Tuesday, May 22, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: My Plain Jane by The Lady Janies

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


TITLE: My Plain Jane

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

GENRE: historical, paranormal

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

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

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

4 / 10

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

5 / 10

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

5 / 10

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

4 / 10

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

FINAL GRADE: 4 / 10


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Thursday, May 17, 2018

DNF: Those Other Women by Nicola Moriarty


TITLE: Those Other Women

AUTHOR: Nicola Moriarty

GENRE: contemporary

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

HOW FAR I GOT: 62/308 pages

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

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Wednesday, May 16, 2018

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


TITLE: One of Us is Lying

AUTHOR: Karen M. McManus

GENRE: mystery

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

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

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

7 / 10

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

7 / 10

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

7 / 10

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

7 / 10

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

FINAL GRADE: 7 / 10


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Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Editing and Excuses

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

'Sup?

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

So... the promised explanation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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Monday, April 23, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Mariam Sharma Hits the Road by Sheba Karim

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



TITLE: Mariam Sharma Hits the Road

AUTHOR: Sheba Karim

GENRE: contemporary

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

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

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

5 / 10

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

8 / 10

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

7 / 10

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

10 / 10

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

FINAL GRADE: 7 / 10


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

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



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Wednesday, April 11, 2018

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

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


TITLE: The Land of Yesterday

AUTHOR: K.A. Reynolds

GENRE: fantasy

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

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

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

8 / 10

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

7 / 10

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

8 / 10

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

7 / 10

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

FINAL GRADE: 7.5 / 10


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

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



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Friday, March 30, 2018

DNF: Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova



TITLE: Labyrinth Lost

AUTHOR: Zoraida Córdova

GENRE: fantasy

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

HOW FAR I GOT: 126/326 pages

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

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

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



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Thursday, March 22, 2018

TOP 5 WEDNESDAY: Favorite SFF in Other Media

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

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

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

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

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

5. Be More Chill (musical)


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

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

4. Undertale (video game)


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

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

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

3. Gravity Falls (TV show)


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

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

2. Carmilla (webseries)


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

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

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

1. The Good Place (TV show)



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

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

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

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Saturday, March 17, 2018

SnarkNotes: The Faceless Ones by Derek Landy

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

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



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

GENRE

  • fantasy
  • comedy

SUMMARY

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

PROS

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

CONS

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

OTHER NOTES

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

RATING: 8/10

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Friday, March 9, 2018

DNF: The Looking Glass by Janet McNally

NOTE: This book has not yet been released. I was given a free Advance Reading Copy by HarperCollins and Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. This book will be released on August 14, 2018. If you would like to send me an ARC, please see this page.


TITLE: The Looking Glass

AUTHOR: Janet McNally

GENRE: mystery, contemporary

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

HOW FAR I GOT: 101/336 pages

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

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Monday, March 5, 2018

SnarkNotes: Playing With Fire by Derek Landy

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

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



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

GENRE
  • fantasy
  • comedy
SUMMARY

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

PROS

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

CONS

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

OTHER NOTES

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

RATING: 7 / 10

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Sunday, March 4, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Sea Witch by Sarah Henning

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



TITLE: Sea Witch

AUTHOR: Sarah Henning

GENRE: fantasy

PLOT SUMMARY: Ever since her friend Anna drowned four years ago, Evelyn has led a difficult life, forced to hide her magical abilities from the village she lives in, and shoulder the scorn of the royal family, who don't like Evie's friendship with their son, Nik. When Nik falls into the sea, he is rescued by Annemette, a mysterious young woman who's the spitting image of Anna. Annemette explains to Evie that she's a mermaid, and the only way for her to remain on land is to gain the love of a human. If she doesn't succeed within three days, she'll be turned to sea foam. Determined to save her new friend, Evie agrees to help Annemette win Nik's love. But the cost for keeping Annemette on land is far higher than Evie could've imagined.

FIRST THOUGHTS: Yes, it's me, reviewing a fairy tale retelling. Shocking, I know. And, as you may have gleaned from the summary, Sea Witch gives the Elphaba treatment to, well, the sea witch from The Little Mermaid. I won't call her "Ursula" since this isn't teeeeeeeeechnically based off the Disney version, but... come on. That movie is always what pops into your head first when you hear the words "The Little Mermaid" (or, hell, even the word "mermaid," period), and I can clearly see its influences here. (That's not a criticism, though; some parts of pop culture are just so deeply ingrained into our heads that there's no getting them back out.) I was really excited to receive this ARC, and while it wasn't exactly what I expected, it's a solid retelling.

THOUGHTS ON PLOT: My biggest complaint about this book is that it was extremely slow to get started. Getting through the first quarter took me the better part of a week. A lot of the first chapters are spent on exposition, worldbuilding, and flashbacks -- and, don't get me wrong, those parts are necessary and serve their purpose well, but it was hard for me not to be wondering when the story would really pick up. However, once it did, I couldn't put it down. Told over the course of about five days, with lots of flashbacks thrown in, this is a very compelling and interesting origin story for the Sea Witch. While I did find the ending to be a bit confusing, and the love triangle was really, REALLY tedious (once I realized what was going on I was like "oh God, please don't go there," but they did), I was seriously drawn into Evie's story, and her gradual transformation into the fairy tale villain we all know. While there are some aspects of the story that could've been handled better -- the aforementioned love triangle, the exposition, and, frankly, I found the reasons for Evie being an outcast due to her friendship with Nik to be a bit contrived -- I thought that the overarching story of Annamette's quest to become human and Evie's friendship with her was a really great plot.

7 / 10

THOUGHTS ON CHARACTERS: For this section, I'm going to hone in on Evie and Annemette, mainly because they're the only characters that came off as three-dimensional. I mean, I liked Nik, I guess, and Iker had potential, but neither were as well-developed as they could've been. (Which was unfortunate, as they're the romantic interests.) However, I'm knocking off too many points for that, because Evie and Annemette were both incredibly well-developed, and their relationship was one of the best written platonic relationships I've seen in YA recently. (Though I did get a bit of a gay vibe off of them a few times. Queer Goggles, what can I say -- I couldn't turn 'em off, even if I wanted to.) While I did think Evie was a bit too good (come on, it's a villain origin story, give me some darkness!), I found her very easy to empathize with, and she made for a great narrator. Annemette was a perfect foil to her, mixing sweetness with darkness, and their layered and complicated relationship was what held the story together.

8 / 10

THOUGHTS ON WRITING STYLE: Aside from the exposition-related issues I mentioned above, this is a very well-written novel. I loved the mermaid mythology it used, combining both the author's own ideas with the classic ideas that Hans Christian Andersen used. I also thought that the flashbacks were really well-utilized, providing insight into all of our main characters -- especially the villain. Although, as mentioned above, I was a bit confused by the epilogue, and I wasn't thrilled with the love triangle, once the plot finally got into full-swing, I was fully engrossed by this book.

7 / 10

THOUGHTS ON POLITICAL STUFF: Gonna keep this brief. No POC, no queer people, no minorities of any kind. Bleh. That said, the female characters are well-written, and I was glad to see a female villain that's motivated by something other than love or vanity, which seem to be the go-to motives for evil women in fiction.

5 / 10

FINAL THOUGHTS: Although it took me awhile to get into, Sea Witch is a highly enjoyable fantasy. It stands on its own, but if Sarah Henning decides to write a sequel, I certainly won't complain. I think the story of Evie and Annemette has a lot more potential. But, if it does remain a standalone, I'm happy with that, too. If you're looking for a fresh take on The Little Mermaid, I highly recommend checking out this book once it hits the shelves.

FINAL GRADE: 6.75 / 10


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Sunday, February 25, 2018

SnarkNotes: Scepter of the Ancients by Derek Landy

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

Today's SnarkNotes topic is... Scepter of the Ancients by Derek Landy!


GENRE
  • fantasy
  • comedy

SUMMARY
  • Stephanie's uncle is dead. Super, hella dead.
  • He leaves her his mansion and his fortune, and apparently, a shitload of trouble, because the first night Stephanie spends in her new house, someone nearly kills her trying to break in.
  • Luckily, Steph is rescued by Skulduggery Pleasant, a magic-wielding detective who was close friends with her uncle.
  • (Did we mention Skul is a walking, talking skeleton?)
  • Realizing that her uncle was murdered, Steph teams up with Skul to try and figure out who killed him, and why.
  • It's clear they were after something her uncle had, but what?
  • (Spoiler alert: the Scepter of the Ancients. The thing in the title.)
  • (If the bad guys find it, they can use it to bring back the evil, ancient gods known as the Faceless Ones, who would basically wipe out/enslave humanity.)
  • (So, no pressure.)

PROS


  • smol baby Stephanie, before the world broke her
  • even from the first chapter, this series is goddamn hilarious
  • seriously, go read it
  • really good worldbuilding and magic system
  • also LOTS of foreshadowing for future books
  • Skulduggery is a freaking dumbass and i love him
  • this book is a really great introduction into this world and series and i need EVERYONE to read it so i have more people to scream at about it


CONS

  • there are loads of characters to keep track of, and it only gets more confusing as the series goes on
  • i was practically keeping a chart in my head
  • also this isn't a criticism but there were a shitload of lines that, since i know now the twists that will take place in future books, just made me go
  • "oh"
  • "oh NO"

OTHER NOTES
  • finally starting my Skullduggery Pleasant marathon read YEAH
  • now i just have.... nine more books to go.......
  • .......most of which were only ever published in the UK.........
  • yes i most definitely thought this through
  • oy
  • stay tuned for my review of Playing With Fire
  • coming soon
  • probably

RATING: 8 / 10

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

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Tuesday, February 20, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Notes From My Captivity by Kathy Parks

NOTE: This book has not yet been released. I was given a free Advance Reading Copy by HarperCollins and Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. This book will be released on July 10, 2018. If you would like to send me an ARC, please see this page.



TITLE: Notes From My Captivity

AUTHOR: Kathy Parks

GENRE: thriller

PLOT SUMMARY: Adrienne is off on a two-week expedition through the Russian wilderness with her stepfather, Dan. Dan believes in a conspiracy theory about a murderous, cannibalistic family that allegedly lives in hiding somewhere in Siberia, and intends to find them and prove to the world that they do exist. Adrienne, however, is convinced that the family is not and was never real, and in fact intends to write a story about her stepfather's unwavering, crazy belief in a fairy tale. That is, until Adrienne finds herself alone in the woods -- and then, being held hostage by the very-real Osinov family. Soon, Adrienne crafts a plan to escape with her life intact: she's going to woo the youngest son, and convince him to let her go.

FIRST THOUGHTS: I was so sure I would love this book, but ultimately, I didn't get what I expected at all. While it's very fast-paced and easy to get into, there were a lot of issues with the plot and characters, which I'll get more into below. It was disappointing, since the setup, and the idea of the main character purposely trying to get her captor to fall in love with her so she can escape, sounded really intriguing. Unfortunately, though, the promising plot wasn't very well-executed, and the book's tone felt really inconsistent. This book was easy to read, but I didn't enjoy much of it.

THOUGHTS ON PLOT: As mentioned elsewhere on this blog, I'm really into thrillers and survival stories, so the synopsis intrigued me. And the initial setup, with everything that could go wrong on the expedition inevitably happening, was promising. However, after Part One ended, the wheels quickly fell off. When you've got a story centered around the protagonist being held hostage, it's generally not a good sign when the hostage situation is the least interesting part of the book. Despite the dire situation, I felt like Part Two lacked stakes, especially after Adrienne had been with the family for a few chapters and began to get used to them. The whole thing really fell apart towards the end, when a magical realism element came right out of left field. I know other reviewers liked that aspect, but for me, it was really jarring when compared to the rest of the book. And the romantic subplot is... egh. It exists. It certainly exists.

3 / 10

THOUGHTS ON CHARACTERS: Hooooo boy. I had a feeling, just from the first chapter, that I was not going to like Adrienne very much, and, unfortunately, I was right. I got the sense that Adrienne being kind of a jerk and then growing out of it was part of the point, and that's all well and good, but even jerkass protagonists need to be relatable and/or sympathetic and/or endearing to some degree in order to work. For example, look at Georgia Nicolson from the Confessions of Georgia Nicolson series. Georgia is absolutely awful, and yet it's still easy to root for her, partially because she's incredibly funny, and partially because her brand of awfulness is one that a lot of people can relate to. We've all been shallow, petty, and self-centered, and Georgia has just enough redeeming qualities that we can forgive her and like her, despite her being a selfish jerk a lot of the time. Adrienne, on the other hand, mostly just comes off as an ungrateful brat, especially with her treatment of her stepfather, Dan. Despite Dan being nice, supportive, and caring for Adrienne as if she was his own child, Adrienne basically treats him like shit. I get that having an unfounded dislike of a stepparent is something a lot of people, especially teenagers, have gone through, but in this case, it felt really unreasonable, and difficult to even understand. Like, if Dan had just married her mother at the start of the book, then I'd get it, and write it off as a period of adjustment. But he's been around for seven years, and has been kind to Adrienne the whole time -- fixated on the Osinovs, sure, but not to the extent that it made him a bad parent or husband. It was really hard to sympathize with Adrienne not at least tolerating him by now. I was especially irritated by her attitude towards him on the expedition, since it's mentioned that he had to jump through all sorts of hoops for her to be allowed to come -- i.e., he's doing her a favor. Like, even if you don't agree with him, Adrienne, you should at least be a little thankful. Admittedly, Adrienne does grow up a little bit, but for me, it was too little, too late. As for side characters, I felt like the family themselves were disappointingly underdeveloped, and that Dan's team for the expedition had potential, but they weren't in the book enough to make good use of it.

3 / 10

THOUGHTS ON WRITING STYLE: This book is incredibly easy to read. I got through it in only a few hours, and it moved at a pretty brisk pace. Unfortunately, the narration was Adrienne's internal monologue which, while occasionally funny enough to make me snort out loud, meant we were inside Adrienne's head the whole time. As mentioned above, I'm not very fond of Adrienne, so this was rough. In addition, at times it felt really repetitive -- which, considering we're reading the thoughts of someone who's panicking and/or trapped the entire time, makes sense, but doesn't exactly make for an exciting reading experience. Overall, the prose and narration were simply "okay." (Though I did find the running gag about Fifty Shades of Grey to be really funny.)

5 / 10

THOUGHTS ON POLITICAL STUFF: Eh. Aside from one, admittedly extremely well-put point about consent (namely, that it doesn't matter if you've flirted with a guy, danced with him, or kissed him -- you still don't owe him a damn thing), nothing really noteworthy here. No representation to speak of, but also nothing glaringly offensive. So, it's in the same pile of a lot of YA fare.

4 / 10

FINAL THOUGHTS: While this book had a clever idea and a good initial setup, it just didn't do it for me. Between my issues with the main character, and the plot sort of falling apart at the end, this is not a book I intend to reread any time soon. Ultimately, Notes From My Captivity mostly felt like a big batch of wasted potential.

FINAL GRADE: 3.75 / 10


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If you've read or are planning to read Notes From My Captivity, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!



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Saturday, February 17, 2018

OwlCrate: February 2018

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 HIDDEN WORLDS! 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...

  • The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert. Alice's grandmother is famous for writing a collection of dark and sinister fairy tales, and her rather... peculiar fans. When she passes away on the grounds of her extensive estate, the Hazel Wood, the impossible happens: Alice's mother is kidnapped by one of the characters from the stories. Forced to team up with a fan of her grandmother's book, Alice ventures into the estate, and the dark side of fantasy, to rescue her mother. This was one of my most-anticipated 2018 releases, so I'm pumped to have a copy -- and that I didn't already order it!
  • A sticker sheet inspired by The Hazel Wood.
  • A candle inspired by The Chronicles of Narnia, smelling like mint, pine, and vanilla.
  • A wall tapestry designed exclusively for OwlCrate!
  • A necklace in the shape of a key, inspired by Coraline.
  • A sticker inspired by Alice in Wonderland.
  • A zipper pouch with a quote from Daughter of Smoke and Bone.
There's also a preview for next month's theme: ACROSS THE GALAXY. Can't wait!



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Stay tuned for that giveaway!


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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Monday's Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson

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


TITLE: Monday's Not Coming

AUTHOR: Tiffany D. Jackson

GENRE: mystery

PLOT SUMMARY: Claudia only has one friend: Monday Charles. For years, Monday has been more like a sister than a friend, and Claudia has no idea what she'd do without her. So when Monday doesn't respond to any of Claudia's letters all summer, she's confused. When Monday doesn't show up for the first day of school, she's worried. As days turn into weeks, it becomes increasingly clear that something isn't right. Worried for her friend's safety, and scared to face the world without her, Claudia's search for the truth leads her down a twisted path -- one that she may not come back from.

FIRST THOUGHTS: I was super-excited to be given this ARC. I'd heard amazing things about this author's previous book, Allegedly, which is still on my TBR list, so when I saw she had an upcoming release, I just had to try it. While it took me awhile to get into, Monday's Not Coming gradually drew me in, and by the time I was a hundred pages in, I just had to keep reading so I could find out what happened. While not perfect, this is a dark, extremely interesting mystery, one that I think would be perfect for fans of Reconstructing Amelia and Dare Me.

THOUGHTS ON PLOT:  I tend to really like "missing persons" stories, especially in YA, and I thought that the mystery in this book was really well-done. While I had a pretty good idea of how the story would end, I was genuinely shocked by a few revelations, and I was super-invested as Claudia's search for her best friend continued. However, there were a few weak points that really detracted from it, at least for me. There's a romantic subplot between Claudia and a boy from her church, Michael, and while I liked Michael a lot as a character, I thought that the romance between him and Claudia was really unneeded, and didn't add much to either of their characters. It's not so in-your-face that it ruins the book or anything, though. It's just kinda... there. My second issue is the fact that the story is told in anachronic order. While jumbled timelines can be a great storytelling device, this particular use of it felt confused, and made it pretty hard to keep a hold on what was happening when. Given the nature of a couple plot twists (no spoilers), I think this may have been intentional, but this didn't become apparent until the last couple chapters. Up until then, it just felt really disconcerting.

7 / 10

THOUGHTS ON CHARACTERS: One pitfall of the "missing BFF" plotline is that, more often than not, the BFF is underdeveloped and hard to care about. This was a very welcome exception, with Monday being a fully fleshed-out and lovable character. In another story, she could make a great heroine in her own right. But in this book, we have Claudia, who I found to be quite engaging and endearing. While she sometimes does really, really dumb things, you almost always understand why. (Spoiler alert: stressed-out, panicking fourteen year olds are prone to making poor choices. What a surprise.) I really liked a lot of the side characters, especially Claudia's favorite teacher, her parents, and Monday's older sister April, and I wish the narrative had spent more time letting us get to know them. Especially April, which surprised me, since at first, I didn't like her much at all. But as the book goes on, she turns out to be surprisingly interesting -- in addition to being kind of a bitch.

7 / 10

THOUGHTS ON WRITING STYLE: As I mentioned above, the story is told out of order. This is both a strength and a weakness of the narrative. Jackson is great at writing Claudia's narration, and she did a pretty good job at keeping the conflicting timelines straight, but the further I got into the book, the more confused I got as to what was happening when. (This did not get better by the ending.) I found it was helpful to treat each chapter as its own separate thing, rather than a chunk of a larger story. All the chapters were connected, of course, but not so entwined that I couldn't do that. Overall, I thought that the prose and dialogue were excellent, but the story structure could be a tad disorienting.

7 / 10

THOUGHTS ON POLITICAL STUFF: In terms of representation, this book is great. It features an entirely black cast, and Claudia has a learning disability. Dyslexia, to be precise. I can't speak for how accurate the portrayal of the dyslexia is, but it's treated with sensitivity and respect, with much emphasis being given to the fact that being dyslexic does not make Claudia stupid. The novel also focuses a lot on class differences, and how the fear of not being able to make enough money just to survive from day to day can affect someone's life. I have mixed feelings about the way mental illness is portrayed in the novel, but I can't get too much into it without going into spoiler territory. I will say that the book isn't ableist, at least not to me -- you read it and be the judge.

7 / 10

FINAL THOUGHTS: While this wasn't the best mystery/thriller I've read, Monday's Not Coming is a solid novel about friendship, fear, and the search for the truth. If you're not put off by the anachronic order, I'd suggest giving it a read, especially if you're searching for more diverse fiction. From what I've seen in other people's reviews, fans of Jackson's other works have not been disappointed, and it has definitely made me want to finally get to reading Allegedly. I think Monday's Not Coming will appeal to a lot of people, and make for a great reading experience.

FINAL GRADE: 7 / 10


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Thursday, February 8, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills


TITLE: Foolish Hearts

AUTHOR: Emma Mills

GENRE: contemporary

PLOT SUMMARY: After overhearing a messy breakup at a party, Claudia finds herself in hot water with the school mean girl, Iris Huang. Being dumped by her girlfriend, Paige, has left Iris in an even fouler mood than normal, so Claudia intends to stay out of her way. This plan is thrown off-course when Claudia and Iris get forced to work together on the school play. (In Iris' words, their teacher is High School Musical-ing them.) As the school gets ready for their performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream, Claudia and Iris begin to get to know one another... and develop a shaky friendship.

FIRST THOUGHTS: SHOULD'VE BEEN GAY. Okay, okay - technically, it IS gay, since Iris is a lesbian. But still. I was honestly shocked when Claudia was not, in fact, Iris' love interest. (Shoutout to my friend Annie, who got to hear me scream about the Claudia/Iris ship the entire time I was reading.) Honestly, I had a hard time writing this review, because I'm having difficulties articulating my thoughts on this book. I thought it was good, and it's a really cute, lighthearted story, but I'm not sure what to SAY about it. But, I can't put off reviewing forever -- and this was, overall, a good book. I'm just having trouble getting my thoughts down into words.

THOUGHTS ON PLOT: The plot was... lacking. I was excited when I heard that the two leads would be forced to work on a school play together, having a background in theater myself. So it was a bit disappointing when we didn't get to see much of the action backstage. Instead, we get mostly scenes of characters bouncing off one another at school, at parties, or over the phone. And don't get me wrong, those scenes are nice, but it's not what I was expecting. There was very little tension in the story, which was also a source of frustration. (I mean, there is ONE moment about 3/4 of the way in, but it's resolved in fifteen pages and could've easily been omitted.) Overall, this is a very, very "slice of life" novel. If you like that genre, you'll probably like this plot more than I did.

6 / 10

THOUGHTS ON CHARACTERS: Claudia is a pretty good main character. She's likable and easy to relate to, and has a very easygoing personality. However, by far the best-developed character is Iris, who is surprisingly three-dimensional, especially once she begins to make friends with Claudia. These two had one of the best and most believable friendships I've read in YA, and their banter was just a delight. It was really great to see these two grow and change because of each other, especially as Iris goes from a selfish, unlikable ice queen to a much more compassionate and openly vulnerable person. And, as much as I ship Claudia with Iris, I wound up liking Claudia's actual love interest, Gideon, a lot, too. He's not quite as compelling as Iris and Claudia, but he was a surprisingly easy-to-like guy, compared to other YA love interests. I felt that the side characters were a bit underdeveloped, though. I especially feel like more could've been done with Paige, Iris' ex. We know that she's nice, and... that's it. That's not to say a character's main personality trait being "nice" is bad; it's not. But it's good to have more than that, you know?

7 / 10

THOUGHTS ON WRITING STYLE: Claudia serves as our narrator here, and that's probably a good thing, since the most we got about her personality came from her internal monologue. As I mentioned before, this book is light, fluffy, and easy to read -- Claudia's narration draws the reader in, and is well-written enough to keep you invested, even when the plot is kind of dragging. I was also pleasantly surprised at how well the scenes where Claudia is playing her favorite MMORPG were written; it's easy for scenes that describe characters playing a game or sport to be overly-wordy or tedious, but these weren't at all. Overall, this had some very nicely done narration, and a compelling voice to keep the reader drawn in.

7 / 10

THOUGHTS ON POLITICAL STUFF: One of the main characters is an Asian-American lesbian, and her ex-girlfriend is a prominent side character. There's also a side character that's epileptic. While this is about it in the representation department, I did like how neither of these characters were tokens. They both have personalities, motivations, and development completely unrelated to their identities. Iris, in particular, could've been straight, and the book wouldn't have been different at all. But she's not straight, and that's a very welcome change from the norm. It's so good to see YA slowly becoming more and more diverse.

7 / 10

FINAL THOUGHTS: Foolish Hearts is an easy, lighthearted read that I think most people will really enjoy. The friendship between Claudia and Iris is, by far, the best part of the book, and it's more than enough to carry the story through its weaker moments. If you're looking for a sweet, optimistic contemporary novel, give it a look. (But seriously, why wasn't Claudia/Iris the endgame? WE COULD'VE HAD IT AAAAAAAALL...)

FINAL GRADE: 6.75 / 10


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