Monday, January 29, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Heretics Anonymous by Katie Henry

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 7, 2018. If you would like to send me an ARC, please see this page.


TITLE: Heretics Anonymous

AUTHOR: Katie Henry

GENRE: contemporary, humor

PLOT SUMMARY: Michael is about to face his worst nightmare: being an atheist in a strict Catholic school. Fortunately, he won't be alone in his struggles, because on his first day, he meets Lucy. Lucy is a devout Catholic, but she has issues of her own with the Church; specifically, the way it treats women, and that she'll never be able to fulfill her dream of becoming a priest. Upon finding out about Michael's discomfort at the school, she invites him to join Heretics Anonymous, a secret club for students who don't fit in, for one reason or another. What begins as simply airing their grievances in private turns into a campaign to change the school for the better, one prank at a time. But what happens when things go too far?

FIRST THOUGHTS: This is one of those books that I knew I had to read, just based on the title. Fortunately, it didn't disappoint; in fact, it exceeded my expectations. Having had an extremely mixed experience with religion myself, I found many parts of this novel to be extremely relateable. This reminds me a lot of the works of Adam Selzer, an author I've mentioned my love for elsewhere on this website. While I went in expecting this to be more of an ensemble piece than it was, this is an incredibly enjoyable comedy, with a great cast of characters to back it up. I can very easily see this becoming a young adult mainstay in the future. Regardless of your religion or lack thereof, give this book a try. I think you'll enjoy it.

THOUGHTS ON PLOT: I really loved the initial setup of this book -- a Breakfast Club-style group of students who, despite their contrasting personalities, band together to take down a school that's against them. The first half of this book was excellent, with Heretics Anonymous' pranks and rebellion against the administration. Really, the book is worth reading just for that first half. While the second half isn't bad, it is a bit of a letdown compared to the first part's hijinks. I can't say where the turning point is, exactly, due to spoilers, but you'll know it when you get there. However, the story is incredibly entertaining and funny throughout, even if I enjoyed the buildup more than the conclusion.

7 / 10

THOUGHTS ON CHARACTERS: At first, I wasn't so sure I'd like Michael, but he wound up being a pleasant surprise. Yeah, he can be a self-involved tool sometimes, but no more than any other teenager, and he's got a lot of compassion and wit that makes him very likable as a main character. I also loved all the other Heretics, though I felt like Eden and Max were woefully underused compared to Lucy, Avi, and Michael. I had a similar complaint about the book's pseudo-antagonist, Theresa. Theresa's mostly there to harass and annoy our protagonists, and while she does a good job at that, what little we know of her backstory pointed to her having some sympathetic qualities, and possibly needing a group like Heretics Anonymous herself. However, she doesn't get developed, and she doesn't change at all throughout the story, which is a real disappointment, since I think there were plenty of opportunities to give her depth. Overall, while the lead characters were well-written and very developed, I would've liked to see more done with the side characters.

7.5 / 10

THOUGHTS ON WRITING STYLE: This, like a lot of contemporary YA, is written in first person, and it follows the increasing trend of writing in the present tense. I thought that the author captured Michael's voice really well, and she did a really good job at creating a different "voice" for each Heretic, and most of the minor characters, as well. Overall, this book is incredibly easy to read, moving at a fast pace. I got through it in one sitting, and I'm sure several other readers will do the same.

8 / 10

THOUGHTS ON POLITICAL STUFF: The author has described herself as having a "complicated religious background," and it shows. However, I think the religious aspect of Heretics Anonymous is handled extremely well. One of my pet peeves is when atheists and agnostics are treated as inherently smarter than theists; I'm agnostic myself, and I know firsthand that that just isn't true. I liked that this book treated religion -- all religion -- and atheism with the same amount of respect. Jokes are made about religions, sure, but never at the expense of those that believe in it. There's also a nice amount of POC and queer people in the cast, although the protagonist is straight and white. One of the characters is also heavily coded as autistic; at least, that's how I read him. I wish that had been explored more in-depth, especially in how that would make him feel out of place at the school.

8 / 10

FINAL THOUGHTS: This is a wildly funny, heartwarming story about five misfits that's almost guaranteed to brighten your day. Regardless of your religious leanings and background, there's a little something for everyone in Heretics Anonymous. So, count me among the raving advance reviews for this book, and be sure to check it out once it hits the shelves.

FINAL GRADE: 8 / 10


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Thursday, January 25, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: The Last Best Story by Maggie Lehrman

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 7, 2018. If you would like to send me an ARC, please see this page.


TITLE: The Last Best Story

AUTHOR: Maggie Lehrman

GENRE: contemporary

PLOT SUMMARY: Grant was stunned when his friend Rose quit the newspaper out of nowhere two months ago. For four years, the two of them had worked faithfully on the paper, planning to go to Northwestern and become the star reporters they were always meant to be. But now, Rose seems to want nothing to do with the paper -- or Grant. That is, until prom night, when a sudden, real, dead serious, this-is-not-a-drill lockdown causes everyone to think one thing: gunman. Grant is stuck inside the gym, while Rose is caught outside and finds herself hiding in a classroom. Grant is determined to find out who the gunman is and what can be done to stop him -- but Rose quickly finds out that something much, much stranger is going on, and the night becomes a mad dash to get the real story before anyone can get hurt.

FIRST THOUGHTS: I read this all in one sitting, and I doubt I'll be the only one once this book hits the shelves. It's extremely easy to get through, with a fast-moving plot and a compelling voice. I was mostly satisfied by the ending, but honestly, my main thought after the book ended was, "Well, that was fun." This isn't normally the sort of YA I like, so it's probably not surprising that this didn't grab me the way other books do. That said, I liked it well enough, and I'd recommend it to others. There's plenty to like about this book, as I'll detail below.

THOUGHTS ON PLOT: Okay, so apparently, this novel was inspired by His Girl Friday, a classic movie. I've never seen it, and I never would've guessed this was a retelling of another story. It stands on its own, and that's good. The book is told in anachronic order, jumping around from the night of the prom to scenes that took place months or even years before. While the prom night plot was very well-written and kept me engaged, some of the flashback scenes felt a bit pointless. Definitely not all of them -- a lot of them deepened character or foreshadowed later events. But a few of them, I didn't see why the author chose to include them, and that made it drag a little bit. The mystery aspect of this book was a bit of a mixed bag; I was wondering who the culprit was, but I can't say I was truly invested. As I'll elaborate on in the next section, I think the book has some really great side characters, and I wish the story had focused on them a bit more; I think it would've been a better book for it.

6 / 10

THOUGHTS ON CHARACTERS: This book is a good example of how one bad lead character can drag it down for everyone else. I liked Rose a lot, though I didn't always understand her motivations. Maybe it's because I can't personally relate to many of her struggles -- a reader who has had an identity crisis like hers might feel differently. But her personality and wit were more than enough to win me over. It was Grant I hated. I know that him starting the story as a self-centered, insufferable tool is kind of the point, and I'm glad he undergoes some serious character development, but seriously, Rose, you can do better than him. So can Nick, Grant's best friend -- a side character I really liked. Actually, I really liked most of the side characters, especially Jenna, Rose's best friend. Had the book been about Jenna and Rose, I probably would've liked the book more -- I wish I'd seen more of their dynamic, especially when Grant and other drama wasn't getting in between them.

6 / 10

THOUGHTS ON WRITING STYLE: As mentioned above, I got through this entire book in a single sitting, which is a testament to how easy it was to get drawn into the story. The book shifts between Grant's and Rose's perspectives, and while for the most part it works well, I will say that it felt a bit... jarring when it happened mid-page. (I'd say mid-chapter, but this book was more broken up into "sections" than "chapters." Read it and you'll see what I mean.) The third-person narrator wasn't quiiiite omniscient, but we didn't feel 100% in either of our leads' heads. Sort of like we were in both their heads at once. I think this might be one of those things that gets cleaned up just before publication, and it's not a huge issue -- just something to consider.

7 / 10

THOUGHTS ON POLITICAL STUFF: This book is far more political than I thought it would be, but honestly, that was the best part. Along with the commentary on casual sexism and normalized assault, especially when the perpetrators are cute, white jocks, there's also some great commentary on gun control. Maybe that shouldn't be so surprising, given the plot, but I was impressed by how the author just went for it instead of dancing around the issue. Major props! The Last Best Story also has some of the best casual representation I've ever seen in YA contemporary. The multitude of POC, queer characters, and disabled characters isn't a big deal, nor should it be. They're not there as tokens or because their diversity is relevant to the plot; they're there because in the average American high school... you will see a multitude of POC, queer people, and disabled people. No matter what certain people say whenever they start crying about authors "forcing diversity." Seriously, folks -- real life is diverse, and if your preferred fiction is all straight, able-bodied, and white, that's your problem. Representation and diversity in fiction matters, because the real world is diverse. Die mad about it.

10 / 10

FINAL THOUGHTS: This is an enjoyable, fun contemporary novel. It's not what I'd call a "favorite," but it's certainly very good -- if you're a fan of His Girl Friday, or contemporary in general, I'd definitely suggest checking it out. The unexpectedly good political commentary is something I hope other books of its kind will choose to emulate in the future, and I'd be very curious about anything else Lehrman publishes in the future.

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 The Last Best Story, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below! If you haven't, I'd love to hear if you plan to read it when it comes out.

I am currently running a giveaway! I'm giving away a free copy of The Cruel Prince by Holly Black. It closes January 29, 2018, so enter now!



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Wednesday, January 24, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Warcross by Marie Lu


TITLE: Warcross

AUTHOR: Marie Lu

GENRE: science fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Warcross is a virtual reality game that, over the past decade, has become the most popular form of entertainment in the world. Some people play it competitively, or to make money, while others simply want to escape from real life. Emika is a hacker and bounty hunter who's about to be evicted from her apartment. Desperate and willing to try anything, Em decides to try and hack Warcross' airtight security system during the opening ceremonies of the yearly championships. Instead, she manages to hack herself into the game, on international TV. Em is sure she's going to be arrested, but instead, she gets the shock of her life when the creator of Warcross, Hideo Tanaka, instead offers her a job. Acting as a spy for Hideo, Emika is tasked with figuring out who's been trying to hack Warcross' system for the past few months, and what, exactly, it is that they want.

FIRST THOUGHTS: AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH. I just finished reading this book and my mind is REELING. I haven't read any really good sci-fi for a while, so this was a breath of fresh air... until it punched me in the gut. (In the best way possible.) This book is the first in a series and, honestly, thank God, because that ending made me feel so many things. I need to read more about this world and these characters! I've never read anything by Marie Lu before, but now, I see what all the hype around her is about. If you're looking for a new, exciting sci-fi story that makes great use of the technology the characters have access to, read Warcross. You won't regret it.

THOUGHTS ON PLOT: Okay, so the ending of this book personally came into my home, punched me in the face, lit me on fire, and left. At least, that's how it felt. Right from the first page, I was sucked into the world and the story of Warcross, and that ending has me craving the next book. (Which doesn't have a release date yet... or even a title... AAAAAAAAAGH.) If you like the anime Sword Art Online, you'll probably like Warcross. The element of competition and the espionage plot with Emika being Hideo's spy kept the stakes almost unbearably high for this one, and I honestly didn't see the ending coming. Like, at all. Go into it blind; trust me on that.

8 / 10

THOUGHTS ON CHARACTERS: Emika is a great heroine for this new series. I've seen her compared to Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games, and that comparison is an apt one, but Em is definitely her own person. She has an edge to her, but she's incredibly noble and her struggles are so relatable that it's near-impossible not to root for her. I had a feeling from the summary that I'd like Hideo, and for the most part, I was right. But what really surprised me was this book's villain. I can't give too much away right now, but I genuinely love them, in that horrified, exhilarating way you love a really great bad guy. I can't wait to see them in action in the next book, now that the groundwork for their plan has been laid.

9 / 10

THOUGHTS ON WRITING STYLE: This novel has some really great worldbuilding, which is good because the way Warcross works is a bit confusing at first, at least for me. (Then again, I do have an unparalleled talent for missing the painfully obvious, so you'll probably be fine.) While there are some spots that feel a bit infodumpy, these are few and far between. I really loved Emika's voice as she takes us through the story, and introduces us to this world that is so unlike our own, but could be our own in the not-so-distant future. And my... er... emotional reaction to the ending, as detailed above, is a testament to how good Marie Lu is at metaphorically sucker-punching her audience.

8 / 10

THOUGHTS ON POLITICAL STUFF: There's been a cry for more diversity in fiction, especially in fantasy and sci-fi. Where contemporary YA has steadily been getting more inclusive, a lot of the more outlandish stories have remained straight and white. Warcross is a very welcome exception. There are two Asian leads, multiple POC side characters, and some characters who are implied to be queer. (Hopefully this'll be expanded on in the sequels.) There's also a character that's in a wheelchair, and I thought it was interesting how he's able to perform incredible physical feats in Warcross that would be impossible in real life. I also thought that the debate the book presents about technology is interesting, though I can't really comment on it without totally spoiling it. I'm curious to see how the sequels will handle it.

9 / 10

FINAL THOUGHTS: This is gonna be a series that takes over my life for awhile, I can tell. I could totally see this as a TV show, or a blockbuster movie -- it's action-packed, full of amazing descriptions that would make really cool visuals, and it has a very timely message about technology and the anonymity of the internet. And holy crap... that ending. I can't wait for the sequel. I've heard rumors it's due out in 2019, but I'm not holding my breath until the author or publisher officially announces it. Here's hoping we get word soon!

FINAL GRADE: 8.5 / 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 Title, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

I am currently running a giveaway! I'm giving away a free copy of The Cruel Prince by Holly Black. It closes January 29, 2018, so enter now!



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Monday, January 22, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: The Dalai Camel by C.E. Rachlin

NOTE: This book has not yet been released. I was given a free Advance Reading Copy by MindBuck Media in exchange for an honest review. This book will be released on February 8, 2018. If you would like to send me an ARC, please see this page.



TITLE: The Dalai Camel: A Bizarre Tale of UnBEARable Bliss and Bewilderment

AUTHOR: C.E. Rachlin

GENRE: humor

PLOT SUMMARY: Born to a literal camel, the Dalai Camel (or, DC, for short) is a 500-year-old, 100% enlightened spiritual leader. Of course, being the Dalai anything isn't easy, and it was an uphill climb to get to where he is today. In order to share his wisdom with the world, he is now composing his autobiography (with a bit of help from a hopelessly inept typist). In a series of vignettes, follow the DC through his very odd life, as he treads on the twisted path to enlightenment.

FIRST THOUGHTS: ...Okay. So. The publishers of this book reached out to me, and asked me to review it. It was pretty much an instant "yes" from me, since I was so jazzed to be asked. (Still am, by the way. Means a lot.) I'd never heard of the book before, so I really had no clue what to expect. Now that I'm finished, I'm left with a sense of, "What the hell did I just read?" This is an extremely strange book, and while I'm glad I gave it a go, I'm not sure I'd recommend it to anyone else. It's far from the worst book ever, and I can see why other people might like it, but it was really not for me. More on why below.

THOUGHTS ON PLOT: The summary of the book that I found online told me that this book would be... odd. But I really was not prepared. And don't get me wrong: odd can be good. Odd can be great! But my personal brand of weirdness is clearly very different from this author's, and the plot of the DC's life story really didn't hook me enough to make up for it. If I hadn't gotten this as an ARC, I probably wouldn't have finished. Luckily, this was a pretty quick read. (Though that's probably helped by the fact that I work a job where I sit at a desk and do nothing for 20 hours a week, so I had plenty of time to knock out a few chapters each day.) It may have something to do with the fact that this was told in a series of vignettes, and I'm not much into those in general, at least not in prose. I like it in theater, but that's a completely different medium.

2 / 10

THOUGHTS ON CHARACTERS: The Dalai Camel himself was a pretty good lead character. Which is good, since this book is literally the story of his life. He's goofy, but still pretty likable, and he helped me stick with the story. However, the supporting characters left something to be desired. (Case in point: I just finished the book and I can remember maybe... two of their names?) I think one pitfall of a story that covers such a long period of time, and is told in a series of scenes rather than an overarching plot, is that it's hard to develop a lot of characters really well. So while we had a good enough lead, the rest of the cast fell flat, at least for me.

4 / 10

THOUGHTS ON WRITING STYLE: Probably the biggest disappointment of this book was how underutilized the framing device was. The idea is that we're reading the DC's autobiography, as dictated to the author. I think the author could've done a lot more with this concept -- maybe had some back-and-forth between dictator and typist, thrown in some footnotes and sidebars? It did that a little, but I think the humor could've been played up a lot more. There were a couple lines that made me chuckle, but overall, the narration and writing was rather lacking.

3 / 10

THOUGHTS ON POLITICAL STUFF: Nothing worthy of note here. There was nothing particularly offensive or progressive about this book. I will note that I know next to nothing about Buddhism, the religion this book pokes fun at, so maybe I'd feel differently if I did. I also don't know if the author is a Buddhist, or what, if any, relationship he has with the religion. (To be fair, I don't think this book was mean-spirited in its jokes about Buddhism, and it really made fun of absolutely everyone. This was a point in its favor. Religious humor really only works if everyone's fair game.)

5 / 10

FINAL THOUGHTS: If I had to sum up this book in ten words or less, I'd say, "Weird, but not in a good way." I tend to like quirky, eccentric stories, but this didn't work for me for so many reasons. If you like kind of bizarre humor and are in the mood for something different, maybe give this a go, but overall, this was really not my cup of tea. Now... onto other things!

FINAL GRADE: 3 / 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 The Dailai Camel, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!



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Sunday, January 21, 2018

OwlCrate, January 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 FEARSOME FAIRY TALES! 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 Cruel Prince by Holly Black. When Jude was young, her parents were murdered by Madoc, a fair folk general who then whisked Jude and her sisters away to live in Faerie. Desperate to find her place in the world, Jude attempts to join the High Court, which brings her into constant conflict with Prince Cardan, son of the king. I actually have already read and reviewed this book... so look out for a giveaway soon!
  • A sticker inspired by The Cruel Prince.
  • Gingerbread-scented wax melts inspired by Hansel and Gretel.
  • A pillowcase inspired by Sleeping Beauty, with the quote, "Once upon a dream."
  • A bracelet inspired by Rapunzel.
  • A ceramic burner for the wax melts, designed exclusively for OwlCrate.
  • An art print of a scene from Little Red Riding Hood.
There's also a preview for next month's theme: HIDDEN WORLDS. Can't wait!



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Thank you so much for reading this unboxing post. 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.

Stay tuned for that giveaway!


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Thursday, January 18, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: The Cruel Prince by Holly Black



TITLE: The Cruel Prince

AUTHOR: Holly Black

GENRE: fantasy

PLOT SUMMARY: Ten years ago, Jude and her sisters Taryn and Vivi were stolen away from the human world and brought to Faerie. Raised by her parents' murderer, Jude has grown to consider Faerie her home, even if, as a human she will always be viewed as an outsider. Determined to prove her worth and earn her place in the High Court, Jude gets tangled up into a complex web of enchantments, half-truths, and murder, as the High King's children anticipate their father's abdication of his throne to one of them. After all, as a human, Jude has one skill the fae do not: she can lie. In the game of politics, that makes her invaluable.

FIRST THOUGHTS: If you're an active part of the online bookish community, you've probably heard this book hyped up a lot recently. It's easy to see why; The Cruel Prince is the first in the Folk of the Air trilogy, and it's by a pretty popular author. So, you may be wondering, did it actually deserve the hype? Well... yes and no. The things everyone was raving about were the things I wound up not liking so much, but the things I ended up really liking about the books were the things no one mentioned at all. At least, not in the reviews I read. (And I admittedly avoided digging too deep, for fear of spoilers.) That said, I really enjoyed this book. It's the first thing I've read by Holly Black, and she didn't disappoint.

THOUGHTS ON PLOT: Okay, so the annoying thing is, the things I liked most about this plot are huge spoilers, so I can't go too deep into it. I will say that I loved the political aspect of the plot -- it's like House of Cards with fairies. (I've also seen it compared to Game of Thrones, but I've never watched or read that, so I'll let you be the judge.) There are a lot of plot twists, and starting in the last hundred pages or so, they hit you approximately every three seconds, so be prepared for that. And the ending... AAAAAAGH. There are literally hundreds of directions the story could go from here. My first thought upon finishing was, "Okay, now I have to know." So, congrats, Holly Black -- I'm definitely buying book #2.

8 / 10

THOUGHTS ON CHARACTERS: A serious mixed bag. I really liked Jude; she's an extremely morally grey protagonist, and she knows it, but she's very strong, capable, and likable in spite of her... many, many flaws. I was also surprised by how much I liked Madoc, Jude's adoptive father/murderer of her parents. Madoc is not a good person by any stretch, but he's a very compelling one, and he and Jude have a fittingly twisted relationship. They love each other, but don't let their guards down around one another for a minute. Their dynamic was incredibly fun to read, and I hope we see it develop in future installments. I also really liked the side characters of Dain, Vivi, and a few characters that I can't mention because their very existence is a spoiler. So, that's the good. Now. The bad. My main gripe with the characters is Cardan, the titular prince. He's every bit as awful as the title implies, and then some. Seriously, I genuinely hated him. Though maybe part of my antipathy can be attributed to the fact that, going off reviews, a lot of the readership seems to love him for some reason. Like, you do you, but... I don't get it. (And I will admit, people claiming Jude is "unlikable" but then turning around and swooning over Cardan does drive me a little crazy.) As a hero (or even an anti-hero), he's just too awful to be likable. As a villain, he's just too... meh. I'd go deeper into why I dislike him, and his dynamic with Jude, but then I'd be getting into spoilers. (I may do a spoiler-filled column on this book later. Let me know in the comments if you want to see that.) Here's hoping he'll win me over in the next two books.

6.5 / 10

THOUGHTS ON WRITING STYLE: The one part of the hype I 100% agree with is that the writing in this book is absolutely beautiful. This is the first thing I've read from Holly Black, so I don't know how it stands up to her other work, but I deeply enjoyed her prose here. Even the slow-moving parts of this book were wonderfully written, and kept me hooked, even when I wanted to slap a few characters (okay, Cardan) in the face.

10 / 10

THOUGHTS ON POLITICAL STUFF: Save for one queer major character -- Jude's sister Vivi is bisexual and has a (human) girlfriend -- there isn't much to say about this aspect. I did like how Jude didn't fall into emotionless action girl syndrome; in fact, she's a pretty emotionally-driven character, which is a nice change of pace compared to a lot of fantasy leads in YA. However, other than that, there wasn't much diversity in this book at all. It wasn't offensive towards any minority groups, though, so there's that. That said, I did like the matter-of-fact portrayal of Vivi's bisexuality, and I hope she and her girlfriend get more pagetime in the rest of the trilogy.

5 / 10

FINAL THOUGHTS: The only thing I'm regretting is the fact that I now have to wait a year for the next book in the series. While I do have my issues with this book, I deeply enjoyed it, and I'm eagerly looking forward to the sequel. It doesn't quite live up to the hype it receives, but few things in life do. Again, I'm highly considering doing another post about this book where I get more into spoilers, so let me know if you want to see that.

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 The Cruel Prince, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!



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Sunday, January 14, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend


TITLE: Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow

AUTHOR: Jessica Townsend

GENRE: fantasy

PLOT SUMMARY: Morrigan Crow is cursed. Not only is she blamed for everything that goes wrong in her hometown, but she is doomed to die on her eleventh birthday. However, the night she turns eleven, Morrigan is rescued by an eccentric man named Jupiter North, who has an infuriating ability to not answer many questions. Jupiter whisks Morrigan away to Nevermoor, a secret, magical world, where Morrigan will be safe from what hunts her. However, in order to stay, Morrigan must compete in the Trials and join the Wundrous Society. Only nine out of hundreds of applicants will be chosen, so Morrigan will have to fight tooth and nail to be able to stay in the safety of Nevermoor.

FIRST THOUGHTS: I've heard a lot of hype for this book, and I was actually hoping to get to it in 2017. Yeah... I hope for a lot of things that never happen. But I'm so glad that this was my second book of 2018, because it truly was a delight. This is a fun, magical adventure with a fantastic main character, and I enjoyed every page. This is a book aimed at middle schoolers, but the idea that adults can't (or shouldn't) enjoy children's literature is nonsense. If a children's book is truly well-written, it'll have something to offer to older audiences, too. This book is a prime example of that.

THOUGHTS ON PLOT: I've heard this book's plot be compared to Harry Potter, and while there are some parallels, I don't think that's entirely fair. Stories about outsiders discovering a world of magic were around long before J.K. Rowling ever picked up a pen, and they'll be around hundreds of years from now. Humanity loves a fish out of water, it appears. That said, this book uses that plot extremely well, and the element of competition with the Trials makes it all the more exciting. Since Morrigan has literal death hanging over her head if she's forced to leave Nevermoor, the stakes are extremely high. The story takes place over the course of a little under a year, but it moves at a brisk pace, never dragging for too long, which is nice. I especially loved the Trials themselves; they were extremely well thought-out, and got me thinking about how I would handle it if I was competing for the same position Morrigan was. The ending is a definite sequel hook, as this is the first in a series, but I honestly have no idea where Townsend tends to take it -- and I can't wait to find out.

8 / 10

THOUGHTS ON CHARACTERS: There are no words to describe how much I adore Morrigan as a main character. She's an outcast and an oddball, but extremely easy to relate to and root for. Her snarky-yet-earnest attitude greatly reminded me of Matilda Wormwood, but Morrigan is definitely her own character. I especially loved her interactions with her mentor, Jupiter. I suspect Jupiter's got some hidden depths we'll see in later installments, but what we got in this book was great. His parental role towards Morrigan was a genuine breath of fresh air, after the opening chapters establish how absolutely crap Morrigan's biological father is. (Seriously, Jessica Townsend, if you're reading this; please have someone slap him in the next book. I'll love you forever.) Morrigan and Jupiter's dynamic felt incredibly real, and their banter is some of the best writing in the book. I also loved Hawthorne, Morrigan's fellow competitor and best friend. I liked how, despite being rivals in the Trials, Hawthorne and Morrigan are thick as thieves, and don't let the Trials get in the way of their friendship. The villain is also fantastic -- I can't say too much about them here, since they're a major spoiler, but I am so looking forward to seeing more of them. My main complaint is that aside from Hawthorne, the other competitors all felt really one-dimensional. Some of them had potential, like Cadence and Noelle, but they went mostly underdeveloped. Here's hoping they turn up in the next book, with more to offer.

8 / 10

THOUGHTS ON WRITING STYLE: Reading this book transported me back to when I was nine and first reading the Harry Potter series. Judging from other people's reviews, I'm not alone in this. This is a middle grade book, meaning it was written for people seven to ten years younger than me, but it's still deeply enjoyable for teenagers and adults. It doesn't dumb anything down, or condescend to its audience, which I think is vital for children's literature. It has a lot of whimsical turns of phrase and clever hidden meanings, some of which you won't catch the first time they pop up. Basically, if you like the writing of Roald Dahl -- which I do -- you'll probably like this.

9 / 10

THOUGHTS ON POLITICAL STUFF: Pretty good, but not in the way you'd expect. There are a couple POC, and a side character who's disabled, but none of that is brought up much. There is, however, a very strong pro-immigration message, which really surprised me, because that's not something you'd expect to see in a middle grade fantasy novel. A large part of the conflict stems from Morrigan being an "illegal" in Nevermoor, and how certain people want to deport her back to her hometown -- despite the fact that Morrigan is a child who desperately needed to escape her situation, and that Nevermoor is the only place she can be safe. Jupiter also has a great line about how being a "great" country that then turns away people that need your help is hardly something to be proud of. In this post-Trump world, we need to get this message across early. My only real complaint about this book is how Morrigan doesn't have any truly positive female relationships. (Unless you count Fen. True, she has a definite personality, but she's also a cat.) Almost every other female character is a rival or obstacle for Morrigan, or a distant (if generally nice) authority figure. I'm glad to see a male-female friendship, but I'd love to see Morrigan link up with some other girls in future installments.

7 / 10

FINAL THOUGHTS: This is a fantastic opener to a new series, and I cannot wait for the second installment. The Trials of Morrigan Crow is funny, exciting, and is actually one of the few books that actually made me tear up a little while reading. Whether you're in sixth grade or your senior year of college, or are even older than that, I'd highly recommend this book. It's off to an extremely strong start, and I can't wait to see where Morrigan and Jupiter will take me next.

FINAL GRADE: 8 / 10


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If you've read Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

The next book I'll be reading is The Cruel Prince, but after that, I'm putting it up to a vote. Remember, only patrons get to have their say! Vote HERE.



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Monday, January 8, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas


TITLE: The Hate U Give

AUTHOR: Angie Thomas

GENRE: contemporary

PLOT SUMMARY: Starr's world is turned on its head when her childhood best friend, Khalil, is shot and killed by a police officer while he's unarmed. Starr is the sole witness to the crime, and at first doesn't intend to reveal she was there in order to protect her safety and privacy. However, as the mass media and people Starr knows at her mostly-white prep school slander Khalil's name, painting the officer as the victim, Starr must decide if she can find the courage to speak out, and fight for justice for her friend.

FIRST THOUGHTS: What a wonderful book to start 2018 with! I'd heard all sorts of hype for this book throughout 2017, and actually bought it the week it came out, but only got to it around December. Well, now I'm kicking myself for not starting it earlier, because this book is truly something special. It is worthy of the hype it gets, and I'm someone that suffers from "hype backlash" incredibly easily. This topped all sorts of "best of" lists for 2017, and I 100% agree -- enough that I listed it as an "honorable mention" on my own Top 10 Best Books of 2017 list, even though I was only a quarter of the way through it at that point. The Hate U Give is an incredible book, and I can't praise it highly enough.

THOUGHTS ON PLOT: As you could probably glean from the summary, this is not a book for relaxation. Right from the word "go," you're plunged into this painfully honest look at the justice system, PTSD, everyday racism, and the fight for equality. However, the story has just enough humor and sweetness added in to keep it from being unbearable. It's a heavy story, and at times, a very sad one, but it's still enjoyable to read. I also appreciated how true-to-life this book is. Without getting into spoilers, it is a brutally realistic look at police shootings, and the immediate aftermath. As much as I would love to live in a world where justice is always served, and where everyone can be expected to be treated equally by the legal system, we don't live in that world. This book reflects that, and it's all the better for it.

9 / 10

THOUGHTS ON CHARACTERS: This book has one of the best supporting casts I've ever read. Our protagonist, Starr, is engaging and likable, but it's the side characters that really make the book shine. I especially adored Maverick and Lisa, Starr's parents. I'd honestly read a whole book about them. Everything about them -- their interactions with each other, their relationship with Starr, their different viewpoints on the events that take place -- was just a delight to read. Starr's boyfriend Chris and her uncle Carlos were also great side characters, and they both surprised me in wonderful ways. I also really liked how One-Fifteen (the officer that shot Khalil, mostly referred to by his badge number) was mainly a background presence. He doesn't get a voice in this novel, because it's not his story. It's Khalil and Starr's. Overall, the characters are all unique, engaging, and deeply realistic.

9 / 10

THOUGHTS ON WRITING STYLE: The book is written in first-person, present tense; we're essentially reading Starr's internal monologue. A lot of writers don't work well with this kind of style, but Angie Thomas absolutely does. The book feels very much like the real thoughts and words of a teenage girl, especially one growing up in the 2010s. The dialogue is also sublime; each character has their own distinct voice, and I loved reading the interactions with one another. This is Thomas' first novel, and I can't wait to read what she puts out next. I know I'll be picking it up right away.

10 / 10

THOUGHTS ON POLITICAL STUFF: Probably the most famous and most talked-about aspect of the book. Inspired by the murders of Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, and countless others, the story examines and heavily discusses the unlawful and unjust killing of black people by the police, and the tendency of the media and the justice system to allow the murderers to get away with it. If you've been following any of the deaths protested by the #BlackLivesMatter movement, you'll recognize the parallels to real life in Starr's story. Khalil, Starr, and One-Fifteen may be fictional, but this is a story that's happened to countless real people, in countless ways.

10 / 10

FINAL THOUGHTS: If the rest of my 2018 reading experience is even half this good... I'm in for a fantastic year. The Hate U Give is a harrowing-yet-hopeful look at police brutality and institutionalized racism in America, and I predict it'll be taught in classrooms in the future. The sooner the better; it carries a message that many people don't want to hear, but needs to be said, nonetheless. This has quickly become one of my favorite books of all time, and I'd recommend it to anyone. Seriously -- go read it.

FINAL GRADE: 9.5 / 10


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If you've read The Hate U Give, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!



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Wednesday, January 3, 2018

TOP 5 WEDNESDAY: Reading Resolutions

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 reading resolutions!

Self explanatory. Let us know 5 of your reading goals for the year. 

I was actually planning to do this topic anyway, so here are my 5 reading goals for 2018!

Photo by JESHOOTS.com from Pexels. [LINK.]

5. Read twenty-four books.

In 2017, I challenged myself to read twelve books, and I did it. In fact, I surpassed my goal! This year, I'd like to challenge myself even more, by reading twenty-four books before 2018 ends. I know averaging two books per month may not sound terribly impressive, especially since there are booktubers who read over one hundred books in a year, but for a college student with a job, it'll be difficult.

4. Read more of the Skulduggery Pleasant series.

A couple of you may have heard of this Irish fantasy series, which has a pretty devoted fandom online, but isn't exactly a household name. I've read the first two Skulduggery Pleasant books, and adored them both. There are nine books in the series, but a second "phase" of books is set to begin this year -- so I need to catch up! I won't promise to being able to read all nine books in the series in a year, but I'd like to read as many as I can. However, since it's been so long, I'll be rereading the first two, before continuing on. I won't be doing full reviews of the first series; I'll be doing SnarkNotes posts instead. Stay tuned!

3. Reread Pride and Prejudice.

Jane Austen's classic romance is one of my favorite books of all time. I'll watch or read almost any adaptation of it, and I can talk your ear off about it. (Seriously. Ask anyone that's ever spent any time with me in real life. They'll tell you.) I'd love to revisit it in the new year!

2. Read something on my literary bucket list.

As some of you may recall, I listed twenty-five books I want to read before I die here. Since then, I've managed to knock off two of the items: Six of Crows and The Disaster Artist. I'd love to get to knock off a couple more in the new year! I can't promise I'll get through the doorstoppers, like Outlander or Les Mis, but I can certainly manage to read at least something on this list.

1. Read at least a little bit every day.

Yep. I'm basic. But for me, this'll be a genuine challenge. I'm easily distracted and I often find it hard to force myself to sit down and read. Even with books I like! But this year, I hope to read a little, tiny bit each day. Even just a page.

(Watch me crash and burn on this in, like, two weeks...)

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What are YOUR reading resolutions for 2018? Tell me in the comments!




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Monday, January 1, 2018

The Top 10 Best Books of 2017

Photo by Brigitte Tohm on Unsplash

It's 2018! May your year be filled with prosperity, opportunity, and love. And, in my case, books. Lots of books. I've pledged to read 24 books this year on Goodreads -- time will tell if I can do it.

But now, let's reflect on the incredible books I read in 2017. Here are my top ten favorites. This was really hard to rank, but I'm happy with my choices. Please note that these are books I read in 2017; some of them came out earlier, but I only got to them that year.

Without further ado, let's get to the countdown!

HONORABLE MENTION: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas



Literally the only reason this book isn't on the list and near the top is because I'm technically only one-fourth of the way into it. But I'm mentioning it here, because I did start it in 2017, even if I'll be finishing it in 2018. This book is incredible. Simply incredible. Please go read it, and expect my rave review once I actually get to the end.

10. Turtles All the Way Down by John Green


John Green's return to the page is a melancholy, honest look at mental illness, mixed in with two delightfully realistic main characters. It's got John Green's classic top-notch prose, and his excellent character voices, all of which were very missed by those of us who love his previous work.

9. An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson


This is a classic fairy tale, and perfect for when you want something lighthearted and feel-good. Following the forbidden romance between a human artist and a fairy prince, this fantasy takes you on a journey through a lovely little world. I don't know if there are going to be sequels, but if there are, I'll gladly snatch them up. The prose in this book is simply beautiful, making it a complete joy to read.

8. My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Jodi Meadows, and Brodi Ashton


This is historical revisionism, through-and-through. Maybe 10% of the things in this book actually happened. 15%, if we're being generous. It's a completely absurd story, blending history, comedy, and fantasy, and I love it. All historical fiction bends the truth, at least a little; My Lady Jane is just honest about it. Telling a heavily edited version of the story of Lady Jane Grey, the girl who was Queen of England for nine days before being executed, this book is long, but incredibly easy to read. It's hysterical, exciting, and easily one of my favorite historical novels ever.

7. The Merciless by Danielle Vega


I feel like it's almost pointless to talk much about this book, since I've already said so much. This is the first in a YA horror series, and it's the best of the lot (so far, at least). It's creepy, tense, and atmospheric, just like any good scary story. I'd recommend this to any fan of religious horror. If you liked The Craft, Ginger Snaps, or Heathers, you'll probably like this.

6. If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo


This is a powerful, heartbreaking narrative about a trans girl's struggles to find a place in the world that will accept her, written by a trans woman. Amanda is a very compelling lead, and her story is one that's sure to stick with readers, queer or not, for years to come. This book's actually been given the Stonewall Book Award, and I'm glad. It deserves the honor.

5. Not Your Sidekick by CB Lee


One problem I've always had with queer fiction is that it tends to be pigeonholed into being just that: stories about being queer. Not that we don't need those stories; we do. But it's nice to get some variety, you know? One reason I simply adored this book was that it has a queer main character, but the story isn't about that. It's a fun, tongue-in-cheek superhero story... that just so happens to feature a romance between two girls. And it's adorable.

4. The Six of Crows Duology by Leigh Bardugo


I finally caught up with the rest of the world and read these two books this year, and they were both so incredible, I had to rank 'em together. This dark fantasy story focuses on a team of six outcasts, as they try to pull off a heist that will make them all rich... assuming they don't kill each other before they even get there. Funny, dramatic, heartrending, and exciting, I'm sure that Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom will be considered young adult classics in years to come.

3. The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee


This queer historical novel has been making a lot of lists this year, and with good reason! Fun, fanciful, and hilarious, it follows our main character Monty as he embarks on his grand tour of Europe. Also in tow are his little sister, Felicity (who will be getting her own spin-off soon!), and his best friend/true love, Percy. When Monty steals something that most people in Europe would kill for, he and his companions are sent running for their lives, all across the continent. This has some of the best bi representation I've ever read, and one hell of a funny main character. I can't wait until the spin-off comes out!

2. Vicious by V.E. Schwab


This left me with the book hangover from Hell. Literally. I think I had to lie down a bit. This book's characters are simply divine, and even as the plot grew more and more complex, I was hanging onto every word. The ending was perfect, in my opinion, but the fact that there's a sequel coming is just the cherry on top. If you like dark superhero stories mixed with intense rivalries, check this out. You won't regret it.

1. The Hearts We Sold by Emily Lloyd-Jones


I'd say I'm sorry for shoving this book down everyone's throats, except I'm not sorry at all, actually. This book is amazing, and has consumed my life in a way I didn't expect. Seriously, ask anyone who knows me in real life -- I've definitely talked this book up to them recently. The world it creates, with demons and otherworldly monsters, is simply wonderful, and even better are its characters. I read most of this book in a single sitting, and was completely swept away by it. I plan to reread it very, very soon. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to have a big following... yet. (Please read it.)

And those are my top picks for last year! Here's hoping I enjoy what I read in this coming year just as much. Happy New Year!

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Thank you so much for reading this top 10 list. 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!

Tell me about your favorite 2017 reads down in the comments!


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