Tuesday Reviews Day: Scarlet, by A.C. Gaughen

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Detail of SCARLET cover art, illustrator unknown

Another Book Riot inclusion is raised from the ashes of the TBR pile to the Completed list, but this time with mixed emotions. Maybe it’s because I love reading so much, maybe it’s because I don’t branch out of my comfort zone enough, who knows, but for whatever reason I don’t seem to read a lot of books that I just flat-out do not like. Most of my reviews are overwhelmingly positive, and it’s probably easy for y’all to think that either I only post paid reviews or I just am easily pleased with any book. Neither of those things are true.

Personally, I don’t like reading negative reviews of books before I read them, because I want to avoid the possibility of being influenced by someone else’s dislikes. If you’re like me in that, you may want to skip today’s review, although this week’s review isn’t as much negative as it is a flat-line.

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Tuesday Reviews Day: The Miseducation of Cameron Post, Emily M. Danforth

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Image: THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST, and a pillow with gold lettering that reads, “every day is an adventure”

As in the last TRD, this was a book that came in one of my Book Riot boxes. I was horrible at keeping up with these, and I cannot remember which one it was to save my life. But I’ve had it hanging around in my TBR pile for awhile now, and I finally dove into it. I tore through it in just four days; I even took it to work one day to read on my lunch break. It’s good, y’all.

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Tuesday Reviews Day: We Are the Ants, Shaun David Hutchinson

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This book came in one of my Book Riot boxes, one of those I used to sub to that came with three books four times a year and somehow, I never seemed able to keep up with them. I’ve been wanting to read this book for awhile now and finally, I’ve gotten around to it. This book was …. well, it was definitely worth the wait, and yet I wish I’d read it twenty times by now.

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Saints and Misfits, SK Ali

Tuesday Reviews Day: Saints and Misfits, S.K. Ali

I’m addicted to books. I think everyone knows that by now, and I’m sure many of you can relate. The more books I can get my hands on, the better. I’m on my 3rd book box subscription (no, not all at the same time) and I think I might have landed on one I’m really going to love, but the jury’s going to stay out at least until I get Box #02, if not even Box #03.

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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.

Tuesday Reviews Day: Bitch Planet, Vol. 1 by KellySue Deconnick and Valentine De Landro

Last week’s taste of comics made me want to dive into them even more, so I’ve added several to my TBR list, though it’s not clear when I’ll get around to purchasing them, let alone reading them. I did get one off my list for Christmas though, and predictably tore through it in a sitting. I seriously cannot wait for the next volume.

I’m a little late to the Bitch Planet party, mainly because I am nothing if not impatient. Like the ladies at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, I prefer to wait for collections to come out and binge them all at once. So, finally, I’m on the train, and I can tell you with certainty I am never getting off it.

Note: This book contains graphic violence, strong language, and frequent nudity, and this review will feature images from the comic. While these topics do not personally offend me, I understand that some people may be uncomfortable with them. Please use your discretion and consider your limits before reading this review or this comic.

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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.