Wednesday, May 22, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: Squad by Mariah MacCarthy



Squad by Mariah MacCarthy
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Summary: Jenna Watson is a cheerleader. But it’s not some Hollywood crap. Cheerleaders are not every guy’s fantasy; they are not the “popular girls” or the “mean girls” of Marsen High School. They’re too busy for that. They're literally just some human females trying to live their lives and do a perfect toe touch. But that all changed after Raejean stopped talking to Jenna and started hanging out with Meghan Finnegan. Jenna stopped getting invited out with the rest of the squad and she couldn’t tell if it was on purpose or if it was all in her head.

I picked this book up when I was in the middle of an AWFUL reading slump (one I still haven't fully kicked, tbh), precisely because I figured it'd be light and easy to get through. I was right; I got through it in one day. And this book is addicting. Even when I had to take a break to do my homework, I kept having to fight off the urge to pick it back up and keep reading.

Our heroine, Jenna, is... a lot. She's self-centered; sometimes in the normal teenaged way, sometimes in the "I want to slap you upside the head" way. She's petty and a bit of a drama queen. She has a touch of an inferiority-superiority complex. And yet, I couldn't help but like her. She's funny, she's got a lot of heart, and her insecurities felt very real to me. (I think any teenage girl - or anyone who has any memory of being a teenage girl has been where she is at one point or another.) And her selfishness is called out multiple times by multiple characters, so that's always good. She even grows past it. (Mostly.) And I know I called her a drama queen, like, five seconds ago, but honestly? I get it. As someone who has been through some awful, awful friendship breakups, I totally get it. (I wouldn't go as far as Jenna does in some cases, but I did understand why she went there. And, to her credit, she regrets it instantly, so she does realize when she crossed a line.)

This isn't the best-written or most subversive book in the world, and I get why other people don't like it - Jenna's kind of a total brat, and it can be hard to get past sometimes - but I did, more than I expected to. I liked the trans rep (especially since the trans character is a love interest! And such a sweet guy, too), the discussion of fluidity and being bicurious, and how honest and raw the emotions were. The reason Jenna acts like everything is the end of the world is because to her, it is the end of the world. Because, ya know... she's sixteen. And she just lost her best friend, and she doesn't even really know why. I got the sense the author really remembers what it was like to be an emotional, angsty, spiraling teenager, and they captured it incredibly well. I also really liked the exploration of female friendships (especially since, yes, a friendship breakup can suck every bit as much as a romantic one), and the relationship Jenna has with her brother. They go from being distant and aloof to each other to being confidants and friends, and it's adorable.

Also, there's a subplot in which our cheerleader of a main character gets roped into D&D and LARPing... and it's fantastic. View all my reviews

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Have you read Squad? If so, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments! If you haven't already, feel free to follow me on social media. If you like my reviews and want to see more, please consider buying me a coffee!

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: How to be Popular by Meg Cabot



How to Be Popular by Meg Cabot
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Summary: Do you want to be popular? Everyone wants to be popular or at least, Stephanie Landry does. Steph's been the least popular girl in her class since a certain cherry Super Big Gulp catastrophe five years earlier. Does being popular matter? It matters very much to Steph. That's why this year, she has a plan to get in with the It Crowd in no time flat. She's got a secret weapon: an old book called what else? How to Be Popular. What does it take to be popular? All Steph has to do is follow the instructions in The Book, and soon she'll be partying with the It Crowd (including school quarterback Mark Finley) instead of sitting on The Hill Saturday nights, stargazing with her nerdy best pal Becca, and even nerdier Jason (now kind of hot, but still), whose passion for astronomy Steph once shared. Who needs red dwarves when you're invited to the hottest parties in town? But don't forget the most important thing about popularity! It's easy to become popular. What isn't so easy? Staying that way.

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This book was one of my childhood favorites. I stumbled across it in middle school, when I still felt cool and mature for getting books from the Teen Section™ at the library, and I must have read it at least a dozen times during those years. Even now, I still have it memorized nearly page-for-page.

So... is this book good?

Honestly... no. No, it is not.

But it's like literary mac and cheese -- it's not great for you, and it's a bit, well, cheesey (ba-dum-tsh), but it's so familiar and comforting that it's hard for me to to care.

I decided to give this book a reread because I've been STRESSED AF lately and I needed something fun and mindless, and that's what I got. Now that I'm older, I definitely see the story's more overt flaws (the fact that the main character SPIES ON HER BEST FRIEND UNDRESSING and this is played as a joke, the fact that the main character's best friend gets mad at her for trying to be popular WAY before she actually does anything wrong, the use of the word "r*tard" -- albeit by an unsympathetic character -- etc.), but as a kid, they went over my head.

If I read this book for the first time now, as a college student, I'd probably dislike it, but looking at it as a nostalgic fave? I still enjoyed it. There were some lines that I still found genuinely funny, and a couple side characters that were surprisingly likable (Darlene Staggs FTW). So if you want to read it, look at it as what it is -- a fluffy teen romance, plucked right from the early 2000s... with all the dated pop culture references that entails.

View all my reviews

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Have you read How to be Popular? If so, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments! If you haven't already, feel free to follow me on social media. If you like my reviews and want to see more, please consider buying me a coffee!

Monday, May 6, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: Good as Gone by Amy Gentry


Good as Gone by Amy Gentry
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Summary: Thirteen-year-old Julie Whitaker was kidnapped from her bedroom in the middle of the night, witnessed only by her younger sister. Her family was shattered, but managed to stick together, hoping against hope that Julie is still alive. And then one night: the doorbell rings. A young woman who appears to be Julie is finally, miraculously, home safe. The family is ecstatic—but Anna, Julie’s mother, has whispers of doubts.  She hates to face them. She cannot avoid them. When she is contacted by a former detective turned private eye, she begins a torturous search for the truth about the woman she desperately hopes is her daughter.

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So I've heard lots of great things about this book... but for some reason, it just didn't land for me. Here are the reasons why.

  1. The entire plot could've been solved with a DNA test.
  2. The only character I really empathized with (Jane) left halfway through.
  3. I found the main character to be extremely underdeveloped, and her narration to be a bit flat.
  4. I really liked the PI character, but he was woefully underused.
  5. Seriously. The entire plot would've been solved 200 pages earlier if they'd gotten a DNA test the first time it was suggested.

It was easy to read and fast-moving, but overall, this book wasn't for me.

View all my reviews.

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Have you read Good as Gone? If so, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments! If you haven't already, feel free to follow me on social media. If you like my reviews and want to see more, please consider buying me a coffee!

Sunday, May 5, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: Nimona by Noelle Stevenson


Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Summary: Nimona is an impulsive young shapeshifter with a knack for villainy. Lord Ballister Blackheart is a villain with a vendetta. As sidekick and supervillain, Nimona and Lord Blackheart are about to wreak some serious havoc. Their mission: prove to the kingdom that Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin and his buddies at the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics aren't the heroes everyone thinks they are. But as small acts of mischief escalate into a vicious battle, Lord Blackheart realizes that Nimona's powers are as murky and mysterious as her past. And her unpredictable wild side might be more dangerous than he is willing to admit.

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Oh... my God. This book. This frickin' book.

If you like villains, read this book.

If you like shapeshifters, read this book.

If you like pain and suffering and crying, read this book. (You masochistic weirdo, you.)

Nimona is easily one of my favorite fantasy (anti)heroines, and the relationship between her and Lord Blackheart... I swear, it was made to cater to me specifically. Villain and their happy-go-lucky-sidekick? Found families? Friends that blow shit up together? BFFs that won't admit they're BFFs? This is all, to use the scientific term, my SHIT.

I knew within the first chapter that I was going to love this book. I mean, how can you NOT love a heroine who rolls up on the supervillain's lair and just says, "I'm your biggest fan, and I can turn into a shark. Hire me!"

And that ending...


Despite the tears, the comedy in this story is top-notch. As I said to my friend, "It reads like a D&D campaign." Simultaneously skewering and paying tribute to the usual fantasy tropes, this adventure is full of laughs and full of heart.

The characters are really what make this story so special. All three leads - Nimona, Blackheart, and Goldenloin - are far more complex than they first appear, and the relationships between all three feel genuine and real. Nimona in particular is one of the most layered heroines I've read in a long, long time - she's funny, bold, vulnerable, sympathetic, bloodthirsty, loving, and vengeful, all at the same time, and all without losing her spark. If you like your girls morally ambiguous and powerful, Nimona is the gal for you.

Nimona is an absolutely stellar book. Even if you're not normally into graphic novels, PLEASE give this a read. (And scream with me over the fact that we're GETTING A MOVIE NEXT YEAR! From BlueSky Animations, one of the few companies I actually trust with it!)

View all my reviews.

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Have you read Nimona? If so, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments! If you haven't already, feel free to follow me on social media. If you like my reviews and want to see more, please consider buying me a coffee!

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Spring Cleaning...

So.

It's been awhile.

I decided to post here to let y'all know that I'm doing an overhaul of how I run this blog, because for awhile, it's been more stressful than it is fun.

The changes are:


  1. I'm closing my Patreon. Maybe I'll reopen it in the future, but for now, it's a headache I don't want to deal with. (I will, however, still have my Ko-fi link posted.)
  2. I will no longer be using my old template to do reviews. I'll just write freeform reviews, and talk about the things that jump out at me, rather than stick to a specific checklist of things to discuss.
  3. I will be posting reviews in their entirety to Goodreads, partially because I won't be using the template anymore.
  4. I will no longer be posting every review on this site. I will post reviews of books I receive ARCs of, as well as books I felt very strongly about -- positively or negatively. However, if you want to see ALL my reviews, you can follow me on Goodreads.
  5. I will start doing a monthly wrap-up post at the end of every month, with a recap of everything I read, plus an update on my writing.
I hope this means I'll be able to post here more often.

But like. No promises.

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Monday, February 25, 2019

SnarkNotes: Sheets by Brenna Thummler

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... Sheets by Brenna Thummler!


GENRE
  • fantasy
  • graphic novel
  • drama
SUMMARY

  • Marjorie is a lonely young girl who has held her family together by the seams ever since her mother died
  • Wendell is a lonely young boy who died far too soon, and is having trouble adjusting to his new situation as a ghost
  • when Wendell stumbles across the laundromat where Marjorie works -- the family business she struggles to keep afloat -- he inadvertently makes matters much, much worse for her
  • as Wendell attempts to make the afterlife work for him, Marjorie attempts to keep her own life from spiraling out of control

PROS
  • first of all, the art style is absolutely GORGEOUS
  • and for such a short story, there was a LOT of emotional weight here
  • I teared up more times than I am proud to admit
  • Marjorie was such a fantastic protagonist. her situation has forced her to grow up fast but she's still undoubtedly a child
  • and Wendell?
  • oh my sweet baby Wendell
  • he's so precious
  • I loved the society of ghosts, and the fact that they literally need to have sheets to be able to see each other
  • I love how the story balances the ghosts and fantasy element with the real-world turmoil of Marjorie's family situation
  • mentioning the art again because it's really something special
  • I opened the book on a random page in the bookstore, looked at the art for twenty seconds, and then decided to buy it
CONS
  • my main complaint is that the villain felt a bit weak?
  • almost a little too cartoonishly evil
  • (and yes, I realize "it's not realistic" is an odd complaint for a story with ghosts in it but you know what I mean)
  • I also thought it was a bit short, but that complaint is pretty minor because the story wrapped up nicely
  • and if my complaint is that I wish there was more of it, that's a pretty good sign tbh
OTHER NOTES
  • it works great as a self-contained story, but I absolutely would not say "no" to a volume 2
  • also, fuck you Brenna Thummler, the last panel literally made me cry
  • and I was at WORK when I read this
RATING: 8 / 10

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



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Thursday, February 21, 2019

DNF: Angels of Music by Kim Newman


TITLE: Angels of Music

AUTHOR: Kim Newman

GENRE: mystery

SUMMARY: Beneath the opera house in Paris, a mysterious masked man known only as the "opera ghost" has three women under his tutelage. These women are Christine Daae, Irene Adler, and Trilby O'Ferrall. Together, they are the Angels of Music, detectives who investigate crimes their clients would prefer to keep out of the news.

HOW FAR I GOT: 90 / 416 pages

WHY I DIDN'T FINISH: Okay, so as you can probably tell from the summary, I did not go in expecting this to be great literature. I'm a huge fan of the "Phantom" musical, but I know that it's a very melodramatic, very flawed spectacle. Unfortunately, this book didn't have the qualities that made the musical work (sometimes in spite of itself). I think part of it was, I didn't know who a lot of the characters were. Most (if not all) of them come from classic literature, and I had difficulty keeping track of all of them. Not helping matters was the fact that the lineup of Angels changes with every section, and Irene -- who was my favorite in the first section -- was the first one out. That, combined with the writing style not really grabbing me, made it difficult for me to find the motivation to continue reading. I don't think it's a bad book, but it's definitely not for me.

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Monday, February 18, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend


TITLE: Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow

AUTHOR: Jessica Townsend

GENRE: fantasy

NOTE: As this is a sequel, this review will contain spoilers for the first book in the series, Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow. If you haven't read that book yet and wish to go in unspoiled, don't keep scrolling.

PLOT SUMMARY: Morrigan Crow has successfully completed her Trials and won a place in the Wundrous Society. Within Wunsoc, she is a safe, protected, and respected member of society. Or at least, she would be, in theory. The trouble is, Morrigan is a Wundersmith -- she has the ability to control and manipulate Wunder, the very fabric of Nevermoor. Not only are her abilities powerful, they have a bad reputation. The only other currently living Wundersmith is known as "the evilest man to ever live," and Morrigan knows that if anyone outside of a select few learn the truth about her, she could be thrown out of Wunsoc, and probably Nevermoor altogether. As Morrigan tries to cope with her new role in Wunsoc, things get a whole lot worse when it becomes clear that someone knows Morrigan's secret -- and they're willing to blackmail her whole unit with it.

FIRST THOUGHTS: AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH I LOVE NEVERMOOR SO MUCH YOU GUYS. Okay, now that that's out of my system... I am happy to report that this is a more than worthy followup to the first book in the Nevermoor series. If anything, Wundersmith is even better. I am truly hooked on this series, and the worst thing about this book is now I have to wait another year (or... *shudder* even longer) for book three.

THOUGHTS ON PLOT: The primary conflict of the book is Morrigan's struggle to fit in at Wunsoc, and come to terms with her role as a Wundersmith. (Which, predictably, isn't helped by the fact that a lot of people -- including most of the adults -- view Morrigan as a threat because of her abilities. Seriously, I wanted to slap most of the adults in this story at least once.) Even with all the magic and action -- both of which were fantastic, don't get me wrong -- the real driving force of the story is Morrigan's emotional growth. It was really great to see her develop and navigate all these difficult situations, especially when it all got tied into the larger plot with Ezra Squall and the various magical goings-on in Nevermoor. I really hope future installments show us more of the inner-workings of Wunsoc, too -- I'm especially curious about what it is that Jupiter does all day long.

9 / 10

THOUGHTS ON CHARACTERS: I talked a lot in my review of the first book about how much I love Morrigan as a protagonist, and believe me when I say that that hasn't changed. I loved seeing Morrigan's character growth here, and her relationship with her mentor Jupiter develop. Jupiter wasn't in this book as much as I would've liked, but that did have the silver lining of providing more room for the (many, many) supporting characters. This book introduced a lot of characters, mostly the other kids in Morrigan's unit, and the staff at Wunsoc. I really liked a lot of the minor characters, especially the dual-personality'd Miss Murgatroyd / Miss Dearborn. (It makes sense in context. Sort of.) My only real complaint is that the main villain of the story (and, likely, the series), Ezra Squall, wasn't in it much. I know that less is more, and it's probably creepier if we only see him every now and again -- but still. I found his developing dynamic with Morrigan to be really interesting, and I'd like to get more into his character and backstory. Who knows, maybe one of these days we'll find out why he's literally the worst person on Earth.

9 / 10

THOUGHTS ON WRITING STYLE: Still wonderful. Townsend's prose is extremely easy to get into, and once you stop reading, it's difficult to stop -- I finished the back half of the book in a single sitting. Townsend's also really, really good at exposition, which is a must for a good fantasy series. It can be difficult to explain all the rules and lore of a magical world without getting infodumpy about it. (Trust me. I'm speaking from experience.)

9 / 10

THOUGHTS ON POLITICAL STUFF: A step up from the previous installment, in the sense that there are a lot more female-centered relationships. I was really glad we got to see more of Cadence in this installment, and her friendship with Morrigan develop. In terms of representation of  POC and queer people, it's about the same, but I am optimistic about future installments.

7 / 10

FINAL THOUGHTS: If you haven't read Nevermoor yet, I implore you to pick it up. Seriously. I am obsessed with this series, and I am determined to drag as many people down with me as I possibly can. It's one of the best young readers' series around, and it's great for the adults, too. So, go back and read the first book, then read this one, and then come scream with me.

FINAL GRADE: 8.5 / 10


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Friday, January 25, 2019

NOPE!: a book tag

Today, I felt like doing something a little different, and I stumbled across the "NOPE!" book tag on YouTube -- and, what do you know, people on book blogs do it, too!

Photo by FuYong Hua on Unsplash

This is a tag for books that, for whatever reason, just got you to go "NOPE NOPE NOPE." (By the end of this post, I guarantee "nope" will no longer look like a word.) I can't find the original for this one -- if you know who created it, please tell me so I can credit them!

Also... here be spoilers! You have been warned.

Tagged by: Nobody. Myself. But this video by paperbackdreams is what made me decide to give it a go.

Tagging: Literally anyone who wants to do it. Go forth and vent.

1. NOPE ending: a book ending that made you go NOPE either in denial, rage, or simply because the ending was crappy.



The ending of Warcross wrecked me. It was such a good book, but... holy shit. The TEARS.

2. NOPE protagonist: a main character you dislike and drives you crazy.

I was gonna say Bella from Twilight, but honestly, that seemed too obvious. So I think I'll go for Adrienne from Notes From My Captivity, which I reviewed here. I found Adrienne to be incredibly unlikable; she was judgmental, she was mean-spirited, and all her character growth came too little, too late.

3. NOPE series: a series that turned out to be one huge pile of NOPE after you’ve invested all of that time and energy on it, or a series you gave up on because it wasn’t worth it anymore.

I actually can't think of one! There are plenty of series where I read one book and was like "nah" (see this list), but I can't think of one that I got into then gave up on. Unless you count Warrior Cats... that second series, man. What even was that?

4. NOPE popular pairing: a ship you don’t support.

Agnieszka and the Dragon from Uprooted. I wasn't terribly fond of Agnieszka as a protagonist -- I found her dull and one-dimensional -- but the Dragon was just an asshole. Their relationship lacked buildup, and just seemed to go from "You're a tool, I hate you!" to making out in 5 seconds flat. I stand by what I said in my review of this book: Agnieszka and Kasia would've made a better couple, and a more interesting story.

5. NOPE plot twist: a plot twist you didn’t see coming or didn’t like.

I'll go for "NOPE in a good way" for this one... the way the mystery in One of Us is Lying is resolved fucked me up. It fucked me up REAL bad. I promise you won't see it coming.

6. NOPE protagonist action/decision: a character decision that made you shake your head NOPE.

Preeeeeeetty much everything the main character of Stalking Jack the Ripper did. (That's a book I gave up on, so I can't even remember her name, or much about her, just that she did not have the best decision-making skills.)

7. NOPE genre: a genre you will never read.

I'll try anything once, but I doubt I'm too likely to pick up any religious fiction.

8. NOPE book format: book formatting you hate and avoid buying until it comes out in a different edition.

I don't like eBooks much. I can't really explain why, but I just cannot focus as well with them. I have a Kindle but I literally never use it. I'll accept ARCs in eBook form since that's easier (and cheaper) on the publishers, but if I have the option of getting a hard copy, I'll pick that, every time.

Photo by Sophie Elvis on Unsplash

9. NOPE trope: a trope that makes you go NOPE.

Love triangles. Please God make it stop. Also, "bury your gays" and the "evil gay" stereotype. It's 2019, this is getting ridiculous.

10. NOPE recommendation: a book recommendation that is constantly hyped and pushed at you that you simply refuse to read.

Anything by Cassandra Clare, and the Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas. (Especially the latter, since even people I know who really like the books agree the series kind of goes to crap after a few books.)

11. NOPE cliche/pet peeve: a cliche or writing pet peeve that always makes you roll your eyes.

So many... off the top of my head, protagonists that complain about how unattractive they are constantly, instalove, "overprotective" or "oppressive" parents and/or teachers that don't actually do anything that's that bad, high school "alpha" girls with zero depth, chemistry, or motivation, love triangles, and "chosen one" narratives. (That last one CAN be done well, but rarely is.)

As for the more technical side of writing... overuse of dialogue tags, purple prose, and bad pacing. I've wanted to throw so many books for shitty pacing. Also, stream of consciousness narratives. Has never been my thing, never will be.

12. NOPE love interest: the love interest that’s not worthy of being one. A character you don’t think should have been a viable love interest.

I know this is an unpopular opinion, but fuck Cardan from The Cruel Prince. Seriously. That guy's a dick, and Jude can do so much better.

13. NOPE book: a book that shouldn’t have existed that made you say NOPE.

Gonna go full-predictable and say Fifty Shades. Just nope. On so many levels.



14. NOPE villain: a scary villain/antagonist you would hate to cross and would make you run in the opposite direction.

This is a bit of a cheat, but IT from the novel of the same name by Stephen King. Particularly when IT's in the form of Pennywise the clown. I've never read the book, but I saw part of the miniseries with my father when I was nine. I am currently twenty-one years old, and I am petrified of clowns to this day, and if I'm walking alone at night, I will literally go out of my way to not go too close to a sewer.

(As you can imagine, the two months or so when ads for the 2017 movie were EVERYWHERE were not fun for me.)

(Thanks, Dad.)

15. NOPE death: a character death that still haunts you.

Fucking Remus Lupin. I'll never recover.

*Celine Dion playing in the distance*

16. NOPE author: an author you had a bad experience reading and have decided to quit.

Maggie Stiefvater. I know a lot of people love her books, and I was a fan of Shiver in middle school, but when I tried to read The Raven Cycle years later, it just didn't do anything for me. If you like her, I'm glad, but her writing style just is not for me.

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Thank you so much for reading this book tag. 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 want to do this tag, leave me a link to your post in the comments!


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Thursday, January 24, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: How to Experience Death for Beginners by Jessica Branton (ARC)

NOTE: This book has not yet been released. I was given an advance reading copy by MindBuck Media in exchange for an honest review. This book will be out February 14, 2019. If you wish to send me an ARC, check out this page.



TITLE: How to Experience Death for Beginners

AUTHOR: Jessica Branton

GENRE: paranormal / mystery

PLOT SUMMARY: Casey Darling is gifted (or, if you ask her, cursed) with the ability to enter the minds of people in their dying moments. She sees everything -- their joys, their sorrows, their greatest regrets. When a serial killer begins to target her small town, Casey's power causes her even more torment than normal, especially when the FBI realizes she has an unusual knowledge about the victims. Casey now must try and keep her powers from destroying her life, keep her friends and family safe, and keep herself off the suspects list.

FIRST THOUGHTS: I really thought I would love this book. If you follow my reviews, then you know that I am all about thrillers and mysteries, and come on -- just look at that title! Unfortunately, though, this book was kind of a mess. The characters were unlikable and the mystery wasn't well-executed. Overall, the basic setup is good, but there are so many factors weighing it down. (And, honestly, when I found out the now-adult author was fourteen years old when she wrote this book... Let's just say that explains a lot.)

THOUGHTS ON PLOT: For a murder mystery, this book was almost completely lacking in suspense. While Casey's powers were interesting, and the fact that she winds up working with the FBI is a great plot idea, the execution just did not work for me. (I'm not sure if the working-with-the-FBI thing is a spoiler or not. It's in the official summary on Goodreads, but it takes over half the book to get to that part -- which was also disappointing.) I never really thought that Casey or her loved ones were ever in danger. The killer does murder one of Casey's friends, but it happens so early that we barely even know her, so we don't feel the loss. In fact, we barely know any of the victims. A lot of the plot issues stem back to character issues, which I'll discuss below. In short, the fact that we didn't really get to know the killer or their victims really worked against the plot in a major way, and made it difficult -- if not impossible -- to care.

3 / 10

THOUGHTS ON CHARACTERS: Casey Darling is, unfortunately, one of my least favorite protagonists I've read lately. I understand that she has good reason to be stressed out, and that teenagers are extremely imperfect, but there's a difference between having a protagonist that's imperfect, and having one that's flat-out unlikable. Casey was usually the latter. To me, she came off as extremely judgmental and sometimes downright cruel -- especially to her sister Christina. Christina was also frustrating, partially because the author couldn't seem to decide what she wanted her personality to be; it seemed to change depending on what the plot needed. Cameron as a love interest and as a character was extremely bland; we don't know a whole lot beyond, "he's troubled, he has a bad relationship with his dad, and he likes Casey." The side characters were all one-note and underdeveloped -- most of them could've been cut entirely and the story would've lost nothing. In particular, I would've cut Tiffany, Phoebe, and Alex, and given their (limited) roles to Danny, since he was the only side character that did much of anything. (Unfortunately, this did not stop his personality from being extremely flat.) The school "mean girl" (whose name I've already forgotten) seemed like a very shallow Regina George imitation, and she contributed nothing to the plot.The actual killer was also a major letdown. Their lines were cliched and their personality was one-dimensional, and they had basically no motive, which just isn't interesting, let alone scary. Overall, Casey was probably the most developed character in the bunch. Even if I didn't like her, she at least had more than one personality trait.

2 / 10

THOUGHTS ON WRITING STYLE: One thing I will say about this book is that it is easy to read. I breezed through it, and I had no difficulty following. However, it was also bogged down by cliched dialogue, awkward sentence structure, and some really, really flat "actions." (Though as someone who can't write action for shit... I sympathize.) As mentioned above, the author wrote this book when she was fourteen, though she's an adult now. A fourteen-year-old being able to write something this long is nothing to sneeze at, and I can certainly understand wanting to revisit your old stories. But if you're gonna publish something your teenage self wrote... consider a rewrite.

3 / 10

THOUGHTS ON POLITICAL STUFF: Oy vey. This is one of those books where, on the surface, there's some good representation -- the main character's best friend is bisexual, a character struggles with self-harm, multiple characters have issues with depression, and the main character's sister has selective mutism. But when you get into how those things were portrayed... yeah, we got problems. I'll start obvious: Danny is a textbook example of the Gay Best Friend stereotype, which I talked about here. My problem isn't that he's campy and flamboyant; my problem is that that is all there is to him, and he rarely gets to do anything besides be Casey's BFF. I also take issue with the way Cameron's self-harming is portrayed, specifically the idea that Casey's love is enough to stop him from dong it. That's a damaging and inaccurate message to send, especially to teens who may be reading. It's true that a supportive partner or friend can help someone make strides towards their recovery, but no relationship can single-handedly fix something so serious. (This is one aspect in which I could really see that the author was fourteen when she wrote this. I myself had a simplistic, love-conquers-all view of mental illness at that age -- one that I thankfully grew out of.) Finally, let's talk about Christina. Christina is portrayed as having selective mutism, which developed after her and Casey's father died. I was interested in this, because I haven't read a mute character in a novel before, but the way it was portrayed just did not sit right with me. There were points where it felt like the other characters were treating Christina like a child -- and they're never called on this. Infantilizing disabled people is a serious problem, and you see it happen in media and real life all the freaking time. No matter how well-meaning the offender is, it's condescending, unhelpful, and outright insulting. I also really did not like how Casey would act like Christina being mute is a choice, like Christina is deliberately being difficult. While it's true that a depressing number of people do act like this towards disabled people, and Christina does call her on it a couple times, Casey doesn't ever seem to change or realize what a load of crap that is. So we're left with an extremely unlikable protagonist passing judgement on someone whose disability is poorly portrayed, which is just a waste.

2 / 10

FINAL THOUGHTS: As you've probably gathered, How to Experience Death for Beginners was just not my cup of tea. I'm glad I gave it a chance, and I really do think the plot had potential, but overall, it was a huge letdown. I'm glad other people like it, but I personally did not.

FINAL GRADE: 2.5 / 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 plan to read How to Experience Death for Beginners, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

A special thanks to Rebecca from MindBuck Media for reaching out to me and giving me this ARC! Even though this wasn't the book for me, I'm always pumped to have a chance to read new releases before they officially hit the shelves.



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Tuesday, January 8, 2019

New Year, New Mishaps - 2019 Resolutions


I've been told we're officially in a new year, so I figured I'd just go ahead and join in on the time-honored tradition of posting some things I hope to accomplish, so there's a record of my failure.

First, let's review the resolutions I posted last year, shall we?

1. Read 24 books.

Hey, I actually did this one! Granted, I finished book #24 with literally only a couple hours to spare, but still. 2018 was not a good reading year for me. I often went for weeks without picking up a book, especially when school wasn't in session. So, yeah -- this was a close call. But hey, I did it.

2. Read more of the Skulduggery Pleasant series.

Another one I actually did! In 2018, I read Scepter of the Ancients, Playing With Fire, The Faceless Ones, and Dark Days. Sooooo... one sixth of the books I read last year were in this series, to put it in perspective.

3. Reread Pride and Prejudice.

Nope. Didn't do it.

4. Read something on my literary bucket list.

Nope.

5. Read at least a little bit every day.

...I don't wanna talk about it.

For those of you keeping score, that's two out of five. Definitely not a passing grade. But I hope to do better this year. Let's look over my goals for 2019!

1. Read 24 books.

Well, I managed this last year -- let's see if I can do it again.

2. Read at least a little bit every day.

I doubt I'll be able to actually do this, but I can certainly try. The first week of 2019 is over and I've managed to do it so far -- only fifty-one weeks to go.

3. Finish my first draft of my current WIP.

Because I'm pretty sure if I don't finish it, my dear friends Annie and Tiffany might kill me.

4. Post on this blog at least twice a month.

This should really be, like... the bare minimum. But as we saw last year, reaching the bare minimum is often a real achievement for me. Hopefully in 2019 I'll be able to keep this blog more active.

(And, hey, this post makes two for January -- that's something!)

5. Read something on my literary bucket list.

I own quite a few things on that list... COME ON, SUSIE, GET IT TOGETHER.

6. Read at least two non-fiction books.

Okay, yeah, yeah, reading two things that are actually educational or something probably isn't all that impressive. But we have to start somewhere.

Actually, "we have to start somewhere" is a good summary of everything on this list.

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Thank you so much for reading this 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.

If you have any new year's resolutions, tell me about them down in the comments!



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Friday, January 4, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: Once & Future by Amy Rose Capetta and Cory McCarthy (ARC)

NOTE: This book has not yet been released. I was given an advance reading copy by the Hachette Book Group in exchange for an honest review. This book will be out March 2019. If you wish to send me an ARC, check out this page.



TITLE: Once & Future

AUTHOR: Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy

GENRE: science fiction / fantasy

PLOT SUMMARY:  For centuries, Merlin has been caught in a cycle. He finds this cycle's King Arthur, trains him to defeat whatever evil is plaguing the world... and, inevitably, Arthur fails, dies, and leaves his knights in turmoil. As he ages backwards, Merlin sees no way this cycle can end well, but he's determined to try anyway. This cycle brings him Arthur #42 -- Ari Helix, an illegal immigrant on the run. Her galaxy is controlled by an evil corporation, Mercer, and she's spent every second of her life in hiding and in danger. But not anymore. Now, she has Merlin and his magical powers, and a sword called Excalibur... and, now, a revolution to start.

FIRST THOUGHTS: I was super-hyped when I was contacted to review this book -- I mean, it's King Arthur in SPAAAAAAAAAAAAACE. How could anyone say no to that? I have a semi-casual knowledge of the Arthurian legend (I know the usual stories and have Strong Opinions about Morgana, basically), and you all know by now that I'm trash for a good retelling. This book is a good start to what I hope will be a great series -- and a damn good reimagining of the Arthur story, too. Also, this whole book just makes me think of the "sword lesbian" meme and honestly, I love it.

THOUGHTS ON PLOT: Like I said, I only have a casual understanding of the original story, but from what I do know, this is a retelling that was clearly written by people who really, really love the King Arthur legend. And that definitely works in its favor -- it's great to see where the authors updated some aspects of the story, where they kept some things more-or-less the same, and where they were like "nah" and did their own thing. Even when separated from the Arthurian legend, it's still a good story about a ragtag bunch of misfits fighting against an evil empire -- with a bit of magic on their side, to boot. My only real complaint is that so much happens in this book, and in some parts, it goes by really, really fast. There were a few times when I was like, "...Wait, what just happened?" because the huge plot development happened so rapidly that I wasn't sure I just read what I thought I read. But, overall, this is a good opener for the series, and I look forward to seeing how it progresses in the sequels.

7 / 10

THOUGHTS ON CHARACTERS: Merlin and Ari are two of the most compelling and interesting protagonists I've read this year. I loved both of their character arcs, especially Merlin's. (And the fact that he's aged backwards into a grouchy teenager is just inherently hilarious to me.) Ari was hilarious, and extremely layered -- she's an impulsive teenager and focused mainly on surviving, but she's also a noble and true heroine, through-and-through. A lot of the side characters were great, though I do wish more was done with Nimue and Morgana -- especially the latter. Nimue, we didn't see much of (at least not in this installment), but Morgana, I saw just enough that I was intrigued by her as an antagonist and as a character in general, so I was disappointed when her arc wasn't played out as fully or as three-dimensionally as it could've been.

7 / 10

THOUGHTS ON WRITING STYLE: This has some laugh-out-loud hilarious narration, both in chapters following Ari and chapters following Merlin. And, as noted above, I got extremely attached to all the characters very quickly. I haven't read anything else from either of these authors, but I'm definitely interested in reading more of their work now. My biggest complaint with the writing is the pacing. As much as I liked this book and enjoyed the plot, I will admit that the pacing is sort of a mess. A lot of the action goes by far too quickly, and a lot of dramatic moments either happen offscreen or are glossed over, which makes it hard for them to have an emotional impact. I feel like this book could've used another round of edits to make it the best it could've been.

7 / 10

THOUGHTS ON POLITICAL STUFF: What drew me to this book in the first place were the words "King Arthur as a queer teenage girl." And let me tell you, the politics in this book is a gift that just keeps on giving. We have so much representation for queer identities and people of color, and as a bonus, the entire plot can be summed up as "King Arthur kills capitalism with a sword." All the minorities are nuanced and respectfully portrayed, and there's even a discussion on cissexism and how stupid it is. Other authors should take notes -- this is the sort of representation I want to see.

10 / 10

FINAL THOUGHTS: I'm so glad I was able to close my 2018 reading with such a good one! Once this hits the shelves, I don't doubt that it'll find its fanbase very quickly. I, for one, will be waiting eagerly for the second book. Whether you're familiar with the Arthurian legend or not, I think you'll enjoy this fun, fantastical space adventure. (And, authors, if you're reading this -- I certainly would not say no to an ARC of book the second.)

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 Once & Future, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

A special thanks to Diana from the Hachette Book Group for reaching out to me and sending me this ARC! As my review above shows, I really enjoyed it.



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