ARC Review: Noteworthy by Riley Redgate

BookReview

Written by: Riley Redgate
Release Date: May 2, 2017
Pages: 400, hardcover
Series: Standalone (I think?)
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It’s the start of Jordan Sun’s junior year at the Kensington-Blaine Boarding School for the Performing Arts. Unfortunately, she’s an Alto 2, which—in the musical theatre world—is sort of like being a vulture in the wild: She has a spot in the ecosystem, but nobody’s falling over themselves to express their appreciation. So it’s no surprise when she gets shut out of the fall musical for the third year straight.

Then the school gets a mass email: A spot has opened up in the Sharpshooters, Kensington’s elite a cappella octet. Worshiped … revered … all male. Desperate to prove herself, Jordan auditions in her most convincing drag, and it turns out that Jordan Sun, Tenor 1, is exactly what the Sharps are looking for.

 

LetsTalk

This isn’t going to be a long review because in case you haven’t noticed lately I’ve been extremely lazy where blogging is concerned but I just realized that this AMAZING book comes out today and I figured I should tell you all why you should read it.

In case you haven’t heard of this book before, it’s about a girl who disguises herself as a boy to join a male a capella group. Doesn’t that alone sound like an amazingly fun book? Now add:

  • beautiful friendships made of puns, mutual support, and pitch-perfect (see what I did there) banter
  • nuanced and lovable supporting characters
  • a lot of performing arts love that will be extremely relatable to any music or theater kids
  • Jordan is Chinese and comes from a poor background. Both affect how she views herself and her place at her performing arts school.
  • disability, mental illness, and a variety of races and sexual orientations are also present in this book
  • Jordan’s voice is amazing and both the humorous and painful parts of her story ring absolutely true
  • although she is cis, Jordan’s crossdressing causes her to explore what her gender means to her, which is something I am totally here for and something often absent from these types of books. Jordan also acknowledges the more problematic aspects of a cis girl crossdressing.

(Interrupting my fangirling for a moment to note that although the main plot crossdressing and a whole lot of gender discussion, all the characters are cisgender. This Twitter thread goes a bit more into the problematic aspects of that, and as much as I loved the book, it is totally a valid criticism.)

  • the author wrote her own songs for the book!!! available here
  • the romance is cute and nuanced heartfelt and happy-making
  • I have to mention the friendships again because they are so, so good and pure and I love friendship so much you guys!!!
  • Noteworthy might seem funny at first glance, and it is, but it’s also a heartfelt, honest, introspective book about a girl finding her place in a world that she worries she doesn’t belong to, about friends of different backgrounds supporting each other, about picking up the pieces from your past and moving forward. It made me laugh and cry, and I hope it will do the same for you.

Sondra

ARC Review: Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

BookReview

Written by: Laini Taylor
Release Date: March 28, 2017
Pages: 544, hardcover
Series: Strange the Dreamer, #1
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Book new epic fantasy by National Book Award finalist and New York Times bestselling author Laini Taylor of the Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy.

The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around— and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance to lose his dream forever.

What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving?

The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries—including the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed? and if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real?

In this sweeping and breathtaking new novel by National Book Award finalist Laini Taylor, author of the New York Times bestselling Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy, the shadow of the past is as real as the ghosts who haunt the citadel of murdered gods. Fall into a mythical world of dread and wonder, moths and nightmares, love and carnage.

Welcome to Weep

LetsTalk

I think most of us can agree that Laini Taylor is a writing goddess. Her words have a melody that I’ve never seen any other author replicate, and the worlds she creates are magical, reminiscent of old fairy tales while still entirely her own.

So yeah. If you can’t already tell, I loved Strange the Dreamer.

The main character is Lazlo Strange, a librarian obsessed with stories, and particularly stories of a mysterious city called Weep. (But not actually called Weep–it’s complicated.) He’s basically the epitome of “beautiful cinnamon roll too good for the world too pure”. Basically, if you’re sick of alpha male type protagonists and want to read about a shy sweet bookworm who shows some great strength when the situation calls for it.

The other protagonist is Sarai, and she lives in a floating castle with her family and a bunch of ghosts, and basically anything I say about her origins will be a giant spoiler, but her past and the way she deals with it, her relationship with her power and her family and her background are all so compelling and she’s wonderful and brave and and I love her.

Also, Lazlo’s friend Calixte is wonderful and I am honestly shocked that I haven’t heard more people talking about her when she’s responsible for one of the Iconic quotes in this book (“beautiful and full of monsters”) and she’s a giant pile of sass and complements Lazslo’s character perfectly and is refreshing and lovely. (She’s also gay, and I’m hoping she and her girlfriend will get more screen time in Book 2).

Which brings me to how another thing I love about the world is the humor, because Laini Taylor’s stories are so Epic with a capital E and they could easily get too heavy, but there’s also this lightness in the way she writes and the way her characters see the world.

And the plot twists, oh my god, the plot twists! My current Goodreads review of the book is “Laini Taylor can fight me” so that should tell you something.

So why did I give Strange the Dreamer four stars instead of five? Funnily enough, the same reason I gave Daughter of Smoke and Bone four stars. Too. Much. Kissing.

I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love kissing, and I especially love the way Laini Taylor writes kissing because I especially love the way Laini Taylor writes anything, but after a certain point it just got to be too much. There was this giant block of Lazlo and Sarai looking into each other’s eyes and saying sweet things to each other and lying in bed together and after a while I just wanted to move on with the actual plot of the story. Plus, while I love Lazlo and Sarai individually, nothing about their romantic relationship really compelled me.

It also didn’t helped that I kind of shipped Lazlo with his rival Thyon. In my defense, within the first few pages of the book there was a scene where Lazlo and Thyon stared at each other for a few paragraphs and Lazlo was thinking about how beautiful Thyon was and then we found that Lazlo knew something about Thyon that no one else did. So, can you blame me for holding out hope for a hate-to-love thing between them? Can you really blame me?

But kissing-related issues aside, Strange the Dreamer is an enchanting, ethereal book with a rich ensemble cast and a fascinating world. If you’re looking forward to getting caught in the magic that is Laini Taylor’s words, you will not be disappointed.

Sondra

ARC Review: The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco

BookReview

Written by: Rin Chupeco
Release Date: March 7, 2017
Pages: 400, hardcover
Series: The Bone Witch, #1
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A Publishers Weekly Most Anticipated Young Adult Book of Spring 2017!

In the captivating start to a new, darkly lyrical fantasy series for readers of Leigh Bardugo and Sabaa Tahir, Tea can raise the dead, but resurrection comes at a price…

Let me be clear: I never intended to raise my brother from his grave, though he may claim otherwise. If there’s anything I’ve learned from him in the years since, it’s that the dead hide truths as well as the living.

When Tea accidentally resurrects her brother from the dead, she learns she is different from the other witches in her family. Her gift for necromancy means that she’s a bone witch, a title that makes her feared and ostracized by her community. But Tea finds solace and guidance with an older, wiser bone witch, who takes Tea and her brother to another land for training.

In her new home, Tea puts all her energy into becoming an asha-one who can wield elemental magic. But dark forces are approaching quickly, and in the face of danger, Tea will have to overcome her obstacles…and make a powerful choice.

Memoirs of a Geisha meets The Name of the Wind in this brilliant new fantasy series by Rin Chupeco!

LetsTalk

The Bone Witch attracted me because of its cool concept (a girl raises her brother from the dead and finds out she’s a magic necromancer who can protect the world from demons!) and beautiful cover. There was a lot I loved about the book, but ultimately it was not the spellbinding adventure I hoped it would be.

The greatest thing about The Bone Witch is the worldbuilding. The world is so rich and layered, the magic system is unique and fascinating, and the twists that separate it from many other fantasy worlds made the story a delight to read. There are powerful magical women, and scary undead demons, and magic necklaces, and men who forge hearts, and other fun things like that. The author clearly put a lot of thought into the intricacies of her world–everything from the fashion and food to the political situation to the mythology is described in detail. Given how short this book was, I was impressed with the complexity.

I also liked the structure. The story is told in alternating chapters–the main character, Tea, telling the story of her past and her training as an Asha, and a bard visiting Tea to learn her story years later, after her exile. The way the story is told kept wondering all the way through–what had happened to Tea? And what would she do now?

I loved Tea’s relationships with Fox, her brother whom she raised from the dead, and Mykaela, her mentor, a bone witch with an intriguing past. There was also some pretty cool discussion of gender roles.

What wasn’t there, you ask? A plot.

There was some action in the first 10% of the book, and the last 10%, but mostly it was set-up and infodumping, and a very extended training montage. And after a while I got bored. It took me three weeks to get through this book–it was THAT slow.

I also did not feel the romance at all. It was just…there, enough for me to feel its presence, but not enough to actually be developed.

There’s a lot to love about this book, and if you, like me, are intrigued by the concept and cover, I recommend that you give it a try. Unfortunately, it just was not for me.

 

Sondra

ARC Review: History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

BookReview

Written by: Adam Silvera
Release Date: January 17, 2017
Pages: 320, hardcover
Series: Standalone
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When Griffin’s first love and ex-boyfriend, Theo, dies in a drowning accident, his universe implodes. Even though Theo had moved to California for college and started seeing Jackson, Griffin never doubted Theo would come back to him when the time was right. But now, the future he’s been imagining for himself has gone far off course.

To make things worse, the only person who truly understands his heartache is Jackson. But no matter how much they open up to each other, Griffin’s downward spiral continues. He’s losing himself in his obsessive compulsions and destructive choices, and the secrets he’s been keeping are tearing him apart.

If Griffin is ever to rebuild his future, he must first confront his history, every last heartbreaking piece in the puzzle of his life.

LetsTalk

The moment I read the synopsis of History is All You Left Me, I knew it would crush my heart, and I was not wrong. The book is about a seventeen-year-old boy grieving the death of his ex-boyfriend. His story intertwines with those of two other boys–his and Theo’s friend Wade and Theo’s new boyfriend Jackson–in a heartbreaking exploration of grief and truth and the meaning of other people in your life.

The book alternates between Griffin’s past relationship with Theo and his present after Theo’s death, and the result is an incredible amount of mood whiplash, to say the least. Theo and Griffin’s interactions in the early part of their relationship are so fun and cute and nerdy that I almost forgot I wasn’t reading a cute contemporary. And then the next chapter would happen and I would be trying not to cry. Again.

The relationships and emotions between the main characters of the book are raw and messy. Griffin doesn’t always do the right thing or feel the “right” emotions, and his arc isn’t a clear linear trajectory from A to Z so much as a jagged, occasionally shaky line. His grief and friendships and growth are all very authentic, as I’ve come to expect from Adam Silvera’s books after More Happy Than Not. And Griffin has OCD and it’s intrinsically tied with the way he processes the world and the way he grieves for Theo.

Adam Silvera’s writing is heartpunchingly gorgeous. Griffin’s pain and grief, the messiness and isolation of it, comes across in sentences so seemingly simple, but so impactful that I had to stop reading for a few seconds and stare at the words.

For those who (like me) have had their soul broken by More Happy Than Not, I will say that the ending of this book is more hopeful than that of his first book–still painful, but with Griffin slowly beginning to heal.

Sondra

ARC Review: Wayfarer by Alexandra Bracken

ARC

Written by: Alexandra Bracken
Release Date: January 3, 2017
Pages: 532, Hardcover
Series: Passenger, #2
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All Etta Spencer wanted was to make her violin debut when she was thrust into a treacherous world where the struggle for power could alter history. After losing the one thing that would have allowed her to protect the Timeline, and the one person worth fighting for, Etta awakens alone in an unknown place and time, exposed to the threat of the two groups who would rather see her dead than succeed. When help arrives, it comes from the last person Etta ever expected—Julian Ironwood, the Grand Master’s heir who has long been presumed dead, and whose dangerous alliance with a man from Etta’s past could put them both at risk.

Meanwhile, Nicholas and Sophia are racing through time in order to locate Etta and the missing astrolabe with Ironwood travelers hot on their trail. They cross paths with a mercenary-for-hire, a cheeky girl named Li Min who quickly develops a flirtation with Sophia. But as the three of them attempt to evade their pursuers, Nicholas soon realizes that one of his companions may have ulterior motives.

As Etta and Nicholas fight to make their way back to one another, from Imperial Russia to the Vatican catacombs, time is rapidly shifting and changing into something unrecognizable… and might just run out on both of them.

LetsTalk

 

The first words that come to mind when I think of descriptions of Wayfarer are “a lot”. This book was A Lot. Not only in terms of page number, but in terms of scope, and world, and characters, and hard choices, and battles to fight. And I loved nearly every minute of it.

Alexandra Bracken is an author who does ensemble casts really, really well (I’ve already mentioned that this was one of my favorite things in The Darkest Minds) so I was really happy to see that the cast expanded going into this book. While Passenger focused primarily on Nicholas and Etta, Wayfarer further explores and introduces quite a few characters who I loved.

I will admit I wasn’t as excited about Etta as I wanted to be. I like her as a character, but while she was brave and clever and passionate, but she didn’t stand out or feel distinct enough to be a favorite for me. I did, however, grow to love Nicholas–his guardedness, his determination and drive, his strong morality, his readiness to fight for what he wants and who he loves. Bracken explores Etta’s mother Rose and reveals her past in a way that fleshes her out and makes her sympathetic. Etta’s father Henry is introduced, and her ensuing relationship with him made me cry a little. New ally Li Min is intriguing, and I loved the way she interacted with Nicholas and Sophia. Nicholas’s half-brother Julian is clueless and cowardly, but good-hearted and funny and oddly lovable–he grows a lot during this book.

But the standout of the book for me was Sophia, who we meet in the first book as a bitter ambitious rich girl who wants to get back the power she has been denied all her life and basically hates everyone. I, being me, was intrigued by her right away. Wayfarer explores Sophia a lot–we learn about her past (it’s not what you might expect), her sexuality (she’s a lesbian. she and Li Min flirt while swordfighting. it’s as awesome as it sounds), and why she’s the person you want by your side (she’s brave and fiercely loyal and will fight for what she wants with everything she has). Wayfarer also gives you an opportunity to appreciate more of her spectacular snark.

A huge portion of Wayfarer is Nicholas and Sophia traveling together while looking for Etta, and their emerging friendship and trust was one of my favorite parts of the book. They made an amazing team and I enjoyed their mutual grumpiness.

Which leads me to another thing I loved about Wayfarer. While Passenger was very romance focused, the expanding of the cast and Nicholas and Etta’s separation in Wayfarer allowed for more focus and friendship and family–Nicholas’s relationship with Sophia, and Etta’s with her parents in particular.

That being said, Nicholas and Etta made my heart melt. Even though they spent most of the book separated, the connection between them was always strong. I loved the trust and partnership between them.

Like PassengerWayfarer  had some fun settings all over time and spaced. They were stunningly described and meticulously researched, and I could tell Alexandra Bracken had an amazing time writing about them. My personal favorite was 1919 Russia.

There’s also more exploration of the time traveler’s world–the darker corners and the mysterious beings that lurk in them. The world was a lot of complex than I’d given it credit for in the first book, and I hung on to every little detail. I was also immensely creeped out multiple times.

One final thing I loved was Wayfarer’s honest about the uglier parts of the past. The text is very clear about Sophia’s limited opportunities because she’s a woman, about Nicholas’s constant awareness of how people look at him him because he’s black. At the same time, there’s no pretense of the present being perfect–Etta acknowledges several times that it isn’t.

If I’m being honest, I think this book bit off a little more than it could chew–even with over 500 pages, there was a lot that felt confusing or unexplored. I feel like the world has so much more potential, and I wonder if there’s the possibility of a spin-off. I personally would be happy to read another book about Sophia and Li Min’s adventures.

If you found Passenger slow-paced or thought it had too much inner monologue, you probably won’t like Wayfarer any better–while the book is action-packed, it takes a while to get where it needs to be (taking the scenic route rather than the more direct path, so to speak). But the exploration of the world and the characters’ emotions made the book what it was, and I wouldn’t change a single word.

Sondra

2016 End of Year Book Survey

 

Number Of Books You Read:according to Goodreads, 148
Number of Re-Reads: yeah, I have no idea. I definitely reread Six of Crows and The Turn of the Story, but that’s all I know.
Genre You Read The Most From: probably fantasy

 

best-YA-books-2014

1. Best Book You Read In 2016?

unlike last year, I actually have a clear favorite! Crooked Kingdom, by Leigh Bardugo, of course. I wonder how many times in this post I’ll mention it.

that being said, here’s a twitter thread with some of my other favorites!

2. Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t?

Gemina by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman. It was good, but it didn’t blow me away the way Illuminae did. A lot of things that I loved in Illuminae because they’d felt so fresh kind of lost their charm here, and Hanna and Nik, while enjoyable, felt a little bland. I’m also a little tired of the whole “this main character is de–FOOLED YOU HE’S STILL ALIVE” thing the book had going.

 3. Most surprising (in a good way or bad way) book you read?  

The Addicted series by Krista and Becca Ritchie. I hate to admit it, but I underestimated those books because of the covers. I ended up becoming a lot more attached than I expected. These books handle addiction and mental illness so well, and the characters are complex and flawed and go through amazing development, and basically every relationship makes me cry a lot, and I appreciate that friendship and sibling love are just as focused on as romance.

 4. Book You “Pushed” The Most People To Read (And They Did)?

Same answer as last year…and the year before: all the Sarah Rees Brennan books ever! I also pushed a few people to read The Abyss Surrounds Us and The Diviners and I feel pretty great about that.

 5. Best series you started in 2016? Best Sequel of 2016? Best Series Ender of 2016?

Started: The Abyss Surrounds Us
Sequel: The Bands of Mourning
Series Ender: Crooked Kingdom

 6. Favorite new author you discovered in 2016?

You know, I don’t have an author that took over this year the way Sanderson took over 2015, or Sarah Rees Brennan took over 2014. But this year I discovered Corinne Duyvis and Shira Glassman and Nina Lacour and Noelle Stevenson, and I feel pretty great about that.

7. Best book from a genre you don’t typically read/was out of your comfort zone?

Eurydice by Sarah Ruhl. I read a lot of Sarah Ruhl plays this year, actually, but that one was my personal favorite. It was one of those poetic, dreamlike plays where you don’t always understand what’s being said, and it’s not always meant to be understood, but the emotion comes through her words loud and clear–grief and love and music.

 8. Most action-packed/thrilling/unputdownable book of the year?

A Gathering of Shadows by V. E. Schwab, as befits a book with Lila Bard in it.

 9. Book You Read In 2016 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year?

I am definitely planning a reread of The Abyss Surrounds us soon to prepare myself for the sequel. Crooked Kingdom, Nimona, and Maurice are also strong contenders.

10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2016?

Passenger and Wayfarer both have GORGEOUS covers.

11. Most memorable character of 2016?

The first one to come to mind is Steris from Bands of Mourning. I loved her from the beginning, but I love the layers that Sanderson added to her character, and her insecurities/approach to other people are more similar to mine than I have ever seen in another character.

But if we’re going for characters I encountered for the first time, I’m going to go with both Lada and Radu from And I Darken. They’re both complex and flawed and break so many tropes, and I loved reading about their relationships with their gender roles and their world and each other.

And shout-out to Lily from the Addicted series–I recently made a long, emotional twitter thread about my love for her, and how different she is from any character I’ve read about. She’s very important to me.

 12. Most beautifully written book read in 2016?

THIS QUESTION IS TRYING TO KILL ME. I’m going to say The Raven King, with This Savage Song and The Winner’s Kiss as close seconds. (and, I mean, De Profundis and Eurydice and In the Next Room and Giovanni’s room, but those go without saying)

13. Most Thought-Provoking/ Life-Changing Book of 2016?

Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin. The questions this book asks are so multi-faceted that it gave me a lot to think about.

 14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2016 to finally read? 

De Profundis by Oscar Wilde, since I’ve wanted to read it ever since I read his biography back in 2015. I was protecting myself from pain by putting it off, I guess?

 15. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2016?

“I would have come for you. And if I couldn’t walk, I’d crawl to you, and no matter how broken we were, we’d fight our way out together-knives drawn, pistols blazing. Because that’s what we do. We never stop fighting.” Crooked Kingdom

AND THEN I FORGOT HOW TO BREATHE

(there’s another quote from The Raven King that I love, but it’s a spoiler.)

16.Shortest & Longest Book You Read In 2016?

 

Longest: Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare

Shortest: The Card Sharp by Laura Lam

 17. Book That Shocked You The Most

The Bands of Mourning by Brandon Sanderson because OH MY GOD THAT ENDING

18. OTP OF THE YEAR (you will go down with this ship!)

It’s between Ronan/Adam and Kaz/Inej, and while I’ve been thinking of Kaz/Inej more lately because they’re the ones I read about most recently, I probably could not actually pick between them. They all have such amazing arcs, both separately and together, and Ronan and Adam finally kissed and it was as heart-stoppingly wonderful as I wanted it to be, and Kaz and Inej held hands for a whole minute and it was honestly better than a kiss.

If we’re talking about a ship I wasn’t familiar with before, let’s go with Cas/Swift from The Abyss Surrounds Us, because I personally think the world always needs more hate-to-love pirate-and-sea-monster-trainer f/f romance on the high seas that uses fanfic tropes and aknowledges power dynamics at work. I also read Nimona pretty recently, so I’m still floating on a cloud because of that final panel and Blackheart/Goldenloin.

19. Favorite Non-Romantic Relationship Of The Year

Oh boy…

  • Kell and Rhy (AGOS), because brothers who do stupid things to each other are my aesthetic
  • Bo and Agnes (Run), because there are really not enough books about friendship love stories between girls, and they are each other’s home and I cry a lot
  • the entire squad from The Raven Cycle, because they love each other a lot and SHUT UP I WILL NOT CHOOSE BETWEEN THEM I REFUSE
  • Arin and Roshar (The Winner’s Kiss), because they made me smile in a book that was otherwise made of pain, and I live a Roshar appreciation life
  • Kate and August from This Savage Song, because “monster trying to be human and human trying to be a monster” is also my aesthetic (if it’s in a V. E. Schwab book, it’s probably my aesthetic)
  • Nina and Inej from Crooked Kingdom, because LADIES SUPPORTING EACH OTHER AND GOING ON WAFFLE DATES YES GOOD
  • Lada and Radu from And I Darken because they were mirror-opposites but also had so much uniting them, and their relationship was incredibly messed up but they still loved each other in the end
  • the Calloway sisters from Addicted, because the way they all support each other and need each other and are strong in different ways is so beautiful
  • plus another one that is a minor spoiler for Wayfarer so I’ll save it for my review of that book

20. Favorite Book You Read in 2016 From An Author You’ve Read Previously

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo, and no, I did not have to think about that response one bit.

21. Best Book You Read In 2016 That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else/Peer Pressure:

The Addicted series, and we all know how THAT turned out [points to previous responses]

22. Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2016?

Still Lila Bard. Also Nicholas Carter. (Alex Bracken why are your male leads impossible not to fall in love with please explain this to me???)

23. Best 2016 debut you read?

The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie

24. Best Worldbuilding/Most Vivid Setting You Read This Year?

This Savage Song by V. E. Schwab

25. Book That Put A Smile On Your Face/Was The Most FUN To Read?

The Trials of Apollo by Rick Riordan. Not only because Apollo’s voice made me laugh hysterically, but because on a meta level I loved that such a popular children’s book had a bi protagonist.

26. Book That Made You Cry Or Nearly Cry in 2016?

Ebenezer by JoSelle Vanderhooft, because the depiction of depression paired with the main characters’s complicated love for theater was Too Real.

27. Hidden Gem Of The Year?

I feel like I haven’t heard a lot about We Are the Ants by Shawn David Hutchinson? Such a brilliant book where even minor characters have multiple layers, and a pitch-perfect portrayal of both grief and hope. Also, there are occasional chapters exploring different apocalyptic scenarios and one of them is titled “Bees?”

28. Book That Crushed Your Soul?

Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin. That book is pain, but in a good way.

29. Most Unique Book You Read In 2016?

Putting aside all the Sarah Ruhl plays I read last year (which are, by nature, Very Very Weird and also Very Very Beautiful) Gena/Finn was very unique in terms of structure and characters and tone. I didn’t always like those aspects of the book, but I did appreciate the originality.

30. Book That Made You The Most Mad (doesn’t necessarily mean you didn’t like it)?

New York by Gas Light, a book I read for class and soon wanted to throw against the wall because it was repetitive and overwritten and would not shut up about prostitutes.

book-blogging

1. New favorite book blog you discovered in 2016?

LGBTQReads (I think it started in 2016)

2. Favorite review that you wrote in 2016?

Tell the Wind and Fire, aka me returning to my roots (as if I ever left!) of screaming about Sarah Rees Brennan

3. Best discussion/non-review post you had on your blog?

I don’t really know if they count as non-review, but I’m really happy with my Femslash February posts. I’m glad that was a project I did, and I definitely plan on doing it again this February.

4. Best event that you participated in (author signings, festivals, virtual events, memes, etc.)?

Alex Bracken and Susan Dennard’s TruthPath tour stop was a lot of fun!

5. Best moment of bookish/blogging life in 2016?

being a part of the blog tour of As I Descended (aka the first blog tour of my life)

6. Most challenging thing about blogging or your reading life this year?

finding the time and motivation to do it among the million other things I have to do.

7. Most Popular Post This Year On Your Blog (whether it be by comments or views)?

My review of The Abyss Surrounds Us

8. Post You Wished Got A Little More Love?

My reviews in general, tbh.

9. Best bookish discovery (book related sites, book stores, etc.)?

A lot of really cool people on Book Twitter (who are way too cool for me and that’s okay). Also, a local bookstore has cats, and I met the cats this year, so that was pretty great.

10.  Did you complete any reading challenges or goals that you had set for yourself at the beginning of this year?

I set my Goodreads challenge for 100 and ended up reading 148 books, not counting rereads. I didn’t officially challenge myself on that front, but I would like to note that 1/3 of the books I read had LGBT+ protagonists.

looking-ahead-books-2015

1. One Book You Didn’t Get To In 2016 But Will Be Your Number 1 Priority in 2017?

An embarrassing amount of books. Timekeeper by Tara Sim, The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch, Fingersmith by Sara Waters, and Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire are on the forefront.

2. Book You Are Most Anticipating For 2017 (non-debut)?

Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson [no one is surprised]

3. 2017 Debut You Are Most Anticipating?

27 Hours by Tristina Wright, because before the title was revealed the author referred to it as “queer teens in space” and that’s really all I need to know about a book

 4. Series Ending/A Sequel You Are Most Anticipating in 2017?

The Edge of the Abyss by Emily Skrutskie

5. One Thing You Hope To Accomplish Or Do In Your Reading/Blogging Life In 2017?

Blog more consistently. Read more diversely. Review more frequently.

6. A 2017 Release You’ve Already Read & Recommend To Everyone:

History Is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera (warning: It will make you cry.)

Book Review: Ebenezer by JoSelle Vanderhooft

BookReview

Written by: JoSelle Vanderhooft
Release Date: December 13, 2013
Pages: 280, Paperback
Series: Standalone
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Book

It’s Christmas Eve in the city that never sleeps, but Ebenezer doesn’t feel like celebrating. Her girlfriend of ten years has just left her, her job as a debt collector is slowly killing her, and worst of all, she hasn’t truly acted in years. But when three spirits representing the places and ambitions closest to her heart pay her a visit, Ebenezer just might find a reason to end her life-or a reason to keep going. Set during the global recession, this retelling of Charles Dickens’s immortal classic A Christmas Carol explores the vagaries of growing up and exchanging old dreams for new meaning.

LetsTalk

Hello, and welcome to this blog’s first review in a few months, focusing on a book with a seasonably appropriate subject! (Yes, I know Christmas is over, but it’s still Christmas in my HEART! It also probably helps that I’m Jewish and Russian, and have a few more days of holiday time left.)

This book, as you can probably tell from the title, is a retelling of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. What you might not be able to tell, however, is that all the major players, including our Scrooge, are women. Here, Ebenezer is a depressed, bitter aspiring-actress-turned-debt-collector whose girlfriend Marley has recently left her.

Vanderhooft follows the original plot pretty closely, keeping the darkness and the light closely intertwined and melding and rearranging parts of the story to fit the modern setting. I was impressed by the seamlessness with which the story fit into our world; that is not always the case with adaptations of classics. I was also impressed with her  evocative and unique imagery and the eerie feel of her writiny\h.

The book was recommended to me as the story of a clinically depressed lesbian–one of the fairly rare cases where her depression is not connected to her sexuality–and it absolutely rang true for me on that front–Ebenezer’s increasing bitterness, anger at herself, and hopelessness rang hearbreakingly true to me. This time, the three spirits (of Utah, New York, and the future)  help her begin rediscovering her passion, her connections to others, and her hope.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m pretty much a theater kid for life, so Ebenezer’s love for acting and her struggle to be a part of the theater world was a big draw for me. Her self-doubt, her fixation on her failures, her anger at a younger version of herself who thought it would be easy to be successful–those are all things I’ve experienced, things I’m sure many actors have. And the rush of excitement she feels when she starts speaking on stage, the pure passion she feels deep inside even after years of struggle and depression? Also a thing. The weirdness and sense of family even through the bad parts in the theater community portrayed in the book also had me smiling and nodding my head. When I looked up the author’s bio, I was not surprised to see that she had worked in theater before.

The ending (yes, I’m going to talk about the ending, come on, you all know how A Christmas Carol ends) is optimistic but not clear cut; Ebenezer is just starting to reach out to others and climb out of her spiral and make amends to those she’s hurt, and the fact that she still has far to go is a given. It’s also made clear that she can’t erase the damage to the people she’s hurt; she can only go forward and try to be better. But at least she is going forward.

tl;dr: A dark but ultimately heartwarming female-driven holiday story about living with depression and loss and finding the passion to do what you love and the hope to continue livng; a deeply personal modern adaptation of the classic story.

Sondra

ARC Review: Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova

ARC

Written by: Zoraida Cordova
Release Date: September 6, 2016
Pages: 336, hardcover
Series: Brooklyn Brujas #1
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Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with an ARC!

 

Book

“Enchanting and complex. Every page is filled with magic.”-Danielle Paige, New York Times best-selling author of Dorothy Must Die

Nothing says Happy Birthday like summoning the spirits of your dead relatives.

Alex is a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation…and she hates magic. At her Deathday celebration, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her power. But it backfires. Her whole family vanishes into thin air, leaving her alone with Nova, a brujo boy she can’t trust. A boy whose intentions are as dark as the strange marks on his skin.

The only way to get her family back is to travel with Nova to Los Lagos, a land in-between, as dark as Limbo and as strange as Wonderland…

LetsTalk

 

I went into this book knowing very little: a bi protagonist, a magical world based on Central American culture, and a…labyrinth of some sort? I very much enjoyed what I got: unique world-building, character growth, a surprising amount of feelings, and old tropes made new through a stand-out setting.

Alex is part of a family of brujas, but is scared of her powers for a variety of reasons that are well-justified in the narrative. When she comes into her power (which turns out to be greater than anyone expected), she is advised by the resident Mysterious Attractive Boy to do a spell to get rid of them. It goes wrong, of course, and she ends up accidentally sending her family into the clutches of the resident Evil Powerful Enemy. Alex goes on a journey to save them.

What follows is an adventure story with a strong undercurrent of family and a rich, original magical world. As many times as I’ve seen the “protagonist goes from fearing powers to accepting them and kicking ass” trope, there’s something so intrinsically appealing about it. This was the case in this book; I loved Alex’s growth.

Actually, that goes for all the tropes in the book; there are a lot of story elements that I’ve seen before multiple times, but the setting and cultural aspects gave Labyrinth Lost such a breath of life that even the tropes felt very fresh. There is a love triangle, but it’s quite low-key (and one of the sides is f/f)! Labyrinth Lost will be a welcome addition to my list of favorite new urban fantasy novels.

Didn'tWork

I would have liked to see just a little more fleshing out of Rishi’s character; while she still felt like a real character, she never felt quite as developed as I would have wanted someone with a role as central as hers to be, and that kept her at a like-but-don’t-love level for me.

Is it just me, or did Alex level up on her powers really, really quickly when she got to Los Lagos, at exactly the most plot-convenient moments? This was something I noticed about three-quarters of the way into the book, and it kept bothering me.

DidWork

This is the first thing that comes up whenever anyone discusses this book, so I’ll just say it now: the worldbuilding! The author uses elements of her own Latin-American culture to build the magical dark wonderland of Los Lagos, and the result is a world completely different from anything I’ve ever seen in fantasy before, where just when you think you know what to expect, you unearth a new corner, a new twist.

Alex’s relationships with her mother and her sisters was a high point for me. Even when she was frustrated with them for pushing her into a life she didn’t want, even when she felt out of place, even when she made decisions that hurt them, it was so obvious that they all loved each other. I appreciated that the power of family was such a huge theme in this story, and would especially love to see more of Lula and Rose in future books.

And of course, the characters are wonderful. Alex has a very strong voice and a clear character arc and her thought process is written in a way where even her not-so-good choices make sense. I totally did not expect to like Nova, but my heart melted for him by the end; he has some great lines, and his backstory broke me. Rishi was just precious, and her unfailing support of Alex was the cutest thing ever. As is typical of me, the group moments between the three of them were among my favorites.

Pickup

Yes! I would recommend this book to anyone who is looking for some new urban fantasy to get excited about.

Sondra

ARC Review: Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow

ARC

Written by: Kathleen Glasgow
Release Date: September 6, 2016
Pages: 416, hardcover
Series: standalone
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Book

Charlotte Davis is in pieces. At seventeen she’s already lost more than most people lose in a lifetime. But she’s learned how to forget. The thick glass of a mason jar cuts deep, and the pain washes away the sorrow until there is nothing but calm. You don’t have to think about your father and the river. Your best friend, who is gone forever. Or your mother, who has nothing left to give you.

Every new scar hardens Charlie’s heart just a little more, yet it still hurts so much. It hurts enough to not care anymore, which is sometimes what has to happen before you can find your way back from the edge.

LetsTalk

This is the kind of intense dark book that, I think, some people will only be able to read in quick bursts, and others would prefer not to read at all. The main character, Charlie, has a lot of things heaped onto her–abuse, the loss of her best friend, homelessness, and self-harm are just a few. Kathleen Glasgow does not pull punches. Nothing is easy, and every bit of Charlie’s upward progress feels earned, narrative-wise. And I have to give her credit, because Charlie’s voice, her struggles, and her growth still ring so true that the book was still able to hit me hard in the emotions like it was supposed to.

Even if dark contemporaries normally not your kind of book, I recommend giving it a try. From the distinct characters to the gorgeous poetic prose to the focus on female relationships to the message of hope, Girl in Pieces is an extremely powerful novel, one that I think will help many people.

Didn'tWork

 

Pacing-wise, I feel like Girl in Pieces could have been about fifty pages shorter. The middle section, particularly the parts dealing with Charlie and Riley’s relationship, was on the slow side and I think it got just a bit too repetitive. While it should be noted that for the mast part this book did NOT feel like pain for the sake of pain, I think this section approached the closest to that kind of atmosphere.

DidWork

As I said, I’ve read a lot of books dealing with self harm, and one problem I’ve found with them is that the main characters tend to run together. I am very happy to say that Charlie stood out. I loved that she was quiet and reserved, and that this didn’t go away when the book ended, but that she found her voice nonetheless. I loved the moments of humor in her inner monologue and how hard she was willing to fight. I love how real her struggles and setbacks felt, and how much it made me cheer her on. 

The female relationships in the book were so important! From the best friend she loved and lost to the angry woman in her therapy group (who turns out to be fiercely loyal and loving) to her artist landlady with a tragic past to her recovering alcoholic supervisor at work, Charlie meets and develops bonds with a variety of women who affect her journey in so many ways. Charlie comes out of the hospital hoping for romantic love to save her, but her friendships with other women turn out to be so much more important.

(On that note, I don’t know if this was the author’s intent, but I definitely read Charlie as bisexual.)

After Charlie leaves the hospital, she meets Riley, who gives her a job at a coffee shop and has a heap of issues. From the synopsis and his intro, I kind of expected the relationship to be romanticized, but it wasn’t! The toxic aspects (the age difference, Riley’s drug use, Charlie accepting his terrible treatment of her because she doesn’t think she deserves better and Riley taken advantage of that) are all addressed in a very nuanced way. Riley’s addiction is presented sensitively, but never in a way that excuses his actions. I finished the book not really sure how I felt about Riley as a person, but very satisfied with the direction his and Charlie’s stories had gone.

One last thing I’d like to address is the writing, which is lyrical and emotional and sends chills down my spine. There are subtle shifts in both writing style and chapter length that match with Charlie’s mental state at the moment, something I appreciated.

Pickup

I would definitely recommend this if you’re in the mood for a nuanced, unique, moving dark contemporary with an amazing voice. 

Sondra

BLOG TOUR and GIVEAWAY: As I Descended by Robin Talley

Displaying AS I Descended Banner.jpg

Written by: Robin Talley
Release Date: September 6th 2016
Pages: 384, hardcover
Series: standalone
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LINKS: Amazon | B&N | Indiebound | iBooks | The Book Depository

 

Book

Maria Lyon and Lily Boiten are their school’s ultimate power couple—even if no one knows it but them.

Only one thing stands between them and their perfect future: campus superstar Delilah Dufrey.

Golden child Delilah is a legend at the exclusive Acheron Academy, and the presumptive winner of the distinguished Cawdor Kingsley Prize. She runs the school, and if she chose, she could blow up Maria and Lily’s whole world with a pointed look, or a carefully placed word.

But what Delilah doesn’t know is that Lily and Maria are willing to do anything—absolutely anything—to make their dreams come true. And the first step is unseating Delilah for the Kingsley Prize. The full scholarship, awarded to Maria, will lock in her attendance at Stanford―and four more years in a shared dorm room with Lily.

Maria and Lily will stop at nothing to ensure their victory—including harnessing the dark power long rumored to be present on the former plantation that houses their school.

But when feuds turn to fatalities, and madness begins to blur the distinction between what’s real and what is imagined, the girls must decide where they draw the line.

From acclaimed author Robin Talley comes a Shakespeare-inspired story of revenge and redemption, where fair is foul, and foul is fair.

 

LetsTalk

I don’t think I’ve referenced this on here yet, but like almost any theater kid, I love Shakespeare, and Macbeth is my favorite of his plays. It’s a wonderful story that, one would assume, would be difficult to adapt. But setting it in an old Southern boarding school, replacing the witches with some of the creepiest spirits you have ever seen, and making Macbeth and Lady Macbeth an f/f couple are all pretty amazing ways to do so.

I’ve been a fan of Robin Talley’s since I read Lies We Tell Ourselves, but this is my favorite of her books so far. It’s scary and beautifully written, with characters who are sympathetic even as they make bad decisions. It does a good job preserving the themes of the original play, and all the deviations are exactly what the story needs to keep it flowing and have it make sense in modern times. Even with the changes, the story never loses its high stakes, and I appreciated that.

I should also note that the four main characters are all not straight–a (Mexican) bi girl, a (disabled) lesbian, and two gay guys (one of whom is fat and has anxiety; the other one is Mexican).

Even though it comes out about two months earlier, As I Descended is a perfect Halloween read that will make you want to crawl under the covers in fear and then make you cry.

Didn'tWork

Certain developments with Maria and Lily towards the middle of the book, while they felt natural with where the characters were going in general, also appeared a little abrupt. The change made sense, but it could have occurred more smoothly. Lily’s character arc in particular felt somewhat incomplete as a result.

A minor quibble is the police-are-incompetent-for-plot-convenience trope. The police in the story made some decisions that I did not find believable at all.

DidWork

I wasn’t expecting to love the supernatural aspect of this book so much–I was more focused on the “f/f Macbeth” thing–but it ended up being a high point for me. Every scene where the ghosts appear or speak feels appropriately horror-movie-ish in the best way possible. A certain scene in Lily’s bedroom made me want to never sleep again. Robin Talley uses Mexican mythology to develop the ghosts, which makes sense with Maria’s character and gives the story another layer.

As I Descended features multiple POVs, and all the narrators are fleshed out. The motivations are very believable, which can be tricky with a story as…well…murder-y as this one. I particularly loved Lily’s voice–her rational and ruthless thought process, how her disability and sexuality motivated her actions, her fierce love for Maria even as she disagrees with some of her decisions. Lily is the ideal modern adaptation of Lady Macbeth. And I loved Maria, whose conflict always felt believable and whose decisions I completely understood. Without giving away too much, her ending is a small deviation from the original end of the play, but perfect for this story.

There are small nods to the original play throughout this book that were a lot of fun for me. For example, a game exists where the player has to put items that were mentioned in the witches’ scene into a cauldron. I thought that was a pretty cool addition.

I heard someone say that reading this book felt like watching the original play, and I agree. Robin Talley nails the atmosphere perfectly, and her writing is top-notch. As I Descended was just the right mix of new and old material, and I can’t wait for all of you to get the chance to read it.

Pickup

Definitely! Complicated messy teens + ghosts + good representation = a fantastic book.

Sondra

ABOUT ROBIN TALLEY:

I live in Washington, D.C., with my wife, our baby daughter, an antisocial cat and a goofy hound dog. Whenever the baby’s sleeping, I’m probably busy writing young adult fiction about queer characters, reading books, and having in-depth conversations with friends and family about things like whether Jasmine’s character motivation was sufficiently established in Aladdin.

My website is at http://www.robintalley.com, and I’m on Twitter and Tumblr.
LINKS: Website | Twitter Facebook | Tumblr

Tour Schedule:

Week 1:
 
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Giveaway:

3 Finished Copies of AS I DESCENDED (US Only)

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