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If I Was Your Girl: well-rounded, nuanced, full of hope

If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo


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Disclaimer: this book’s main character is a trans girl, and I am a cisgender person. I will refrain from speaking about trans representation in the book because I do not think I am qualified to talk about it.

If I Was Your GirlIf I Was Your Girl follows the story of Amanda, a trans girl who recently moved to Lambertsville, Tennessee to live with her father. Her life back home was difficult; despite having a loving mother, she was bullied relentlessly and was even assaulted- so much so that she attempted suicide. Now, she’s far away and she’s hoping to start over new with a father who’s been absent for most of her life, where nobody knows who she is and where she can keep anything she wants hidden to herself.

Meredith Russo’s debut is strong- one that kept me hooked from start to finish, which had me caring for most of the characters deeply, one that felt real without seeming heavy-handed. Russo does an incredible job of balancing the elements in her narrative; we get to see Amanda’s traumatic past through flashbacks that give just enough away without being overly graphic. We get to see her relationship with her mother in these flashbacks, and see her relationship with her father develop from one that is reserved, wary to one that is warm and protective. We see her school life, her relationship with her friends, and the romance, of course.

But that’s easily achievable- what really makes this book stick out is how deeply nuanced and complex each of these facets is. Her relationship with her parents is never perfect; both of them clearly love her, and she clearly loves them too. But they make mistakes that truly hurt Amanda, and the way Russo made her protagonist maneuver around their complicated relationship was such a delight to read. In the same vein, the conflict between Amanda’s father and Amanda was palpable. He hasn’t been around almost her entire life, and now she’s coming to depend on him as her sole caretaker. The push-and-pull between them was deeply nuanced, and I really enjoyed seeing both of them grow.

I also thought Amanda’s relationship with her new female friends was beautifully handled. She clearly has issues with religion; she struggles with accepting a faith that has hurt her in the past, that people have used to alienate her. Yet in this new town, most of her friends, including her boyfriend’s family, are super religious. Concerned that they’ll shun her if they find out that she’s trans, she keeps part of her identity hidden. To see her try to figure out who she can and cannot trust is difficult; you empathize and feel for Amanda so much throughout the book, but ultimately, this is a book of hope. It’s a book of silver linings where yes, bad things happen, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel and life is worth holding onto that light.

Having said all that, I did have issues, which were all technical issues. Firstly, considering everything this novel dealt with – homophobia, transphobia, parental issues, friendship issues, romantic subplots, religious subplots – I thought it was too short. While I’m so glad that this was a well-rounded contemporary, there was room for more. Each aspect of Amanda’s life could be pushed more, particularly her relationship with Grant. I felt that it was a little insta-lovey; they meet, she likes him, he likes her, they fall in love. I wanted to see more casual interactions with them, where there relationship builds and we see the chemistry between them. Right now, I didn’t feel invested in their romance because it was sort of just handed to us.

Secondly, I felt that Amanda’s trouble with religion was left dangling at the end of the book, which was a bummer because that was the part of the book I related the most to. I wanted to see her reach a conclusion – if not that, some sort of compromise, considering how much it was brought up throughout the narrative. In the end, the theme just flickered out and didn’t reach a full resolution. Which was a problem I had with the end, in general. I loved the plot aspects of the ending; Russo did a brilliant job of balancing the happy with the bittersweet, but it was rushed. I guess I’m saying that I just wanted more meat to the bones of the novel; if it were a hundred and fifty more pages, it could’ve been great. I also felt that despite the complexities of the themes and relationships in the novel, that complexity lacked within the actual characters. I cared about them, sure, but their personalities weren’t fully developed, I thought.

The writing, too, didn’t have any flavor to it. Which is not to say it was bad- it was just okay. There wasn’t anything distinct about Russo’s style, but I’m not going to complain too much about that because this is a debut, and writers keep maturing and developing their narrative style and voice as they write. I know that I’ll be on the lookout for her other books, because I think Russo has the ability to become one of the best contemporary writers of this time. Because despite my complaints, this is an incredibly important book. A book that I will recommend until my dying day because it’s a book that needs to be read by everyone. Everyone. If I could make it required reading for every parent, every teacher, every teenager, every person who interacts with other human beings, I would.


Trigger warnings: homophobia, transphobia, suicide attempt, depression, assault, forced coming out


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Rani Patel in Full Effect: scattered, illogical, and offensive

Rani Patel in Full Effect by Sonia Patel


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Trigger Warnings (highlight words below)

Self-harm, rape, incest, pedophilia, sexual abuse, substance abuse


28818593Rani Patel is many things. She’s a rapper who lives in the Hawaiian island of Moloka’i- a daughter of Gujarati immigrants who is the only Indian in her community. She’s a girl who’s been affected by an unspeakable trauma in her childhood, and she’s someone who’s trying to find a place for herself in a world governed by men. The patriarchy has shaped her culture, her relationships with her family and friends, her parents’ broken marriage, and Rani is just about done with it. The story begins when Rani discovers that her father’s been having an affair with a woman just a couple years older than Rani. The novel unfolds through explorations of gender roles in ‘Indian culture,’ (you’ll find out why I used quotations) as well as Rani’s more personal traumas.

Rani Patel in Full Effect started off strong with a well-established voice, and a seemingly snarky, strong heroine that would develop and mature to overcome the hardships she had gone through her entire life. The pretty-decent rap was an added bonus, but as the narrative went along, things started to go downhill. For starters- the technicalities. The secondary characters were completely flat, had very little of substance to their personalities, and were mainly used as plot points. The protagonist undergoes very little development, and the some that she does go through is so heavy-handed it’s almost laughable. Putting technicalities aside and moving on to the deeper stuff, I’d like to point out that Sonia Patel is an accredited psychiatrist at one of the most prestigious universities in North America, and she clearly has a very good handle on topics of childhood abuse. But that did not play in her favor, because this book read like a case study.

If you’ve ever read psychology case studies, you’ll know how very targeted they are. How very little information you get about the person other than their trauma and the consequences of that trauma; this book read a lot like that. It was as if Sonia Patel had a checklist on hand of every symptom, every negative consequence she could think of to add to the protagonist’s life. And I feel that topics of childhood abuse and trauma are important- in fact, they are so important that it’s crucial that we do not reduce victims to their traumas. Rani Patel was a feisty young woman who had all the potential in the world, but her personality, her choices – even the trivial ones – were completely dominated by this imaginary checklist. Rani did not feel human, and this contributes to a stigma. A picture of trauma victims that they are little more than their past.

Moreover, this book was very scattered. I’m a huge proponent for cohesive contemporaries, where we are given complete pictures of protagonists’ lives, but this was all-over-the-place. There were strong themes of the negativities of Indian culture with regards to the position of women in marriages and outside of them- explored through Rani’s parents’ marriage. Rani’s relationships with her parents also played a pivotal role. But then there was also a love-triangle between Rani’s classmate, Rani and a thirty-one year-old dude. There was Rani’s overcoming of trauma, as well as her rapping. It was so much in so little that it felt displaced and somewhat illogical. Now think about what I said before- how Rani’s trauma took over every aspect of her life. Connect that with all of this stuff that was happening, and you get a very heavy-handed, in-your-face book about a caricature, rather than a person.

Am I sounding harsh? I mean to be harsh, because those are just a fraction of problems I had with this novel. I do not mean to invalidate Sonia Patel’s voice- not at all, but as someone who is from a culture almost identical to Indian culture, I found the author’s portrayal problematic and one-dimensional. It lacked any sort of nuance whatsoever. Indian culture- how barbaric and backward, where men see women as property, where women are constantly and commonly oppressed. This exists. This exists in South Asian societies- the patriarchy is alive and thriving, and it’s a sad fact that needs to be addressed, explored and annihilated. But damn, there was such little nuance in the cultural elements of this book. The ‘good’ things were Bollywood, jalebis and clothes- the superficial things that give India the label of “exotic” to the Westerner, but deep down, this novel believes that India is archaic. It’s just another projection of a stigma. I repeat: I am aware that these things exist, but to reduce a massive, ancient culture to its most primitive form is horrendous. Not to mention that this is done throughout the novel, and then this line pops up during a love scene between Rani and a white dude:

“He becomes the European conqueror, fully exploring his South Asian conquest.”

Perhaps I’m missing something, but that is highly offensive considering it was said in an un-ironic, this-is-supposed-to-be-romantic kinda way. What the fuck?

And wait up! There’s more! For a novel that’s supposed to uplift women suffering from trauma, abuse, misogyny and the shackles of ‘oppressive cultures,’ this book does one hell of a good job driving women into the ground- without consequence, I may add. There are no healthy female relationships. Rani’s relationship with her mother stems from the oppressive-culture-makes-mother-silent trope, so there’s very little of decent, human interaction between the two. Rani has no female friends- none, whatsoever. The few female interactions that she does have are rooted in jealousy, resentment and anger. She judges women superficially, and constantly refers to one woman as “boob girl” even though she’s never even fucking spoken to this girl, and has made a judgement about her seemingly-fake breasts by looking at her for literally three seconds. Then, she writes a rap that’s supposed to be empowering her by putting down women who have plastic surgeries. Also, are you seriously calling women bimbos and then trying to pass this novel off as feminist? I’m fuming. I’m disgusted.

This novel managed to offend me on several different levels, all at the same time. It offended me as someone who’s very passionate about the stigmas surrounding victims of abuse and trauma, as someone who’s culture is almost identical to the one supposedly portrayed in the novel, and as someone who is a woman. The fact that it’s an #ownvoices novel is a cherry-on-top, because what if girls younger than me pick this up because it promises representation, and they then think that this is how they’re supposed to feel? I’m sorry. I wish I could be objective, and I wish I could point out some things this novel did do right, but it’s offensive on such a personal level that it is not within my capabilities to do that.

Stay away. Stay far, far, far away.


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Beast: a beautiful tale of love, loss, acceptance and forgiveness

Beast by Brie Spangler


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Trigger Warning (Highlight below to see)

Transphobia, insensitivity to self-harm, self-harm, mental illness, mild violence


Disclaimers

I am a cisgender female, and thus am obviously not qualified or educated enough to speak about the elements revolving around the trans character in this story. I will try to keep my review focused on the narrative because that’s what I feel I can judge appropriately. 🙂 For a trans woman’s perspective on this book, I found Meredith Russo’s review, which I urge you to check out.

While we’re here, I’d just like to state that I have never reviewed a book with a transgender character before. Although I have read a couple of blog posts about how to review books with trans characters as a cis person, I am aware that my knowledge is incomplete. If you find that I said something potentially problematic, please, please, please let me know.


The Review

beastDylan looks nothing like a fifteen year-old. He’s well over 6 feet tall, his body’s covered with muscle, and as he describes it- he’s hairier than a throw rug. He’s been made fun of his entire life, ever since he hit puberty in the fourth grade. Nicknamed “Sasquatch,” or more commonly, “Beast,” Dylan gets along with his mother well enough, but she can sometimes be overbearing. And more often than not, he wishes his father was alive, or up in the heavens just listening, so he could have someone to relate to. On the worst day of his life when hats and long hair are banned at school, Dylan falls off the roof of his house. Although he insists that he fell while trying to retrieve a football, his mother insists that he go to at least one session of therapy. There, he meets a beautiful girl named Jamie whom he bonds with immediately. Their connection is something special. But when Dylan was wallowing in self-pity and had zoned out during his first therapy session, he missed it when Jamie revealed that she was a trans girl. This shouldn’t change anything, but will it?

Going into this book, I didn’t know what to expect. I had the idea that it would be a cutesy love story, but the fact that it’s a Beauty & the Beast retelling threw me off. And while the cutesy romantic aspect is very much there, Beast is an incredibly layered, complicated tale revolving around characters so human and so flawed that it will leave you breathless from the thrill of it, from the reality of it. And it took me a while to realize just how much I was enjoying the story- perhaps because I was caught up in the retelling aspect of it initially, wondering how it was going to come into play apart from our protagonist’s nickname. But as the story naturally unraveled, as pieces of the puzzle started to simultaneously come together and fall apart, this novel was a delight to read.

The relationships in Beast are so layered and strong- especially, Dylan’s relationship with his mother. There’s so much negativity and tension in their dynamic, (I believe he’s even slapped once in the novel.) but they rely so much on each other that it becomes beautiful in its imperfect nuance. A lot like how our relationships are with parents. We don’t always love them, we’re sometimes sick of them. But ultimately, they’re who we go to. I loved that part of this book. And the symbiotic romance between Dylan and Jamie was also incredible, full of slow-burn build-up and chemistry that was almost tangible.

But my favorite aspect of this story was definitely our main character. His heart’s in the right place- that much becomes apparent from the very start. But Spangler created this incredibly complex, broken teenager who’s trying very hard to be as tough as his exterior suggests he is, but he’s simply not. He’s a fifteen year old boy with many, many insecurities- particularly with how he looks (I would actually argue that he has body dysphoria, even though that’s not on-the-page mentioned, although the Meredith Russo review linked above makes a good case for gender dysphoria). He looks like a man, but his inner monologues remind us that he’s still a child who has much to learn. He has a best friend, JP, who’s kind of an asshole, but Dylan sticks with him because JP is the good-looking, popular kid that offers Dylan the protection from straight-up bullying. Dylan misses his father, and is constantly looking for signs from above to guide him to the right path. And he tries to hide his pain and sorrow behind sarcastic quips- but you can only hide for so long.

Dylan’s development throughout the narrative is- at the risk of sounding ineloquent- such goals. If I could write a character that deeply flawed and transform him into such a lovable, such an empathetic individual, I will have succeeded as a writer, in my eyes. You know those characters where you know they have flaws, but the flaws are still endearing? Not with Dylan. He’s actually an asshole in the beginning of the book- to the point of being characterized as an anti-hero even. When he goes to therapy for self-harm, he makes condescending and insensitive remarks towards the other people in his group, and when he finds out that Jamie is a trans girl, he lashes out. Not at her, but in a general sense. Spangler doesn’t sugarcoat this at all. Although it’s discomforting and almost disturbing to read, he asks questions that I’d imagine every teenage boy would ask. And from that insensitive, clueless teenage boy, he grows and grows to become a beautiful, wonderful young man.

So, it’s obvious here that I really enjoyed this book. Which is not to say that it was perfect. Primarily, my problem was with Jamie’s character. I feel that all the other characters were so flawed and complicated that she stuck out as this almost-perfect girl, which inhibited me from being as invested in her character as I was in Dylan’s. Moroever, I felt that there were a couple of loose ends that weren’t resolved, particularly with regards to Dylan and JP’s relationship. I also thought that mental illness plays such a prominent role in this novel, particularly with Dylan (can’t say much for the risk of spoilers) that I definitely wish it had been explored more. And finally, Dylan looking for a sign from his father was a little overdone, but apart from these issues, this was a solid, solid read that I would highly recommend.

Please, please, please give heed to the trigger warnings above. This book is so unabashedly honest, and the characters say some cruel things, so please be aware of this.


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Flamecaster: a solid series starter, but far from Chima's best

flamecaster review


flamecasterCinda Williams Chima’s Flamecaster is a sequel of sorts to her entire Seven Realms series, although it is not essential that you read the first series before starting this one. It takes place twenty or so years after the events of the Crimson Crown, and while it does not follow the same characters or take away anything from the enjoyment of the first series, it does occur in a chronological, sequential order. Flamecaster follows the story of Han Allister’s (who was the protagonist in the Seven Realms series) son Adrian, who because of certain tragic and unfortunate circumstances, flees from his home and pursues his passion of healing and revenge at Oden’s Ford. He is the son of the Fellsmarch queen Raisa, who is engaged in a war with the king of Arden- a person who is intent on eradicating the line of the Gray Wolf Throne. Adrian s’ul Han must keep his identity secret as he pursues his studies, while also ensuring that the Arden monarch doesn’t hurt any more members of his family.

Forgive me for comparing Chima’s two series, but since they are in chronological order, it makes sense that I make comparisons. The Seven Realms series was a triumph: it put Chima near the top of my auto-buy authors list just because it was so magnificent. In content and technique alone, it is arguably one of the greatest young-adult fantasy series at the moment. And perhaps one of the reasons why The Seven Realms just soared above and beyond its peers was due to the tremendous characterization Chima employed. Unfortunately, Flamecaster lacks the level of depth that I’ve come to expect of Chima’s characters.

I have always insisted that Han Allister is one of the greatest heroes I have ever read: a former thief lord and murderer, who grew up on the streets in a poverty-stricken area, who is dangerous and lethal but ultimately decent at heart. To make him the hero of the series was a ballsy move, and I admired Chima for it. She does the same in this one: she takes a character who is unlikely to be a hero and makes him the protagonist. Adrian is a healer; he knows very little of fighting or politics or the nitty-gritty of this world torn by strife and war. In the first few pages, I was excited to see who Adrian would navigate through this cut-throat world as a healer, but I found myself sorely missing Han’s level of intellect and danger. Because while Adrian being the protagonist is unexpected, I didn’t feel that he deserved that title. Han was a bad-ass, in every sense of the word. You knew he could do something fantastic with something very little, and it was always believable because of who he was. Yet, Adrian didn’t draw me in.

In fact, none of the characters drew me in the way they did in Chima’s previous series. I found myself wishing that the secondary characters were the protagonists instead because they were more interesting. Destin Karn, especially, was a multi-layered character who has something more to him that I’m sure Chima will reveal in the next book. I looked forward to his chapters more than the protagonists’, and that doesn’t sound too promising. Moreover, the romance between the protagonists felt so rushed: they meet, and within a few pages, they’re in love. I don’t think romance is Chima’s strongest feat- it didn’t do much for me in her previous series either, but coupled with the fact that I didn’t care for the protagonists, I found myself skimming much of the ‘romantic’ scenes.

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But despite all this, Flamecaster is a solid start to the series from a storytelling viewpoint. The world is richer than ever with vivid descriptions and the portrayal of the intricacies of war and politics. We encounter a new area that we hadn’t previously explored in the Seven Realms, and new magic has come into play. The stakes seem to be higher in this series as well, which tells me that there’s going to be a lot more action in this series. But I won’t lie when I say wow, I miss Han Allister too freaking much to be fully invested.


flamecaster rating

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Lair of Dreams: an unexpectedly complex story of horror and America

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Lair of Dreams is the sequel to Libba Bray’s The DivinerThis review may contain spoilers from the first book in this series.

lairofdreamsPicking up a few weeks after the events of the first book, Lair of Dreams begins by launching the reader into the new supernatural problem in the Diviners’ world. People in New York City go to sleep, and their perfect dreams depicting their idealistic lives soon turn to nightmares. Nightmares that they can’t be woken from. These people remain in a state of permanent sleep until they die. Doctors don’t have a cure, or even an explanation. Psychologists and experts in sleep are being brought in from all over the world, yet nothing seems to come of it (the psychology nerd in me squealed when our characters met Carl Jung!) The authorities, under immense pressure from the government and the American people, are forced to strike down on the area where this “sleeping sickness” is believed to have originated: Chinatown- New York City’s Chinese population is left feeling like second-class citizens, like they are not human beings. But more than just the emotional ramifications, people are being taken out from their homes, their papers checked, and the question of further immigration very much hangs by a thin thread.

Author’s Note: “The story of America is one that is still being written. Many of the ideological battles we like to think we’ve tucked neatly into a folder called “the past” – issues of race, class, gender, sexual identity, civil rights, justice, and just what makes us “American” – are very much alive today. For what we do not study and reflect upon, we are in danger of dismissing or forgetting. What we forget, we are often doomed to repeat.”

This book was a masterpiece in the sheer complexity of its themes. Set in 1920s America where the country was all too satisfied to ignore the less-glamorous things in life, Bray’s story paints a vivid, yet extremely disturbing picture of the American illusion. Home of the free and the brave on the surface, but simmering with hatred, prejudice and outright racism against people differing in color, culture and language. Bray forces us to stand in the place of an American-Chinese character who has to face awful prejudice, and can do very little about it because it’s so institutionalized. She forces us to stand in the place of an African-American teenager, who is constantly cautious, constantly thinking over each of his moves because he knows people will look for just an excuse to damn him in his own country.

This is a book that is so important, because despite it being set in the early 1900s, some of the themes it explores are unfortunately still relevant today. The prejudice still exists today, towards some of the same groups, and some different ones. It’s a brutally honest read that makes you question things other than those on the surface: yes, it’s a story about a few characters and their struggles with the supernatural. Yes, it’s a scary read because it has ghosts and monsters. But it’s also a scary read because it has something realer than ghosts and monsters. It shows us the America hidden behind false promises, and false hopes. It shows us the ugly picture that we try so, so hard to ignore.

And perhaps even more than that, Bray manages to tackle more subtly some of the themes that made the first book so controversial. I remember reading reviews for the Diviners, and coming across people saying that it was almost blasphemous in how anti-religious it was. And while there was certainly more skepticism towards religion in Lair of Dreams, it was dialed down. The themes were more subtly incorporated through dialogue and streams of consciousness, and didn’t seem heavy-handed at all. If you’re not someone who generally latches on to quotes regarding religion, you probably wouldn’t even notice them. I am, however, rather skeptic about organized religion (including my own, lol), so quotes like the one below stand out for me, and I tend to enjoy them a lot.

“So. Tell me,” Marlowe tried gamely, “What do you think is man’s greatest invention?”

Jericho turned his head just slightly towards Marlowe, looking him straight in the eye. “God.”

In the midst of all the darker undertones, Libba Bray makes sure that we touch base with our beloved characters. Evie has come forth as a Diviner; she has her own radio show, and her talents and charming personality have dubbed her America’s “Sweetheart Seer.” Sam Lloyd is as insufferable as ever for Evie, but certain circumstances as well as just being in the wrong place at the wrong time, put the two together in a way they, nor their friends, saw coming. Theta is dealing with her past, all while trying to maintain a relationship with Memphis, who is trying to deal with the return of his powers. Henry and Ling are dream walkers, which may not be the best power to have, considering that people are getting stuck in their dreams. Bray ensures that each of her characters gets the attention they deserve; they go through development and we learn more about them, but one of the complaints I had was how she glossed over Jericho’s arc. He was one of my favorite characters in the last book (I’m a sucker for brooders, you know), so his presence was sorely missed.

Perhaps one of the things that bothered me most was how disinterested and detached I felt to Evie’s character. Her newfound fame made her already over-confident personality downright insufferable. I liked her sass and confidence in the first book, but it was taken above and beyond in Lair of Dreams. Moreover, much of her storyline felt like filler. We see her more involved in romance, but that side was the least interesting one of the book.

“Looking for truth makes a man hafta look at himself along the way.”

Lair of Dreams was a four-star read until I hit the last hundred and fifty pages or so. By then, the momentum had almost completely died down, and I found myself wanting to finish this tome rather than wanting to know what happens next. Unlike The Diviners, I wasn’t hanging on to each and every word, and that’s exactly what makes this an under-whelming sequel. The Diviners sucked me in, and this one simply failed to do that. Nonetheless, this a series I would recommend to everyone because it is dense, masterfully written and a unique take on YA historical fiction.


lair of dreams rating

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Top Ten Tuesday | Anticipated Releases for The Rest of the Year

anticipated releases
Hello everyone! It’s that time of the week again! Top Ten Tuesday is a book meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. Basically, you get a different bookish topic every Tuesday, and you comprise a list of ten (or however many you’re able to list) relating to said topic.

Today’s topic is ‘Top Ten Anticipated Releases from the Second half of 2016. I’m not sure I’ll be able to come up with ten, just because a lot of my anticipated releases either have no release date yet, so it’s unsure if the release is in 2016, (Cormoran Strike series), or got pushed back (I’m looking at you, Samantha Shannon.) But I will try. Some really amazing books seem to be releasing later this year, including one book that may just get me to camp out outside the Strand Bookstore in midnight lines in Manhattan. That’s one hell of a feat, and I don’t say that lightly.


tcc1. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany and Jack Thorne | Releases on July 31st

Was this a surprise? It shouldn’t have been. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows came out in 2007, and it was the end of my childhood as I knew it. Sure, we had the movies to keep it breathing for a little while longer, but the last book marked the end of an era in my mind. I often found myself reminiscing, years later, about waiting for a new Harry Potter book, turning through crisp new pages to discover new things about the world, new adventures that the trio went on, new lessons to learn and things to experience. And then it ended, and I never, in my life, expected to get a new story. Created by the woman herself. This book isn’t a novel, yes- it’s a play, and do I wish it was a novel? Yes, but I’m so, so, so excited for the play too. I don’t think I’ll be ready when July 31st rolls around and I finally get this book in my hands. I haven’t anticipated a release this hard since 2007 when Deathly Hallows was coming out…


Gemina (The Illuminae Files #2) by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff | Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor | A Torch Against the Night (An Ember in the Ashes #2) by Sabaa Tahir

This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab | Crooked Kingdom (Six of Crows #2) by Leigh Bardugo | Heartless by Marissa Meyer

The Winds of Winter (A Song of Ice and Fire #6) by George R. R. Martin | The Beauty of Darkness (Kiss of Deception #3) by Mary E. Pearson | Nevernight by Jay Kristoff

Do you know what the saddest thing in the world is? That last year, for the same exact post, The Winds of Winter was one of my most anticipated releases. But it did not come out. It didn’t come out in Spring either. And I’m STILL not sure if it’s final that it’s coming out this year, but I’m hoping that if I say it enough times, it’ll be out before the end of 2016. This is the pain of reading the Game of Thrones books. I would not wish the painstaking agony of waiting on my worst enemy.

 


That’s it for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday! Let me know in the comments below what some of YOUR most anticipated releases are? Are you looking forward to any of the books I mentioned; have you already reads ARCs? Let me know in the comments below, and as always, happy reading!

 

A Gathering of Shadows: a glorious sequel in a glorious series

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Warning: may contain spoilers from A Darker Shade of Magic

A Gathering of Shadows FinalA Gathering of Shadows picks up a few months after the events of its predecessor, and Schwab wastes no time in launching her audience right into the action. Delilah Bard, our feisty and morally ambiguous female protagonist, is living and loving her life as a cross-dressing semi-pirate. Kell and Rhy are together, and closer than ever, in more ways than one. Their lives are very literally tied to each other, resulting in a tension in their relationship and a closer connection simultaneously. Kell also finds his relationship with his royal family slowly deteriorating; the king and queen seem to not trust him as much as they used to. He finds himself surrounded by guards who constantly monitor and report his every move. Kell feels suffocated, but what can he do? When the Element Games roll into town, bringing old friends and foes huddling back to Red London, Kell and Rhy see an opportunity to restore some of who they once used to be.

“I know where you sleep, Bard.”

She smirked. “Then you know I sleep with knives.”

The sequel to V. E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic was bound to impress, but I’m surprised by just how much. While the book is not advancing the ongoing plot of the series, it does wonders for characterization. All our characters have been altered drastically since the wonders and horrors of the events of ADSoM, yet Schwab is careful with their development. We see new flaws arise, new strengths bloom. We see their personalities shift, but they never feel like different people. I cannot pinpoint their characterizations from Point X to Point Y- it occurs on a spectrum that blends and shifts with each occurring event, resulting in a strong cast of people who feel three-dimensional, relatable and entirely realistic. Schwab’s ability to intertwine the stories of these characters, and develop meaningful yet complex relationships with each other is something I can only hope to do in my own writing. Her platonic relationships hold just as much weight as her romantic ones, if not even more. Kell’s relationship with Rhy is almost tangible- I felt like I could reach out and touch the very thread that bound them. More than that perhaps, Kell’s inner turmoils when it came to family actually made me cry, as if I was the one suffering. That’s one hell of an accomplishment, Victoria!

 “What brings you to my room?” he asked, relief bleeding into annoyance.

“Adventure. Intrigue. Brotherly concern. Or,” continued the prince lazily, “perhaps I’m just giving your mirror something to look at besides your constant pout.”

Kell frowned, and Rhy smiled. “Ah, there it is! That famous scowl.”

On a similar note, I’ll refrain from saying too much about this as to avoid spoilers, but Schwab integrates diversity so perfectly into this novel. We have an LGBTQ+ character, but it’s never made a big deal of. This aspect of the character is just there, because it’s completely normal; no show of ‘coming out.’ No, it exists. It’s human, and that’s that.

“Politics is a dance until the moment it becomes a war. And we control the music.”

Moreover, The Element Games were a fascinating way of incorporating world-building, politics and the magic system without simply shoving it in our faces. Schwab made these parts work together in a seamless manner while keeping the reader entertained. The Element Games do very little when it comes to plot advancement, but work well in the way that they add a little more cohesiveness to the world this series operates in.

 “Fix your crown, my prince,” he called back as he reached the door. “It’s crooked.”

All in all, I had little to no complaints about this novel. Perhaps the only thing that stopped me from giving it a full, perfect five-star rating was how little series-plot there was in it, but the book was so fucking glorious without it that I couldn’t help but give it a near-perfect rating. If you didn’t much care for A Darker Shade of Magic, I urge you to continue on with the series. Because I feel a boom coming in the finale, and I’m not ready to stop reading about these wonderful characters just yet.


agos rating

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With Malice: a gripping read that will keep you up late into the night

with malice


I was approved for an e-ARC of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. A huge thank you to Netgalley and Houghton Mifflin Publishing for allowing me the opportunity to read this book in advance.

with maliceTwo girls, a summer in Italy, and a car accident that left Jill Charron’s best friend Simone dead. The problem is that Jill can’t remember anything about this accident, or even the few weeks leading up to the tragedy. Jill wakes up in a hospital, injured and with no memory of the past six weeks. Her mother won’t let her text her friends or watch the television, and when a lawyer hired by her affluent father comes into the picture, Jill realizes that the world may believe that the accident wasn’t just an accident. What if something more sinister was at play? Jill must trudge through the muddiness in her own head and try to figure out what happened between the two friends; she must try to remember the truth, all while she is bombarded with doubts about herself, her life and what happened this summer.

With Malice is an extraordinarily captivating read. From the first few pages, Cook draws her reader in with easy-to-follow writing, a good pace, and a character that is both likable and unreliable at the same time. She alternates between narration and snippets of articles, blog post comments, and police files to paint a picture of a crime scene that even our protagonist doesn’t know fully. She leaves the audience feeling a sense of importance, and our human inclination to piece together the several parts of a puzzle kicks in, and we try to figure out what happened, all while receiving new details, new information. Eileen Cook gives us the right amount of information in the right order in the right time- the reader is never left feeling disoriented or overburdened by the clues. It’s just right.

With Malice utilizes the amnesia-trope perfectly. Jill, our protagonist, is absolutely certain of the relationship she had with her best friend, but the information we receive seems to be contradicting everything she says they had together. And since Jill can’t remember, what is the truth? This leaves the reader trying to solve two mysteries with regards to both the accident, and Jill and Simone’s relationship. The result is an amalgamation of genres: there is obviously mystery, but also drama, thrill and completely realistic contemporary.

In this day and age, where almost every YA novel is driven by romance and ships, I was surprised that there was no romance in this one, but it was still completely gripping. In hardcover, it is a decent 320 pages, yet I found myself at the end of the book just five hours after having started reading it. If that is not a testament to its thrill, I don’t know what is.

But despite all this, With Malice is not a perfect read, and the flaw lay in the characters. While Jill and Simone, and all the secondary characters, were reasonable in regards to dimension, I still felt like they lacked something. I was not fully invested in them. I did not want to watch their story unfold from an objective viewpoint; I wanted to engage, I wanted to be involved in the crime and the drama. And while I was hooked, I did not feel that Cook gave me the opportunity to form my own idea about what happened, about why it happened, about who the characters were. I like a sense of ambiguity about my mysteries- the shades of grey are what makes a thrill all the more thrilling.

But nonetheless, With Malice was a fantastic, fantastic read. It’s the perfect book for people (like me) who enjoy reading thrillers, mysteries and suspenseful reads in the summer. It is perfect for people who enjoyed Gone Girl, The Walls Around Us and We Were Liars. And it’s a book I would recommend to anyone who wants something different from the YA genre.

With Malice is released on June 7th, 2016

with malice rating

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The Curse of the Bruel Coven: full of potential, but left me disoriented

bruel coven review


I was provided an e-copy of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to Netgalley and Exit 80 Publishing for making this title available to me.

bruel covenThe Curse of the Bruel Coven by Sabrina Ramoth follows the story of a young high school girl who, after the passing of her mother, learns that she is adopted. With the help of her best friend Savannah, Vivienne is determined to find who her birth mother is and why this adoption was kept secret from her, only to learn that her birth mother is part of a coven. Meaning Vivienne is a witch, and a bloody powerful one at that. With this knowledge and a surprise kidnapping, Vivienne must come to terms with who she is all while learning to use her powers so she can save someone from the clutches of evil.

If this book were a person, I would grab her by the shoulders and yell, “Slow down! What’s the rush?” in her face. This book is incredibly fast-paced- too fast-paced, I might add. Within the first ten pages, we know Vivienne is adopted and she is also well on her way to meet her birth mother. Note that we do not know anything about Vivienne, or her relationship with her adoptive family, so the revelation that she is adopted does very little with regards to drawing empathy from the reader. From there, things take off at an alarming pace. Every second or third page gave me a new scene, a new dilemma to work with. The effect was disarming; I was left disoriented, and much of the book’s events passed by in a blur without me finding time to settle down and take it in.

Because despite the storyline having an immense amount of potential, Ramoth needed desperately to give her novel some padding. As of right now, I felt that I was reading a bare-bones skeleton of a much larger piece. It read a lot like, “and this happened, then this happened, now this is happening.” Ramoth needed to slow down and give me the little details that were more than just plot. This book, while entertaining when it comes to plot, was missing the depiction of the other elements: characterization was virtually non-existent, themes of family, loss and love were obviously there but not explored at all. I still do not know who my protagonist was: I knew the facts, but who was she? No clue.

This book is perfect for people who enjoy very fast-paced, plot-driven stories. Unfortunately, I am not one of those people. Characterization is the first and foremost thing I look for in a story; if the characters are underdeveloped, chances are I will be skimming most of the book.


bruel coven rating


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Book Review | The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

the rest of us just live hereTitle: The Rest of Us Just Live Here

Author: Patrick Ness

Genre: Young Adult | Fiction > Fantasy

Goodreads Synopsis: What if you aren’t the Chosen One? The one who’s supposed to fight the zombies, or the soul-eating ghosts, or whatever the heck this new thing is, with the blue lights and the death?

What if you’re like Mikey? Who just wants to graduate and go to prom and maybe finally work up the courage to ask Henna out before someone goes and blows up the high school. Again.

Because sometimes there are problems bigger than this week’s end of the world, and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life. Even if your best friend is worshipped by mountain lions.

Final Rating:
3 navy

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aimal's review navyIn the young adult scene, Patrick Ness is a god. His creativity is legend. His ability to get into an adolescent’s mind and understand them fully with empathy and compassion is something I strive for, not only as a writer, but as a human being. His stories make me laugh, make me cry and everything in between. And here’s the thing: The Rest of Us Just Live Here is – by no means – a bad book, even though it got a relatively low rating. It’s just that Ness has set such high standards for himself that anything short of perfect is disappointing.

Wildly imaginative, profoundly empathetic and laugh-out-loud funny. But you know what? Ness can do so, so much better.

plot navyThe premise of this book is ridiculous, but also genius. In a world full of books of Chosen Ones, prophecies and extraordinariness comes this novel about the seemingly much less interesting people in the background of the heroes. Their lives don’t involve tracking down paranormal creatures and stopping them, but their lives revolve around the normalcy of graduation and friendship feuds and college and their parents’ careers. They don’t face death and destruction nearly as often as the ‘indie kids,’ but they face other horrors: mental illness, alcoholism and feelings of inadequacy. This book is essentially a rewrite of every single Chosen-One novel out there where the kids in the background are brought to the forefront.

I mean, what could go wrong? And the thing is, in its concept, nothing does go wrong. This novel is important, because it tells us several things at once: you don’t need to save the world to be extraordinary. You don’t need to have three boys chasing you, or a prophecy written after you or anything out of this world to live a worthy life because your family, and your friends and you yourself are what makes life worthy. In a world where adolescents are taught that they need to do something for their lives to matter, this novel is so important. Conceptually, this novel is perfect.

Where it gets a little worn is the world-building and the pacing. It’s very difficult to put this in a genre: it has many elements of contemporary, but also fantasy and I didn’t feel that the blurred distinctions helped. Because I did care about the fantastical happenings and I would have liked to see them integrated a little more seamlessly into the main storyline. Also, for the most part, this book seemed like a snapshot of our main character, Mikey’s life. Not a lot happens, plot-wise unless you consider the fantasy-stuff, which wasn’t explained as well as I would have liked.

CHARACTERS navyNess is wonderful when it comes to characterization, and while I definitely enjoyed most of the characters in this book, some of them bored me. But I must commend Ness with the diversity he introduced to his ensemble of characters, who deal with very real things like OCD, eating disorders and LGBTQ+ issues.

I thought Mikey was a great protagonist: a slightly awkward kid with OCD, who’s trying to get by without feeling like a total waste of space. Someone who needs to rely on other people but is too afraid to burden them. I thought putting such a vulnerable protagonist in a satire for the Chosen-One trope was effective in its irony. Mikey was extremely lovable, and there were several times when I just wanted to hug him. I also enjoyed his relationship with his sisters. Often, familial ties are glossed over in YA books, which makes very little sense since family is an integral part of adolescent life, in a good or bad way. I would’ve liked to see more interaction with Mikey’s dad, but I’m not too bugged about that.

Jared is Mikey’s best friend, who is sort of a demi-god… of cats: “3/4 Jewish, 1/4 god.” He also happens to be gay, and nobody knows this except Mikey. I loved Jared’s character; he was such a brilliant addition to the story. He was funny, extremely compassionate and a lovely friend to Mikey.

But for some strange reason, I couldn’t bring myself to like or care about Henna. I thought she was insensitive and kind of weird, which is strange because I usually really like Ness’s female characters, who always feel very real and human. And because I didn’t like her, the romance fell flat which was a significant part of the book.

writing style navy

I love how Ness writes. His writing is technically next to perfect, in my eyes. The emotional depth is there but without seeming angsty or over-dramatic. It’s addictive in its simplicity, but it also doesn’t seem overly-simplistic. His dialogue feels realistic. It’s also very humorous, which is a plus especially when you’re dealing with such deep topics. Like I said, in the YA genre, Ness is a god. And despite not loving this book, that hasn’t changed in my mind.

“Michael, do you think cancer is a moral failing?”
“What kind of cancer?”
“Don’t play. You know what I mean. Do you think a woman who gets ovarian cancer is morally responsible for it?”
“No.”
“Do you think a child born with spina bifida or cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy is at fault for their condition?”
“No, but -“
“Then, why in heaven’s name are you responsible for your anxiety?”

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