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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If you've read Scepter of the Ancients, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!



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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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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 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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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 Monday's Not Coming, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!



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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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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 Foolish Hearts, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!



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