Friday Reads: So It Begins

Grad school classes begin on Monday, and it appears no one has informed my anxiety disorder. So far I’m pretty calm about it, maybe even excited. I spent some time this week reviewing my syllabus for Literary Theory, and I’m beyond stoked for this class. The entire month of November will be spent on Feminist Theory and Gender/Queer Theory, which I am considering an early holiday gift from my professor. He also informed us that skimming most of our assigned readings is acceptable and expected, so we’re friends now. It’s fine.

I haven’t heard anything from my other professor yet, but I’m not worried; class doesn’t actually begin until Monday so there’s still time.

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Tuesday Reviews Day: Never Let Me Sleep, Jennifer Brozek

I really wanted to enjoy this book. The blurb was amazing, and the guest post I read by the author on Chuck Wendig’s blog really pumped me up. It seemed like it was going to fling itself into my Top 10 YA books, which is hard to do (especially considering most of the list is filled with heavyweight trilogies).

This book was … disappointing. I do not enjoy writing bad reviews so I’ll keep this short and as painless as possible. I almost hope Brozek doesn’t read this.

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Melissa Allen, a teenager in a small town in South Dakota, goes to sleep. She wakes up the next morning to find that everyone in the state has mysteriously died in their sleep, her sister and brother-in-law included. On top of all this, Melissa is on house arrest, she’s supposed to be at the doctor soon, and her meds are almost gone …. is it possible she’s to blame for her family’s deaths, and the rest of it is just all in her head?

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Literally the only thing I liked about this book was the main character isn’t the picture of perfection; she’s on probation and suffers from mental and emotional disorders, but even that isn’t well-executed (not to mention, based on the cover art, she’s still a gorgeous blonde with perfect skin and a runway-ready body that I seriously doubt belongs to a 14-year-old). There’s a LOT of telling, not much showing, and I really hate that phrase so I’ll go into what I mean here. The main character (whose name I literally already forgot, she’s so flat) explains a couple times what happens to her during her episodes, which is interesting and seems well-researched. When she has to explain to someone else the need to go back for her lost meds, though, it seems like she’s reading from one of those old-school Pill Books that lists all the side effects and interactions of every pill. It felt like reading Wikipedia, not like listening to a 14-year-old explain something she finds obvious to someone who should know better.

The story never really touches on what caused her to develop these conditions, even though it’s implied that she wasn’t born with them. (Also, why the hell was she in juvie in the first place? Did I miss that part, or… ?) The one traumatic event in her life is explicitly stated to have exacerbated but not caused the problems. And the twist hinted at in the blurb (Is the apocalypse real? Or did she kill her guardians and hallucinate it all?) is only barely mentioned, certainly not mined to its full potential. It comes into play only in the last five pages or so, and is quickly hand-waved aside.

Finally, the horror reveal comes too early and is too obvious. By the time you ‘see’ the monster, you basically already know what it is, and honestly, it’s kind of stupid. It’s so implausible and what explanation we get is reaching and still comes up thin and unlikely.

I didn’t even bother purchasing the second two books.

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How I found it: Guest post on an author blog
Genre: Young adult; sci-fi; horror
Does it pass the Bechdel test? No
Is it a standalone? No
So what worked? You can tell there’s a tiny morsel of a good idea buried in here, and I wanted so badly for the author to reach in and grab it and run with it, but she never did. This story has massive potential, none of it realized.
What didn’t work? The utterly flat main character (for several reasons), the unconvincing monsters, the thin veneer of resolution, the pacing, etc. etc.

Overall: I haven’t been quite so disappointed in a book in awhile. It’s also the first trilogy I’ve utterly given up on. I can’t with this book. The author makes an effort at the quick pacing of many popular writers but it seems to get away from her. The main character is not well developed and it seems she was only given a mental illness in an effort to perform diversity, but it comes across as pandering and patronizing. This one is a definite skip.

A panel from Chasing Shadows; art by Craig Phillips

Tuesday Reviews Day: Chasing Shadows by Swati Avasthi

I’m ahead of the game! This has never happened before but I’m trying to keep it up. This review is actually for a novel I started before Christmas, so I’m three books past this already! Whew.

This is one of the first graphic novels I’ve read in a long time, and it was so fun. I love the mixture of prose and images and what it says about the novel. More about that later just to avoid any possible spoilers.

Chasing Shadows also fits into my No-SWCM Reading Challenge, and it made me realize I’m probably not doing this challenge right. Yeah, I’ve cut out all the SWCM authors from my reading list, but I’m still reading predominantly white authors, even if they are female. Avasthi, of course, is not white, but I realize now that I need to broaden my horizons even more. I’ve gotten some really great recommendations for works by PoC, but if you have one you’re dying to tell me about, preach its gospel in the comments!

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Savitri, her boyfriend Corey, and his twin sister Holly are the closest friends can get. They do everything together. When they’re not in school, they’re cutting new paths along the rooftops of Chicago, taming the city and making it their own.

After an afternoon freerunning session, the twins become the target of a hooded gunman, who kills Corey and leaves Holly in a coma.

Savitri and Holly are left to pick up the pieces and deal with their loss—and their survivor’s guilt—in their own ways. But when Holly wakes from her coma, she’s not the same person, and she’s eager to get revenge on the gunman. Sav struggles with the loss of her boyfriend, the slow fade of her best friend, and whether it’s possible to hold on too tight—and for too long.

A panel from Chasing Shadows; art by Craig Phillips

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How I found it: Book Riot YA box #03
Genre: Young adult; contemporary realism; graphic novel
Does it pass the Bechdel test? Yes
Is it a standalone? Yes
So what worked? I like the complexity of the girls’ friendship. It isn’t just the tragedy that comes between them; the difference between their cultures cause issues that Holly seems to be blind to. I like the implications that has for their relationship, the subtle addressing of white privilege and how that can affect interracial friendships in sometimes surprising ways.

I loved the graphic portions of the novel and, as I mentioned before, their symbolism. The appearance of images coincides with and really signals Holly’s descent into madness as she struggles to parse this new reality without her twin.

And of course, I also like the pull-no-punches way the novel deals with violence and how it ripples out and affects so many people. It treats the grieving process and mental illness carefully but truthfully; people grieve in different ways and on different timelines, and none of them are wrong. And mental illness can manifest in startling and unexpected ways, but it’s important to try to recognize the signs in your loved ones and be sure they’re taking care of themselves. Sav thinks she’s helping by withdrawing when Holly pushes her away, when the reality is that Sav should have done anything but. Of course, every situation is not the same, every response is not the right one, and the novel does a great job of showing that.
What didn’t work? It seemed strange at times that the parents of any of the children were not more visible, more involved. Josh’s mom in particular seems either willfully or woefully ignorant of what’s going on with her son. Granted, the teens are all seniors in high school who can obviously drive themselves and (generally speaking) conduct themselves responsibly, and granted, this does touch on the book’s theme of dealing with grief. Many people, I’m sure, do withdraw from their families and their other children when facing the loss of a child. But all the parents were strangely absent for the majority of the story, and that struck me as slightly odd, especially for Savitri, who seems to have a strong relationship with her mom that really wasn’t displayed.

Overall: It’s a very emotionally dense read, so it took me longer to get through this than I anticipated. I occasionally had to take a step back from it, but that’s not a critique in the slightest. I loved the way it drew me in and then tore me apart. I got so invested in the characters I found myself taking things personally, even after I started disliking some of them and the way they handled things. I liked that it wasn’t some happy-go-lucky BS that wraps up with rainbows and flowers as if nothing bad ever happened. And of course, I’m a sucker for symbolism, especially when extended through a whole work like this, so the graphic element and what it meant for the story really amped up my enjoyment of it. Very, very effective.

This book is heavy. I’d assign it trigger warnings for violence and mental illness at the very least, because I want you to go into this book fully aware of what you’re getting into. But I want you to read this, because what this book has to say about life, love, and loss is utterly critical.

Tuesday Reviews Day: Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour

Tuesday Reviews Day returns for 2016! I’m ahead of the game this year and I’m hoping to keep it that way. Look forward to some more YA reviews, plus a roundup in March of my No-SWCM Authors reading challenge. I’ll link you to all the reviews I wrote from March 2015 through March 2016, and hopefully have a few additional recommendations for my TBR pile and yours.

We’re kicking off 2016’s year of reviews with Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour.

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High school seniors and BFFs Emi and Charlotte are navigating the final months before graduation and college, juggling exams, crushes, breakups and jobs designing sets at a film studio. Emi’s brother leaves the girls his apartment while he’s traveling on business, but only if they do something “epic” with it.

When the girls get the chance to shop at a famous actor’s estate sale with their boss, they stumble upon a letter the late actor had written to his child no one knew existed. Emi and Charlotte seek out the woman to deliver the letter and fulfill the actor’s final wishes, but they learn she’s passed away, leaving behind a small child in the care of her best friend. The journey to find the lost granddaughter and set things right ends up changing more than the girls thought it would.

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How I found it: Book Riot YA box #03
Genre: Young adult; LGBT romance; bildungsroman
Does it pass the Bechdel test? Yes
Is it a standalone? Yes
So what worked? I liked the diverse cast of characters that managed to not make a huge deal out of its diversity; the character development was believable and even relatable at times. The writing style was beautiful, fittingly cinematic, and easy to get lost in, like a daydream. The ending wasn’t perfect, but when are they ever? It fit the story and it was a GOOD ending.
What didn’t work? While it wasn’t the most amazing book I’ve ever read, it was a really nice read. I don’t recall any part of it that I would have liked to see changed, no matter how much I hated Emi’s ex… [angry face here]

Overall: Someone I recommended the book to said that she liked it but it wouldn’t change her life. I can see that. It’s a romance, after all, and in my reading experience romances kind of are what they are. But for me, this book felt like a refreshing swim or a brisk walk in the woods. It was calm, relaxing, quiet. It was excellent for getting me back in the reading spirit, especially since the book I read immediately before it was pretty disappointing. The writing itself was beautiful, and it ran the gamut of emotions without feeling forced or rushed. This seems like the type of book that almost everyone will enjoy.

Happy Fangs-giving!

ClawsandFangs ImageNew Release from Molly Harper, writing as Jacey Conrad and Gia Corona: From Russia With Fangs! The companion novel to the best selling From Russia with Claws, this time we hear sister Irina’s story.

Synopsis: Between her family’s drunken antics and vicious verbal attacks from her so-called friends, Irina Sudenko Volkov is having the worst night ever. And that’s before she’s widowed.

Volatile, cheating, no-good Sergei’s death-by-assassin unleashes chaos in the werewolf criminal underground. Irina’s panicked Papa assigns Beta wolf Viktor Zhukovsky to Irina’s security detail until her husband’s killer is found. As Irina’s world crumbles around her, the perfect princess mask falls away and Viktor meets the sharp, passionate woman underneath. Their initial chemistry gives way to a deeper attraction when Irina begins to see the decency underneath Viktor’s gruff, tattooed exterior, despite his insistence that it doesn’t exist.

Their tendency to find themselves semi-nude and in enclosed spaces is a source of amusement to her sister, Galina, but each of them knows of the deadly consequences if their relationship is brought to light. Things get even more complicated when Papa Sudenko begins to match-make Irina and Andrey Lupesco, who also happens to be in a secret relationship with Galina. Family dinners are awkward. With danger closing in on all sides, Irina has to find her claws and learn to howl.

In the much-anticipated sequel to From Russia with Claws, readers get a new perspective of the lusty exploits of the untameable Sudenko family. Gia Corona and Jacey Conrad craft a delightful tale of the anything-but-average human Irina and the libidinous lycanthropes in her life.

Buy it on Amazon! http://amzn.to/216ghmu
And here’s Book One: http://amzn.to/1PQ5Hea
Buy it on Barnes and Noble! http://bit.ly/1NFMIhH
Add it to your TBR: http://bit.ly/GRFANGS

And don’t forget to enter the Rafflecopter giveaway!

About The Authors:

Jacey Conrad is a sushi-loving, pop culture nerd living in the South with her high school sweetheart.  She delights in horribly made mutant shark movies and watching Sean Bean die in his various cinematic incarnations.  To keep up with Jacey on twitter, go to twitter.com/JaceyConrad

Gia Corona loves boots, boys, and bourbon, not necessarily in that order. When she’s not actively stalking Michael Fassbender and his abdominals, she’s watching questionable television or reading comics. You can find her at twitter.com/Gia_writes

This past week, you may have noticed the absence of Tuesday Reviews Day. It will be back; I haven’t fully committed myself to weekly vs. biweekly, so for right now that may remain a feature that simply occurs somewhat randomly.

I’ve still been reading regularly, and I did recently finish a great book I can’t wait to tell you about. I’ve got a few in the TBR queue and one in the box that I’m working my way through, but it’s a pretty emotionally heavy selection, so I may take awhile to get through it.

But mostly, I’ve been sloughing my way through NaNoWriMo. I don’t know if any of you have signed up, but if you have, scope out my page and add me! (My username should come as no surprise.) I can use some encouragement, to be quite honest. I write at a very weird pace, which is to say I tend to write when I feel motivated. Of course, that’s a very bad plan; motivation is fleeting, like most emotions are, and waiting for it is sometimes as productive as waiting for Godot.

I won’t “win” NaNo this year, I know that already, but honestly I’m already really proud of myself. I’ve written about 4,000 words (please stop rolling your eyes) and that’s actually a personal best for me. I’ve never written a single creative piece of that length before. It’s intimidating. I’m a short story, flash fiction, free-verse poetry type of gal, and novels just don’t come easily to me. But I’ve had this great idea knocking around in my head for quite awhile, and with the help of my amazing sister and frequent visits to Chuck Wendig’s blog, I think I’ve made some great progress toward a novel. I have an actual outline (miracle of miracles!) and a real conflict and an actual idea of the ending and how I want to get there. I know things will change between now and completion, and that’s okay. I’ve already changed a lot, to be honest. But I’m feeling really great about this.

So, are you doing NaNoWriMo? Tell me about your story! Are you pursuing some other creative passion? Are you doing something else that scares you?

…………..why not?