Friday, September 29, 2017

Susie's Halloween 2k17 TBR


Boys and girls of every age, wouldn't you like to see something strange? Come with us and you will see this, our town of Halloween!

THIS IS HALLOWEEN, THIS IS HALLOWEEN--okay, okay, so it's still September and Halloween isn't until the last day of October. But don't blame me for getting into the spirit of things early. I've seen some of y'all celebrating in July.

In the spirit of our creepiest, darkest holiday, I've compiled a list of books I want to read by the end of Halloween night. All of these have a darker, more sinister tone than my usual fare -- which makes them perfect for October.

1. Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake


I've already started this one! A dark fantasy, this is set in a world where every generation, the queen gives birth to three triplet girls. When the sisters come of age, they duke it out for the throne. I'm enjoying this book so far, though the prose does make it a bit hard to get into. I'm excited to see how it ends. (No spoilers!)

2. Truly Madly Deadly by Hannah Jayne


A murder mystery, where a teenage girl's abusive boyfriend dies in a sudden accident... and she gets a note that simply reads, "You're welcome." I've actually had this book on my shelf for literal YEARS, but I've never gotten to it. Until now!

3. Uprooted by Naomi Novik


I'm probably the most excited to read this book out of everything on this list. In the village in which Agnieszka lives, a wizard known as the Dragon protects the citizens in exchange for a girl being handed over every ten years. Everyone knows being chosen by the Dragon is a terrible fate, and Agnieszka is terrified that this time, he'll choose her best friend, Kaisa. But it's not Kaisa he wants; it's her/

4. Vicious by V.E. Schwab


Picture, if you will, two college roommates, thick as thieves. Then, fast forward ten years. One's a supervillain. The other is on a crusade to kill everyone with superpowers. Chaos ensues. I've heard amazing things about this book, and I hear it's becoming a series, so I can't wait to jump in.

5. Shallow Graves by Kali Wallace


I actually had the pleasure of interviewing Kali Wallace for this blog a couple months ago (see here), so I'm excited to start this book! Breezy wakes up in a grave a year after her death, with no memory of what happened. Now, she must solve her own murder, and figure out why she's alive... or at least, awake.

Five books in just over a month is ambitious, but I have faith that I'll be able to knock at least a couple of these out this month. Stay tuned for the reviews!

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What books are you looking forward to reading this spooky season? Tell me about them down below!

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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

DNF: Entwined by Heather Dixon


TITLE: Entwined

AUTHOR: Heather Dixon

GENRE: fantasy

SUMMARY: After the death of her mother, Azalea and her eleven younger sisters are confined to the castle for a year in mourning. There is to be no going outside, no wearing colorful clothing, and no dancing. However, one night, Azalea finds a secret passage in their bedroom. The passageway leads to a beautiful pavilion, where there is only one living occupant: Keeper, who says the princesses are welcome to come and dance there whenever they like. But Keeper isn't all he appears to be...

HOW FAR I GOT: 280/472 pages

WHY I DIDN'T FINISH: Fairy tale retellings tend to be hit or miss -- this was a serious miss. My main gripe is the character depth, or rather, the lack thereof. There are loads and loads of characters, and right from the get-go, I had difficulty telling any of the princesses apart. There are attempts at giving each one their own unique personality, but it just did not work for me. And the secondary characters were even worse; I could scarcely tell the difference between Azalea's love interest and a character she utterly despises. I also felt like Azalea herself was a really flat and uninteresting protagonist. The only two characters with really distinct personalities were the King, Azalea's father, and Keeper. Unfortunately, the big twist about halfway through the story, in my opinion completely robs Keeper of any real character depth and complexity. Another issue I had is that the worldbuilding felt very... incomplete. I barely understood what the rules of the magic were, and didn't really care to figure it out. Overall, this book isn't so much bad as it was boring.

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If you've read Entwined, I'd love to hear your thoughts below. Alternatively, if you know of any other adaptations of The Twelve Dancing Princesses that you enjoyed, tell me about them!


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Monday, September 18, 2017

OwlCrate, September 2017

OwlCrate is a monthy subscription box where you get sent a new YA book and all sorts of cool merch and goodies, all pertaining to a certain theme.

This month's theme was MYTHICAL CREATURES! Here's all the stuff I got in my box this month. If you want to sign up for OwlCrate, their website is here.


This month's box included...
  • Before She Ignites by Jodi Meadows. The first in a new trilogy (by one of the authors of My Lady Jane -- awesome!), this story follows Mira, who has lived a charmed life... until now. Thrown into prison after she discovers a secret involving illegal dragon trafficking, Mira must fight to survive.
  • A book sleeve with unicorns and mermaids on it, made by Book Beau. I've never used a book sleeve before, but the one I received is beautiful.
  • Bath salts themed after the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series.
  • A coin purse with dragons on it.
  • A sticker with a picture of Hagrid and Buckbeack from Harry Potter -- adorable!
  • A bookmark with the words "I am the blood of the dragon." I... think this is a Game of Thrones reference, but I'm honestly not sure.
There's also a preview for next month's theme: FIND ME IN THE FOREST. Can't wait!

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Wednesday, September 13, 2017

SnarkNotes: The Disaster Artist by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell

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 Disaster Artist by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell!



GENRE

  • autobiography
  • nonfiction
  • comedy of the cringiest variety

SUMMARY

  • think of the worst movie you've ever seen
  • now double it in terms of awfulness
  • now add every behind the scenes nightmare that you can think of
  • now you might be somewhere in the ballpark of what is considered to be the worst movie ever made, The Room
  • back in the 90s, Greg Sestero met Tommy Wiseau at an acting class
  • Tommy is objectively terrible at everything and has a difficult personality to boot, but in spite of it, he and Greg become friends
  • a few years later, Tommy convinces Greg to star in his magnum opus, a movie called The Room
  • it's a fucking disaster
  • and this is Greg's take on how it all went down

PROS

  • really funny
  • if you get the audiobook I'm told Greg does a Tommy impression (and if you've seen the movie you know why that's objectively amazing)
  • I love behind the scenes stories, especially ones for movies as (in)famous as this
  • a surprisingly touching story about friendship and following your dreams
  • or, you know, the danger thereof

CONS

  • found myself skimming over some parts
  • sadly only shows Greg's perspective, which, for such a magnificent shitshow, really is not enough
  • the bits with Tommy's possibly-fake backstory felt a bit pointless to me
  • as someone who is interested in film production, reading the bits about the filming made me want to devour myself inward out of sheer secondhand embarrassment (which I think was the intent)
  • honestly a lot of the most hilariawful parts of The Room aren't NEARLY as funny once you know how awful it was for the actors

OTHER NOTES


  • I don't normally read nonfiction but I'm glad I read this
  • I would LOVE to see similar works from other cast and crew members (except Tommy)
  • I'm also really excited to see the movie that's coming out later this year
  • it has Dave Franco and Zefron, how bad could it be?


RATING: 6.5/10

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

BOOK REVIEW: Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

TITLE: Crooked Kingdom

AUTHOR: Leigh Bardugo

GENRE: fantasy

DISCLAIMER: This review will contain spoilers for the first book in the duology, Six of Crows. If you haven't read that book and wish to go in unspoiled, stop here.

PLOT SUMMARY: Kaz Brekker and his crew have just pulled off a heist no one expected them to survive, but the trouble's far from over. First, the man that hired them never intended to pay them what they were promised. And now, he's kidnapped Inej, Kaz's second in command, and is holding her hostage until Kaz hands over the secret to parem, the magic-enhancing drug that could destroy life as they know it. Kaz, never one to take this kind of disrespect lying down, has a plan to destroy their foe's entire life, brick by brick, until he rues the day he ever went back on his end of their deal. But getting Inej back will be the easy part...

FIRST THOUGHTS: A great followup to Six of Crows! Among all the rave reviews for this duology, one sentiment cropped up over and over: "Both books are good, but the second one is better." Now that I've read both of these massive tomes almost back-to-back, I have to agree. It's a great followup, one of the few that manages to surpass the first.

THOUGHTS ON PLOT: While the first book was a straight-up heist story, the grand plan for this book can be summed up in two words: "Burn. Everything." (Okay, Kaz's master scheme is a little more complex than that, but still.) As a lover of revenge stories and a noted supporter of burning things, I enjoyed this book's plot even more than the original. I also found this one to be a bit easier to follow, but maybe that's because I was more accustomed to the world in which its set. I also liked the ending much better, and I thought that the story's conclusion was fitting. It completes the story and leaves the reader satisfied, but still leaves plenty of openings for future installments, whether they include Kaz and his crew or not.

8 / 10

THOUGHTS ON CHARACTERS: The six leads from the first book are back, and better than ever. It was interesting to see how all the characters have developed from the start of Six of Crows, and how they continued to grow throughout Crooked Kingdom. I also really liked the side characters introduced in this book, especially Jesper's father, a much-needed compassionate adult in this series. (Seriously, for all the stealing, lying, and murdering our protagonists do, they're all like eighteen at the outside.) I also appreciated how much better developed the series' villains are in this book compared to the last. Don't get me wrong, they're still evil, but we also get a better sense of their personalities and motivations, which serves to make them seem much more real, and by extension, like a much more serious threat. There is one major character death in this book, and while it wasn't quite in make-you-cry territory, it was an unexpectedly powerful punch to the gut. (Especially considering I accidentally got the death spoiled for me before I started reading!)

9 / 10

THOUGHTS ON WRITING STYLE: Nothing to add from the last review. Bardguo is still a really talented author, and I really enjoyed reading her prose. (I also appreciated that she added a list of all the characters at the back -- I needed it.)

8 / 10

THOUGHTS ON POLITICAL STUFF: I have no notes to add from the last book -- at least, none that wouldn't get spoilerish. This is one of the most diverse YA books I've ever read, and just like its predecessor, it manages to avoid the traps of stereotyping its minorities. Disabled people, abuse survivors, POC, and queer people alike all get a turn in the spotlight. As I mentioned in my review of Six of Crows, I hope that other YA authors follow Bardugo's lead, especially since this book is as popular as it is.

10 / 10

FINAL THOUGHTS: I'm really glad I took the time to read this series. While I will note that it is a bit overhyped (as popular books tend to be), it's well worth the read. I'd love to see it get adapted into movies or a series -- I think Neelam Gill would make a perfect Inej. I'm looking forward to reading The Grisha Trilogy, Bardugo's other series set in the same universe. In fact, I already own the first book, so look forward to seeing reviews very, very soon.

FINAL GRADE: 8.75 / 10

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Wednesday, September 6, 2017

BOOK REVIEW: The Hearts We Sold by Emily Lloyd-Jones

TITLE: The Hearts We Sold

AUTHOR: Emily Lloyd-Jones

GENRE: paranormal

PLOT SUMMARY: Dee Moreno needs money. Fast. She's about to lose her scholarship at boarding school, and she can't go home. Home means returning to her abusive father, which is the worst thing Dee can imagine. Fortunately (or, unfortunately, depending on how you look at it), demons exist in this world, and they'll make deals in exchange for body parts. The demon Dee meets offers her all the money she'll need for school and more -- in exchange for leasing her heart for two years. The demon keeps his end of the bargain, but Dee soon finds that keeping hers will be harder than expected. The demon has a very specific reason for needing heartless teenagers available to do his bidding... one that leaves no guarantee they'll survive until their contract is up.

FIRST THOUGHTS: I honestly had no idea what I was expecting when I went into this novel. It was OwlCrate's book of the month for August, and honestly, I'm really grateful that they sent it to me -- I don't know if I would've bothered with it if they hadn't. Trust me when I say this book is worth your time; it's original, exciting, and thought-provoking. The world its set in is like ours, but not at the same time; it seems familiar at first, but the further you go, the more you realize just how different it is. It's a great concept that's executed really, really well, and I hope more people discover it soon.

THOUGHTS ON PLOT: One interesting thing to note about The Hearts We Sold is that, ultimately, it's a tiny look into what we can assume is a huge story. There are loads of demons around, making deals for their own reasons, but we only get to know one demon and a handful of people who made a deal with him. We don't even get to meet everyone who's dealt with him before! In a way, though, that works to the book's advantage -- it stops the world from getting too expansive and confusing. We're peering through a window to a very small part of this world, and the part we get to see is great. The plot is very fast-moving, encompassing the most stressful few months ever, building on itself until the big finale. I was sad when I reached the last page, but the ending is satisfying and ultimately fits the story very well -- and it leaves room open for sequels, if the author decides to go that route. (Even if she doesn't, the fanfic writers can have fun with it.)

8 / 10

THOUGHTS ON CHARACTERS: Although the main focus of the story is Dee, this book features a strong ensemble. There's James, an artist who's Dee's love interest, Gremma, Dee's rambunctious roommate, science whiz Cal, team mom Cora, explosions-happy Riley, and the Agathodaemon, the demon Dee makes her deal with. While not all these characters are as well-developed as Dee, they all help make the story feel much more real. I really loved the character of the Agathodaemon (or the Daemon, as the humans call him -- don't call him Aggy), and I wish we'd gotten to see more of what his deal was. He's a private fellow, rather strict, and doesn't seem to care much for humans, so we only get to see brief flashes of what's really going on inside. But those brief flashes are what made him a genuinely intriguing character, even when he serves as a pseudo-antagonist. He's not evil, per se, but he's no hero -- which is part of what made his dynamic with the heartless troop so fun to read.

8 / 10

THOUGHTS ON WRITING STYLE: This is one of those books that pulls you in from the first line. I was immediately hooked. From there, the narrative kept a tight hold on me until the very last page. Most of the chapters are from Dee's point of view, but there are a few that focus on the other members of the heartless troop. I was surprised by how well these worked; each chapter had its own distinct tone and voice to fit its focus character, and none of it felt confused or redundant. I also liked how the author introduced us to the rules of this world; the fact that Dee is relatively new to the whole thing means we learn as she does, so there's a nice lack of infodumping. This is a very quick, easy read; it sucks you in instantly, and it's near-impossible to stop until you get to the end.

8 / 10

THOUGHTS ON POLITICAL STUFF: What a pleasant surprise! While the story isn't super-political, Dee is half-Latina, and one of the side characters is a lesbian, while another is trans. Both queer characters and open and proud of their identities, but neither are defined by them. This is a book that most authors, at least in my experience, would've made very straight and white, so I was glad to see that Lloyd-Jones didn't. Representation in stories that aren't necessarily political is every bit as important as stories that are political.

7 / 10

FINAL THOUGHTS: I deeply enjoyed The Hearts We Sold, and I'll definitely check out anything else the author puts out in the future. This book is pretty new, so it's not super-popular, but I'm glad to see it's been getting good reviews -- hopefully it'll find a proper fandom soon, because it really deserves it. I'd be interested in any sequels, or any other stories set in this world. The author has a good concept here, and it'd be a shame for it to stop with Dee's story.

FINAL GRADE: 8 / 10

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The next book I'm reading will be Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo, but after that, I'm leaving it up to a vote by my Patrons. Patrons can vote HERE -- become a Patron now to have your say!

If you've read The Hearts We Sold, I'd love to hear your thoughts below!



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Friday, September 1, 2017

BOOK REVIEW: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo



TITLE: Six of Crows

AUTHOR: Leigh Bardugo

GENRE: fantasy

PLOT SUMMARY: Kaz Brekker, a teenage mastermind residing in crime capital Ketterdam, is recruited to perform an impossible job. If he fails, he dies -- and, frankly, not a lot of people will miss him if he does. If he succeeds, however, he'll be rich beyond his wildest dreams. But to pull it off, Kaz will need help; a spy who can collect secrets on anyone, a sharpshooter who can't resist a bet, a runaway from the privileged world Kaz never knew, a refugee using magic to survive Ketterdam, and a convict who hates Kaz and everything he stands for. Kaz and his crew are all that stands between the world and horrific destruction... that is, if they can survive the job.

FIRST THOUGHTS: I'd heard many, many people rave about this book, but I admit, I wasn't expecting it to be as incredible as it was. While it did take me awhile to get used to the setting, as well as figure out what the rules of this universe are, the characters and plot were compelling enough for me to stick it out. I know this book and its sequel, Crooked Kingdom, take place in the same universe as The Grisha Trilogy, which is on my TBR, but I haven't actually gotten around to it yet. I wonder if things would've been a little less confusing at the start if I'd read The Grisha Trilogy first. Either way, this book was highly enjoyable -- I can't wait to get my hands on the sequel.

THOUGHTS ON PLOT: I love a good heist story, and this was no exception. As I mentioned above, it's a bit hard to get your bearings in this book, since it's set in a different world with different rules, especially pertaining to magic, and that can make the first few chapters hard to get through. Or, at least, that was the case for me. That said, once the heist part of the story begins, that's where things really get good. While I occasionally got lost with what was going on, it held my attention from the very first page. My only real complaint, besides getting lost in the worldbuilding, is the ending. It's not that it's not good, it just feels like the story's not done. A lot of plot threads are left hanging for the sequel, which I never loved -- even in series, I prefer for each book to be its own contained story. I kind of wonder if the author intended for this and Crooked Kingdom to be one, extremely long book, only to have to cut it up into two shorter ones.

7 / 10

THOUGHTS ON CHARACTERS: This book has a lot of characters. We have six leads, all of whom get multiple focus chapters, as well as multiple side characters and antagonists. It's a lot to keep track of! But each of the leads is highly distinct and unique in their own way, and it's quite easy to keep track of who's who. I loved all six of the leads -- though I admit I'm less enamored with Kaz than a lot of the readership seems to be. He's a great character, and a very compelling one, but holy shit, what an asshole. That said, it's very intentional, and he has just enough moments of actual humanity that you can still root for him. (Especially since the antagonists in this book are truly vile.) My favorite character by far was Nina, but I really enjoyed each of the leads.

9 / 10

THOUGHTS ON WRITING STYLE: Leigh Bardugo's prose is really excellent. It never gets too infodumpy, while still explaining enough things about the world that the reader can at least figure out what's going on. Overall, I don't have much to say here -- I tend to only have a whole lot to say about writing style if it's really, really bad. This was the furthest thing from.

8 / 10

THOUGHTS ON POLITICAL STUFF: Other YA authors, take notes! Six of Crows features a wonderfully diverse, non-stereotyped cast -- POC, queer people, disabled people, and survivors of abuse are all in leading roles here, and none of them are degraded or reduced to a stereotype. Especially refreshing is the treatment of Inej, who is a former sex slave. We hear about Inej's past on Inej's terms -- no fetishy flashback scenes to her abuse, no talk of her being "defiled," no victim-blaming whatsoever, and no, absolutely no part of the narrative being given to her abusers. This isn't their story to tell -- it's hers.. And while Inej is obviously greatly affected by the trauma she went through, she is not defined by it by any stretch. Overall, this book is one of the best in terms of representation I've seen, and I hope other YA authors follow Leigh Bardugo's cue.

10 / 10

FINAL THOUGHTS: I need to read the sequel, like, yesterday. If you like low fantasy, heist stories, or diverse, eclectic casts of characters, you need to read this book. I greatly look forward to reading Crooked Kingdom and The Grisha Trilogy, and I hope Leigh Bardugo writes more stories in this world soon, because she's really created something great.

FINAL GRADE: 8.5 / 10

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