Thursday, February 9, 2017

Hiatus - Moving Shop

Hi everyone, I just wanted to put up a brief post explaining my absence. I'm in the process of switching over to another host site, so hopefully that will be completed soon!

In the mean time, check out some of my latest videos on my YouTube channel, and be sure to follow me on Twitter to know when things are back up and running.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

ARC Review: The Sun Is Also a Star

Title: The Sun Is Also a Star
Author: Nicola Yoon
Publication Date: November 1, 2016
Publisher: Delacorte Press (Penguin Random House)
Format: ARC*

“Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.

Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store—for both of us.

The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?”

Nicola Yoon is easily one of my favorite YA contemporary authors now. I enjoyed her debut Everything, Everything, but The Sun Is Also a Star (TSIAAS from here on) really sealed the deal for me. TSIAAS, told in alternating perspectives with vignettes scattered throughout, follows our two main characters over the course of one day as they meet and fall in love. Or something like that.

Natasha doesn’t believe in love at first sight or fate – she believes in formulas and facts. Her family is being deported that evening, and she’s spending her last day in New York doing everything she can to prevent it. Daniel would much rather write poetry than go to Yale and become a doctor like his Korean parents expect. It shouldn’t work between them, but all they have is this one day.

It’s undeniable that this book is cute AF, and Nicola Yoon writes swoony worthy YA romance like none other. Her characters felt so real (more so than in Everything, Everything, just saying), and I loved them. What makes this book even more wonderful is how Yoon writes about the expectations and experiences of immigrant children. Yoon does not candy-coat the harsh realities of immigrating to America, and living in this country illegally. There is so much to unpack in this novel, but I especially loved how she portrays the tensions within each family, and how that has shaped Natasha and Daniel.

Natasha and Daniel, for that matter, are so unbelievably wonderful together. Definitely an opposites attract situation, but seeing their connection progress over the course of just a single day had me desperately hoping for an impossible ending. I was worried that this book would be an unrepentant tale of instalove, but I should have had more faith in Yoon. Natasha and Daniel have less than 24 hours together, but it felt like the most natural start to a relationship imaginable. I wouldn’t call this instalove, but rather instant connection. An instant promise of more.
I did run into a similar problem with TSIAAS that I had with Everything, Everything – there’s just something missing. I can’t even really explain it, but this wasn’t a perfect 5 star read for me. I know, I’ve been raving about this book and now what’s my problem? But I genuinely can’t describe it, there’s just been this disconnect with both of her novels for me.

That being said, TSIAAS is easily one of my favorite YA contemporaries of the year. It’s books like this that prevent me from entirely giving up on YA contemporary, because Yoon’s ability to craft a story is truly remarkable. Highly, highly recommend.

Rating: ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️  stars

*I received this ARC from the publisher at BEA in exchange for a free & honest review.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

ARC Review: The Diabolic

Title: The Diabolic
Author: S.J. Kincaid
Publication Date: November 1, 2016
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Format: ARC*

“A Diabolic is ruthless. A Diabolic is powerful. A Diabolic has a single task: Kill in order to protect the person you’ve been created for.

Nemesis is a Diabolic, a humanoid teenager created to protect a galactic senator’s daughter, Sidonia. The two have grown up side by side, but are in no way sisters. Nemesis is expected to give her life for Sidonia, and she would do so gladly. She would also take as many lives as necessary to keep Sidonia safe.

When the power-mad Emperor learns Sidonia’s father is participating in a rebellion, he summons Sidonia to the Galactic court. She is to serve as a hostage. Now, there is only one way for Nemesis to protect Sidonia. She must become her. Nemesis travels to the court disguised as Sidonia—a killing machine masquerading in a world of corrupt politicians and two-faced senators’ children. It’s a nest of vipers with threats on every side, but Nemesis must keep her true abilities a secret or risk everything.

As the Empire begins to fracture and rebellion looms closer, Nemesis learns there is something more to her than just deadly force. She finds a humanity truer than what she encounters from most humans. Amidst all the danger, action, and intrigue, her humanity just might be the thing that saves her life—and the empire.”

The Diabolic starts off with an explosive first chapter. A young Nemesis brutally murders three men, and then has a procedure done on her brain that makes her love her charge Sidonia. I mean, talk about off to a strong start. That first chapter was, in a word, INTENSE, and made me so excited to read this scifi standalone.

And then things went rapidly downhill from there.

I can’t quite come to terms with how I feel about The Diabolic. I did honestly enjoy the story and the characters, but it felt like the author was just ticking boxes on a list of every dystopian trope known to man. Set in a galaxy far, far away? Check. A cutthroat assassin who’s conveniently also the chosen one? Check. A male love interest who’s not what he seems? Check. A villain who’s evil for no reason but must be stopped at all costs? Check. See what I mean? I could anticipate every single plot twist and big reveal, simply because I’ve read literally any YA dystopian before this.

What was perhaps even more frustrating is that the world building made ABSOLUTELY NO SENSE WHATSOEVER. Society has supposedly turned its back on learning and the sciences, yet they still engineer humanoid servants? They can change their appearance at will to look like citizens of the Capitol in the Hunger Games, but they don’t see the value in being able to repair their own technology. These people LIVE IN SPACE. This clearly drove me nuts, I mean seriously.

Nemesis was hands-down my favorite part of this book. She’s amazing, and I loved reading about an assassin main character who has actually got the body count to match that title. She’s written exceptionally, and the ruthless violence of this book is honestly what drew me in and kept me engaged. I did really enjoy the idea of Nemesis being a Diabolic, and even though she’s our main character, I wish the book actually focused more on Diabolics. Learning about Nemesis and others like her would have been exponentially more interesting than the inane political “intrigue” and commonly occurring rape that S.J. Kincaid chooses to include instead. Yep, that’s right, there’s a couple of characters that drug and rape almost every new member of court and all of two people find this not cool. HASHTAG PROBLEMATIC, YOU GUYS. I can’t believe that so much effort and so many words were wasted over that instead of, you know, actual world building or making this book more than recycled tropes.

Clearly I have some very strong feelings about this book. Which is what makes reviewing it so hard, because I did enjoy it. But not enough to excuse all the things that really bothered me. This book is a great example of why it feels like there’s nothing new in YA anymore. Why are genuinely unique, original stories so few and far between?

If you’re really intrigued by this concept, I’d still recommend giving it a try. May the odds be ever in your favor. Oh wait, wrong dystopia. Easy mistake.

Rating: ⭐️ ⭐️ .75 stars

*I received this ARC from the publisher at BEA in exchange for a free & honest review.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

ARC Review: Timekeeper

Title: Timekeeper
Author: Tara Sim
Publication Date: November 8, 2016
Publisher: Sky Pony Press
Format: eARC*

“In an alternate Victorian world controlled by clock towers, a damaged clock can fracture time--and a destroyed one can stop it completely.

It's a truth that seventeen-year-old clock mechanic Danny Hart knows all too well; his father has been trapped in a Stopped town east of London for three years. Though Danny is a prodigy who can repair not only clockwork, but the very fabric of time, his fixation with staging a rescue is quickly becoming a concern to his superiors.

And so they assign him to Enfield, a town where the tower seems to be forever plagued with problems. Danny's new apprentice both annoys and intrigues him, and though the boy is eager to work, he maintains a secretive distance. Danny soon discovers why: he is the tower's clock spirit, a mythical being that oversees Enfield's time. Though the boys are drawn together by their loneliness, Danny knows falling in love with a clock spirit is forbidden, and means risking everything he's fought to achieve.

But when a series of bombings at nearby towers threaten to Stop more cities, Danny must race to prevent Enfield from becoming the next target or he'll not only lose his father, but the boy he loves, forever.”

I could barely contain my excitement when I was approved for an eARC of Timekeeper. This book is one of my most anticipated releases for the second half of 2016, and it did not disappoint. A story about the physical existence of time, with a swoon-worthy romance? Please, sign me up. Timekeeper was everything I wanted it to be, and I’m genuinely excited to see where this series goes and what these characters will face in the next installments. 

The world building takes a minute to understand, but once everything clicks you can appreciate just how clever this world that Sim created is. A slightly advanced industrial revolution means that not only do our characters have automobiles, phones, and other more steampunk additions, but they experience the societal changes of the movement as well. In Timekeeper’s England, homosexuality is no longer illegal, and women make up an increasing percentage of the work force. On top of that, time is a real, physical thing in this book. Tied into an original mythology, there are people who literally feel the strands of time and work on them via clocks. These mechanics, including Danny, are charged with maintaining time and avoiding catastrophes, such as a town being Stopped in time.

As you can imagine, the premise and world building are pretty phenomenal. While I usually don’t enjoy steampunk novels, Timekeeper had just enough of those elements to keep things interesting without overwhelming the main focus of the story. I really loved the mythology around time that Sim created, and the entire idea of these clock towers and their spirits. This book feels so incredibly magical at times, and there is a sense of wonder embedded within the cogs and mechanical parts. The relationship between Danny and Colton was one of the sweetest romances that I’ve come across this year, and it does not fall into any cliché traps like instalove.

If this book does fall short, it’s perhaps in the character development. Everyone felt a bit one-dimensional, and played into clearly defined roles. I’d like to see these character arcs further developed and expanded in the rest of the series. That being said, this was an incredibly enjoyable read.

Sometimes you read exactly the right book at the right time, and that perfect alignment definitely happened when I picked up Timekeeper. I love that this is a story about time, but not time travel. There have been so many YA time travel novels published over the past couple years, and none of them worked for me. Timekeeper is such a fresh, unique story, and I highly recommend it. I can’t wait to see what Tara Sim has in store for us next.

Rating: ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️  stars

*I received an eARC of this from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for a free and honest review. 

Thursday, October 6, 2016

ARC Review: Wrecked

Title: Wrecked
Author: Maria Padian
Publication Date: October 4, 2016
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Format: ARC*

“Everyone on campus has a different version of what happened that night.

Haley saw Jenny return from the party, shell-shocked.

Richard heard Jordan brag about the cute freshman he hooked up with.

When Jenny accuses Jordan of rape, Haley and Richard are pushed to opposite sides of the school’s investigation. Now conflicting versions of the story may make bringing the truth to light nearly impossible--especially when reputations, relationships, and whole futures are riding on the verdict.

Wrecked offers a kaleidoscopic account of a sexual assault on a college campus. It will leave you thinking about how memory, identity, and who sits in judgment shape what we all decide to believe about the truth.”

Let me begin by saying that Wrecked is probably one of the most important books I’ve read this year. It covers an unfortunately timely topic – rape on college campuses. Both my undergraduate and graduate universities have difficult histories with sexual assault, and often in Oxford’s case, those events have been brought into the glaring light of the public eye. The rape that takes place at fictional MacCallum College doesn’t end up in a very public trial with media coverage, but that’s part of what makes it is important.

Wrecked does a brutally honest job of portraying what occurs when a student accuses another of rape at most American universities. Unless the accuser goes to the police, the allegations are handled by the university as a potential violation of student conduct or some similar policy. There is no arrest, no real protection for either party, and the accuser and accused remain at the same (sometimes very small) campus for the duration of the investigation. It is no secret that these investigations, just like our current legal system, are often cruelly unfair to the accuser, and very rarely actually end with a guilty verdict. Often, the accused can simply decide to withdraw from the university and then go on to live his or her life with few to no repercussions. This is the system that Maria Padian exposes in Wrecked.

Wrecked is unique for many reasons, including the fact that it’s told from the dual narratives of Haley, Jenny’s roommate, and Richard, Jordan’s friend. Haley and Richard are one step removed from the situation, and provide two very different perspectives. This allows the reader to see the situation from the outside, and provides a better appreciation for how difficult it is to punish rapists, and how easily doubt and the self-interest of others undermine investigations. Classmates are worried about getting in trouble for underage drinking, memories are unclear from getting wasted, and more often than not, an appropriate resolution is never reached.

I enjoyed that Padian also confronts rape culture in smaller ways, having characters frankly discuss consent and fight back against victim blaming. Hayley and Richard have an intense argument over his flippant use of the word rape, and Richard is continually forced to check his own privilege and internalized sexism throughout the book.

And yet, I can’t say that I honestly enjoyed this book. Is it important? Yes, incredibly so. But did I enjoy reading Wrecked; did I come to care for these characters? No, not really. I can’t explain the disparity between my appreciation for this book and my simultaneous lack of enjoyment. All of the individual pieces were perfect, yet the entire package fell a bit flat.

That being said, Wrecked is one of the most realistic portrayals of sexual assault in college that I’ve ever come across. These characters were in my classes, I went to that frat party, and Richard one of my male friends who had to be called out on their sexism. I knew too many Jordans and Exleys, but I didn’t know any Jennys. Why? Because they knew that all-too often at small liberal arts schools like ours, like MacCallum, it’s really the victim who’s put on trial. So they kept quiet.

Please, read this book. Get angry and demand change. Demand that universities protect their victims, not their rapists. Stop asking how much a girl had to drink and what a boy’s athletic record is. My own alma maters are finally instituting sexual assault policies and procedures that are actually intended to protect the victim and provide some semblance of justice. We are still so far from where we need to be, but Wrecked helps us take a step in that direction.

Rating: ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️  stars

*I received this ARC from the publisher at BEA in exchange for a free & honest review.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Favorite Female Superheroes | Fandom Friday

Welcome to another installment of Fandom Friday! Last week, I posted a video discussing why I chose to break up with JK Rowling, so I decided to take a different approach for this week’s blog post. Today, I’m talking about my favorite female superheroes – those badass women from comic pages and movie screens who embody that iconic Nicki Minaj lyric: “you could be the king, but watch the queen conquer.” I almost exclusively read comics about female characters, so these ladies are the real heroes in my book.

1. Gwen Stacey, Spider-Gwen. One day I will write an ode to Gwen Stacey properly explaining why I love her character so much, but suffice it to say that Spider-Gwen is one of my all-time favorite superheroes. She’s sassy and tells bad jokes, but at the heart of this character is a young woman who’s struggling with who she is, both with and without the cowl. Plus, she’s a drummer in the band The Mary Janes (yep, fronted by good ol’ MJ herself!), and Gwen was definitely the star of the Spider-Women crossover event, although I do have a spot in my heart for Cindy Moon and Jessica Drew now.

2. Natasha Romanova/Romanoff, Black Widow. An assassin turned Avenger, Natasha may not scream superhero at first glance. But for me, it’s always been Black Widow’s character arc that’s the most intriguing. Natasha is concerned with redemption, erasing some of the red from her ledger. Since I’m a big MCU fan, I can’t mention Black Widow without giving a shout out to how excellently she’s played by Scarlett Johansson (except that weird romance in Avengers: Age of Ultron, which we will not speak of). I’ve only read the first volume of Nathan Edmonson and Phil Noto’s series, but I fully intend to read that entire arc, plus the current story.

3. Diana Prince, Wonder Woman. Come on, I can’t talk about female superheroes without mentioning the feminist icon that is Wonder Woman. I admittedly am new to the Wonder Woman scene, and have never read a solo WW comic. DC Bombshells and the forthcoming WW movie next year have convinced me that needs to change. If you have recommendations of a great series to start, let me know! I’m insanely excited for the Wonder Woman movie in 2017, and the fact that Leigh Bardugo (of Grisha & Six of Crows fame) is writing a Wonder Woman YA book that’s out August 2017! Could you imagine what damage the patriarchy would sustain if Diana waved her lasso of truth around at a Trump rally these days? Just saying. Plus, it was recently announced that Diana is bisexual, so all the yes for LGBT representation in comics!

4. Barbara Gordon, Batgirl. I’m very new to the DC game, so I don’t have a lot of exposure to these characters and their storylines. But I did read Batgirl of Burnside this year, and I loved this modern reimagining of Babs Gordon as Batgirl. Babs is a STEM genius, and I really appreciated how much focus the writers put into that, to the point where Babs is pretty much a nerd and that was amazing. The art style in this new series is absolutely incredible, and the ways bodies are drawn is such a refreshing break from the overly sexualized, porn-level comic art that dominates this medium. I’m definitely excited to learn even more about Batgirl.

5. Kamala Khan, Ms. Marvel. Kamala Khan is the first Muslim, Pakistani-American character to headline a superhero comic, and she’s basically amazing. I enjoy how realistically Kamala is portrayed – she’s a teenager adapting to these new, crazy powers, not a seasoned veteran. I think it’s incredibly important that Marvel is including more diversity in their comics, especially since Ms. Marvel is Own Voices (writer G. Willow Wilson is a Muslim woman). So many superheroes are of some indiscriminate age, usually 20s – 40s, but Kamala is young, and she acts appropriately for her age. She’s worried about her shape shifting abilities, AND the boy she’s got a crush on. I think Ms. Marvel is an excellent entry point for new comic readers, especially younger girls who want to see themselves represented.

There are so many amazing female superheroes that I adore, so I’m going to name a few honorable mentions: Kate Bishop/Hawkeye, Jean Grey, Cindy Moon, and Jessica Jones.

But of course, I have to give a special shout out to my OG favorite female superheroes…the Sailor Scouts! Moon prism power make up!

Who are some of your favorite female superheroes? Let me know in the comments!

Thursday, September 29, 2016

ARC Review: This Adventure Ends

Title: This Adventure Ends
Author: Emma Mills
Publication Date: October 4, 2016
Publisher: Henry Holt & Co. (Macmillan)
Format: eARC*

“Sloane isn't expecting to fall in with a group of friends when she moves from New York to Florida―especially not a group of friends so intense, so in love, so all-consuming. Yet that's exactly what happens.

Sloane becomes closest to Vera, a social-media star who lights up any room, and Gabe, Vera's twin brother and the most serious person Sloane's ever met. When a beloved painting by the twins' late mother goes missing, Sloane takes on the responsibility of tracking it down, a journey that takes her across state lines―and ever deeper into the twins' lives.

Filled with intense and important friendships, a wonderful warts-and-all family, shiveringly good romantic developments, and sharp, witty dialogue, this story is about finding the people you never knew you needed.”

Emma Mills is quickly becoming one of my favorite YA contemporary authors. I was so pleasantly surprised by her debut First & Then, which combined Friday Night Lights and Pride and Prejudice into a wonderfully heartfelt read. This Adventure Ends, her sophomore novel, takes all the best parts of First & Then – relationships of all forms, snappy dialogue, and a true-to-life cast – and creates an incredible story.

This Adventure Ends focuses on what I think is the most important part of being a young adult, and doesn’t get nearly as much focus as romance: friendship. While there is romance (and oh, it is very cute with lots of snarky moments), the real focus of this book is the intense love we all have for our friends, a love that is different than familial or romantic love, but just as important. Sloane joins a group of friends, and the bond between them becomes everything. The best way I can describe the friendships in This Adventure Ends is to quote one of my favorite books, Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater: “they were all in love with one another…Blue was perfectly aware that it was possible to have a friendship that wasn't all-encompassing, that wasn't blinding, deafening, maddening, quickening. It was just that now that she'd had this kind, she didn't want the other.”

That’s the type of friendship at the heart of this book, and I absolutely loved it. Sloane struggles at times with this intensity, unsure if she’s really capable of being caring or even admitting that these people mean so much to her. There were so many moments while reading this book that caused me to think of my own friends from college, how we spent nearly every moment together (seriously, we took communal naps), and how they remain the most important people in my life. This Adventure Ends highlights the true importance of friendship, of a found family, and the love you share. I wish this theme was more prevalent in YA. So much focus is put on romance, which is fine and fun, but friends are infinitely more important than hooking up with the cute person in your class. Just saying.

I loved that the reader sees not only the overall group dynamic, but also each person’s relationships with the others. While the focus is of course on Sloane, you feel connected to Vera, Gabe, Remy, and Aubrey and what they’re going through. There were so many small moments between them that just made their friendships feel so real to the reader. Plus, Emma Mills gets all the gold stars for the Gilmore-Girls level banter and witty retorts throughout this book. They kept me on my toes, and giggling the whole time.

Sloane’s family was pretty interesting, especially her Nicholas Sparks-esque father who gets hooked on fanfiction for a Teen Wolf inspired TV show. Sloane as a protagonist was great, even though she is a bit distancing at times. She’s trying to figure out how to connect with people, and you really see her struggle at times with how to be a friend, or be affectionate. I definitely appreciated seeing that in her character.

The only thing that kept This Adventure Ends from being a 5-star read is that it lacked emotional depth. There’s a lot of potential, especially with Sloane’s dad’s apparent depression, and the fact that Vera and Gabe’s father is moving on after their mother’s death. But somehow Mills never strikes the right emotional chord for me to give this a full five stars. That being said, I am someone who likes a more than healthy dose of angst, so I wouldn't let that comment dissuade you from reading this book. Grab your best friend and pick up This Adventure Ends on October 4th!

This Adventure Ends is the friendship love story I’ve been waiting for, and I cannot recommend it enough.

Rating: ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️.5 stars

*I received an eARC from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for a free & honest review.