying degrees of skill. While I admit I didn't see the majority of them coming, several of them made me go, "Oh, come on!" And that's another issue; a lot of them seemed to come out of absolutely nowhere. I read the book totally spoiler-free, so I was completely blindsided by the big plot twist that comes about 3/4 of the way in. It honestly feels like you've stumbled into another, much more confusing book. And the ending annoyed me, too. Not only because it's yet another twist, but because the story doesn't end. The book's ending is just a setup for the next book, and so, the book isn't a complete story in itself.

4 / 10

THOUGHTS ON CHARACTERS: Wylie is a very compelling main character. I'm not sure I'd call her likable, but honestly, with all the shit she goes through, she's earned the right to be a bit unlikable. Yeah, she does stupid things sometimes and isn't always the nicest, but she's clearly goodhearted and brave, and generally comes off as a nice girl who got in way over her head. Jasper was also a pleasant surprise. Set up to be the typical "bad boy" (read: abusive asshole), the fact that he turns out to be a genuinely goodhearted, upstanding kind of guy who just happens to have a temper problem was very nice.  I was also relieved when it became apparent that he really does love Cassie, and that the book didn't pull the stupid "main boy and main girl fall in love because it's YA and that's what the statistics say the market wants" thing. Against all odds, I actually turned out to like Cassie, too -- and in some ways, she was more interesting than Wylie. So I liked all three leads. Yay! Unfortunately, the rest of the cast felt lacking and one-dimensional. Even characters like Wylie's parents, Lexi, and Dr. Caton, who I felt like had real potential to be interesting, just didn't cut it for me. A lot of the side characters' motivations felt vague and unsubstantial, like they were just there to cause drama rather than further the plot. Wylie, Jasper and Cassie basically carry the book -- which, had I liked the plot more, would've been enough.

5 / 10

THOUGHTS ON WRITING STYLE: As far as prose goes, McCreight has been, and continues to be, above-average. She's not too purple or too beige, and does a good job of setting the scene. Her internal monologue for Wylie is pretty good, too. However, in some parts, the dialogue (especially as spoken by the antagonists) comes off as rather forced, and at times, even cliche. As mentioned above, a lot of the twists didn't feel properly foreshadowed, either. I feel like this book could've benefited greatly from maybe one or two more rounds through the BETA readers and editors. It's not terrible or even carelessly done -- just in need of some extra polish.

6 / 10

THOUGHTS ON POLITICAL STUFF: By way of diversity, this book doesn't have much. Wylie's family has a traditionally Asian last name, but their ethnicity is never mentioned, so I'm not going to count it. Cassie is fat and is still portrayed as being attractive, so that's a plus, at least. Other than that, there are no diverse characters to speak of. By far my biggest gripe, however, is the portrayal of mental illness. First -- Wylie suffers from extreme anxiety and depression, and is so agoraphobic she can't leave her house at the start of the novel. But, when Cassie calls for help, she just magically gets over her phobia. True, she's still a nervous wreck and it clearly takes a lot of effort on her part, but it felt a little too easy for me. If she was going to conquer her fear that early and easily, why include it at all? Second -- Wylie's greatest fear is being committed. This is an understandable fear, and one can easily see why the idea of being forced into an institution would frighten her, but the fact that it's constantly used as a threat against her really didn't sit well with me. The narrative goes back and forth over whether or not we're supposed to sympathize with the character threatening her, but the entire time, it just feels uncomfortable to read, and not in an intentional way. Finally, I felt like the majority of Wylie's character was based on her mental illness. Obviously, having depression and anxiety as extreme as hers would greatly affect one's personality, but there are times when it feels like that's all she is, like she has no personality traits that are unconnected to it. So, at times, Wylie comes off as more of an archetype than a fully fleshed out character, which is just plain unfortunate.

4 / 10

FINAL THOUGHTS: This book is really not up to par with Kimberly McCreight's previous work. I've noticed that reviews for pretty much all her books tend to be quite divisive, and the reviews for this one are no exception. ...You can probably tell where I stand. It's far from the worst book ever, and it held my attention long enough for me to finish, but I have no intention with carrying on with the series.

FINAL GRADE:  4.5 / 10

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Thank you so much for reading this review! If you've read "The Outliers," tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

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Tuesday, May 9, 2017

BOOK REVIEW: Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon





TITLE: Everything, Everything

AUTHOR: Nicola Yoon

GENRE: romance

PLOT SUMMARY: Madeline is allergic to everything. Literally. Born with a rare disease, anything could send Madeline into a life-threatening illness. She cannot leave her house, and rarely sees anyone besides her mother/physician, and her nurse, Carla. She isn't too upset about this, most of the time. It's hard to miss something you never had. But then, a family moves in next door, and the teenage son, Olly, takes an interest in Madeline. Texting and emailing in secret, Madeline and Olly develop a quick and intense friendship, and for the first time ever, Madeline begins long for the outside.

FIRST THOUGHTS: This is a very, very popular book, and a movie based on it is coming out soon. I'd been meaning to pick it up ever since it was first released, but I only just got around to it. I read this book in a single day, which seems to be a common occurrence among readers. I'll admit this isn't the most subversive or unpredictable story ever, but I really enjoyed it, and it got me hyped up to see the movie. It's a sweet love story with an unusual set of circumstances for our protagonist, and I had a good time reading it, despite its issues.

THOUGHTS ON PLOT: I love the initial setup -- it provides an obstacle for our couple without resorting to the usual stupid "will they or won't they" crap. The story is very fast-moving, and it's a very, very easy read. It's also incredibly addicting; I actually stayed up late to finish it. The love story feels believable, and the world Madeline and Olly are in feels very, very real. There's also a twist ending, which I have mixed feelings about. It isn't foreshadowed all that well, and it feels a little tacked on, just so there can be a happy ending. But the reveal is written pretty well, and it doesn't handwave the consequences of the twist, so that's a plus.

7 / 10

THOUGHTS ON CHARACTERS: I really love Madeline as a protagonist. She's kind, strong-willed, intelligent, and optimistic, but understands the reality of her situation, and does the best she can with what she has. It was really fun to see her grow and develop as a person, and how she changed through her relationship with Olly, but wasn't defined by it. I liked Olly, too, and he was much more well-developed and likable than the average YA boyfriend. I sort of wish I could've seen him interact with someone besides Madeline -- I think more facets of his personality would've come to light if he had. I also really enjoyed the side characters of Madeline's mother, and her nurse, Carla. Both women care very deeply for her, but it manifests in vastly different ways, and it was really interesting to see how Madeline interacted differently with both of them. It's a small cast, but a strong one.

7 / 10

THOUGHTS ON WRITING STYLE: This book is told in a combination of regular narration, emails, IMs, drawings, and other notes and "snippets" from Madeline's life. This keeps things from getting too monotonous, and also provides a nice little look into Madeline's world. The prose is also great, and manages to illustrate the life Madeline's living without getting too infodumpy. I also really enjoyed reading the IM conversations between Madeline and Olly -- they felt very real, like something two teenagers would actually write to one another. The dialogue was also very well-done. Each character had their own unique voice, and it was always easy to tell who was talking -- no one blended together or got mixed up in my head.

8 / 10

THOUGHTS ON POLITICAL STUFF: First, the positive. This book has a biracial lead (half-Japanese, half-black), and features an interracial couple. There are also several POC side characters, including Carla and Madeline's mother, and a gay character who is closeted but not shamed for it. Yay! However, this book has had... mixed reactions from the disabled community. Some have said that they don't like the notion that Madeline's being forced to live her life in a very restricted way with very real limitations is simply her existing, not really living -- the implication that people who can't do as much as others due to their health aren't really "alive." That's... a really good point. I know parts of the disabled community take umbrage with the twist I mentioned earlier, too. I'm not disabled myself, so it's not my place to judge, but I will say that while I still enjoyed the book greatly, I can't deny that the implications are a tad... unfortunate.

7 / 10

FINAL THOUGHTS: This book is by no means perfect, but it's a very well-written and engaging love story, and great for when you want to kill an afternoon reading. I'm eagerly looking forward to seeing the movie. (Especially because, hello, Amandla Stenberg!) I'd recommend it to anyone who's a fan of YA contemporary, or for people who are looking for a romantic drama that isn't a goddamn love triangle.

FINAL GRADE: 7.25 / 10

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Monday, May 8, 2017

BOOK REVIEW: The Merciless II by Danielle Vega


TITLE: The Merciless II: The Exorcism of Sofia Flores

AUTHOR: Danielle Vega

GENRE: horror

PLOT SUMMARY: Following the horrific night where she and her three friends attempted to exorcise a demon from a classmate, Sofia is traumatized, terrified, and ready for a change. She gets her chance when the sudden death of her mother leads to her being shipped off to a Catholic boarding school for troubled teens. The school is strict, repressive, and claustrophobic, but slowly, Sofia gets her bearings, befriending her new roommates and starting work on the school play. But bad things always seem to happen when Sofia's around -- bad things that, deep down, she almost wanted to happen. Is there really evil lurking inside of Sofia? And was what she saw that awful night truly real?

DISCLAIMER - THIS REVIEW WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS FOR THE FIRST BOOK. READ THE FIRST BOOK FIRST, MOSTLY BECAUSE IT'S GREAT, BUT ALSO BECAUSE I AM ABOUT TO SPOIL ALL OF IT. OKAY? OKAY. 

FIRST THOUGHTS: OK, so as mentioned elsewhere on this blog, I adored the first book in "The Merciless" series. So I was really excited to pick up the sequel. As a book, "The Merciless II" was okay, maybe even good, but as a sequel, it was a bit of a letdown. Far from the worst sequel I've ever read, but after being so hyped to continue on with the series, this book just didn't deliver. It took the issues I had with the first book and made them more prominent, and thus harder to look past. (I'll go more into detail below.) It's not bad by any means - Danielle Vega's still a very talented author, and I'm still invested in this world she's created. But it's not what I was hoping for.

THOUGHTS ON PLOT: Remember how I said the first book was a slow build, taking its time to set the stage before the real horror began? Well, this book did that, but by a million, and to not-so-awesome effect. Whereas the first book kicked into high gear about a quarter of the way in, this book took about 80% of the way to get there. The pre-excitement stuff isn't bad, but it felt more like waiting for the real plot to begin. Once the excitement did start, it moved incredibly quickly, and was extremely tense -- exactly as a horror novel should be. I just wish it hadn't taken so long to get there. I'm also not too wild about the twist ending. The last book ended with Brooklyn telling Sofia that, as a demon, "we don't harm our own." While that twist was insane, and I was worried about how it'd be handled, it made sense for the story, and was foreshadowed. The twist at the end of this book felt more like drama for drama's sake. I hope the next book proves me wrong.

6 / 10

THOUGHTS ON CHARACTERS: In terms of characters, there were some... missed opportunities, to say the least. Sofia is still wonderful as a protagonist, and I still really liked her and rooted for her, even as she had less than sympathetic thoughts and moments over the course of the story. She's definitely flawed, but not irredeemable, and deeply sympathetic. Sofia's roommates are fun and interesting in their own way, but neither of them have the same character depth as Sofia, and feel more like plot devices than anything. Sofia's love interest Jude, however, was a pleasant surprise -- and sometimes, a not-so-pleasant one. (Read the book, and you'll see what I mean.) He was way more interesting than Sofia's crush from the last book, and actually had a purpose in the plot, which is always nice. What really disappointed me the most, however, was Brooklyn's role in this book. In the last book, Brooklyn was my favorite character. In this book, however, she didn't get much to do, and was surprisingly lacking when she did show up, which is a disappointment considering the last book set her up as the main antagonist. She's actually more threatening when she's not there, but Sofia still feels her presence. When she is in the scene, she feels a little too cartoony for my liking, lacking the realism and subtlety that made Riley so terrifying in the last book.

6 / 10

THOUGHTS ON WRITING STYLE: I don't have much to add on this section from my last review. Danielle Vega is still a very talented, very skilled atmospheric writer, and I still really enjoy her dialogue and descriptions. As slow-paced as the plot was, it was still a very easy, fast read (two sittings for me), and the bouts of genuine horror in this book were very well-written. I just wish there'd been more of that, and less build-up.

8 / 10

THOUGHTS ON POLITICAL STUFF: Just like the last book, this book is female-driven, with a WOC protagonist. One of the major supporting characters is a WOC, as well. Just like the last book, religion-based hysteria and madness is a major driving force. However, things get much more complicated when the ending of the last book confirms that there are demons. One of Sofia's main struggles in the book is trying to figure out if she really is one like Brooklyn said, and if she is, is she truly beyond redemption. While the religious school is portrayed as oppressive and suffocating, the religion itself isn't portrayed as being inherently bad, and with demons out there, even the bad religious people come off as the lesser of two evils. I'm not entirely sure how I feel about that, to be honest...

7 / 10

FINAL THOUGHTS: While I ultimately found this to be a bit of a letdown when compared to the first book, I still enjoyed "The Merciless II." I think it added to the atmosphere and it definitely set the stage for the next book. Unfortunately, it felt more like an intermission between the first book and the third one, instead of a fully complete story in its own right. I still fully intend to read the third book in the series, which is set to come out this summer. Here's hoping "The Merciless III" picks up the slack!

FINAL GRADE: 6 / 10

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