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: 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: 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.

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.