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.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

ARC Review: Stealing Snow

Title: Stealing Snow
Author: Danielle Paige
Publication Date: September 20, 2016
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Format: ARC*

“Seventeen-year-old Snow has spent the majority of her life within the walls of the Whittaker Institute, a high security mental hospital in upstate New York. Deep down, she knows she's not crazy and doesn't belong there. When she meets a mysterious, handsome new orderly and dreams about a strange twisted tree she realizes she must escape and figure out who she really is.

Using her trusting friend Bale as a distraction, Snow breaks free and races into the nearby woods. Suddenly, everything isn't what it seems, the line between reality and fantasy begins to blur, and she finds herself in icy Algid--her true home--with witches, thieves, and a strangely alluring boy named Kai, none of whom she's sure she can trust. As secret after secret is revealed, Snow discovers that she is on the run from a royal lineage she's destined to inherit, a father more powerful and ruthless than she could have imagined, and choices of the heart that could change the fate of everything . . . including Snow's return to the world she once knew.

This breathtaking first volume begins the story of how Snow becomes a villain, a queen, and ultimately a hero.”

Remember last month, when I discussed my fairytale fatigue? Stealing Snow is a perfect example of why I’m over fairytale retellings. I can’t even sugar coat this review – I did not like this book.

To tackle the fairytale element first, Stealing Snow is supposed to be a retelling/reimagining of the Snow Queen, the same fairytale that inspired Frozen. You wouldn’t know that unless you were explicitly told though, because Paige mixes so many elements from different fairytales together that it becomes nonsensical. Snow White, the Snow Queen, Narnia, and Alice in Wonderland all pop up, and those are just the most obvious ones. The plot was a series of events that never felt tied together. Snow is here doing this. Now she’s here doing this. And now here. And now here! Rinse, repeat.

Looking back, the biggest problem I have with Stealing Snow is how Danielle Paige treats mental illness. Snow has lived in an asylum since she was six and tried to walk through a mirror (which…seriously?), and is constantly medicated because…she gets angry sometimes? We’re told that she goes crazy and is apparently capable of hurting people, but the one scene of this we actually see does nothing to justify these claims. So not only has this minor spent the majority of her life doped up in a psych ward, but the VERY MOMENT she passes into Algid she’s MIRACULOUSLY CURED. We never see that bad attitude or violent tendencies again. She’s no longer “crazy.” This is just so incredibly problematic and honestly disrespectful of people who actually suffer from mental illnesses. This book is a giant step backwards for mental health representation in YA. I’m going to stop talking about this because I’m becoming actively enraged, but suffice it to say that this is a trope I loathe.

Speaking of things that I loathe with the fiery passion of a thousand suns, Stealing Snow has an honest to god LOVE SQUARE. That’s right folks, Snow has four suitors in this book. Of course, I probably don’t have to point out that they’re all male, because even magical lands must ascribe to heteronormativity! The fact that she actually manages to develop feelings for each of these guys is astounding, considering she knows two of them all of five minutes before the pining begins. I can tolerate love triangles (albeit barely), but there’s seriously no damn reason for a love square.

Stealing Snow marks the third YA book I’ve read in the past month where our female protagonist is betrayed by a male character. While on one hand I’m glad that girls are learning to be wary of trusting boys (yes, this is who I am ok), it’s becoming such an unoriginal trope. And it’s always the same character, too. But lucky Snow is betrayed by not one, but TWO of her love interests! Oh the angst, how will this love square be resolved? Oh no, my eyes just rolled right out of my head.

To top it all off, Stealing Snow packs a one-two punch of lackluster writing and literally no world building. The brief insights we have into Algid are confusing, and none of these pieces seem to fit together. The writing was easy to read because it was so painfully simple and unremarkable.

I honestly can’t point out any one thing that I genuinely enjoyed about this book, and I wish that I would have DNFed it instead.

Rating: ⭐️

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

Friday, September 16, 2016

Top 5 HP Ships | Fandom Friday

Ok, so plans got a bit derailed after my first Fandom Friday post, but things are getting back on track with today's post - my top 5 Harry Potter ships!

Anyone familiar with fandom will inevitably know that the term "ship" is derived from relationship, and means that there are two characters you want to be in a relationship of one form or another. Shipping is a widely popular part of the fandom experience, and is a huge part of fanfiction. As someone who's been in many fandoms over the years, I've gone through my fair share of ships. Some have sailed, others have sunk, and still others were cracks hips that would never see the light of day and left me trawling AO3 for whatever I could find. One of the fandoms that I've been a part of the longest is of course Harry Potter, and my longest standing ships inevitably come out of the wizarding world. Since Harry Potter is largely what got me into fandom in the first place, I thought I'd share my top 5 HP ships with you today.

1. Hermione Granger + Draco Malfoy (Dramione)

Oh, the angsty ship of my dreams. Hermione punching Draco in Prisoner of Azkaban was a watershed moment for my young shipper self, and no one writes hate-to-love quite like Dramione shippers. This ship is also A+ when it comes to Draco Malfoy redemption arcs, and I'm here for it. Also, literally no other character can hold their own against Hermione when it comes to being witty and whip-smart like Draco can, and so their ship has the best banter by default. There is, admittedly, little to no canon evidence to support this ship but I honestly give no fucks about what JKR thinks anymore so I WHO CARES NOT ME. Basically I just love this ship and have read entirely too many fics where they're Head Girl & Boy and have to share a dormitory. 

2. Hermione Granger + Harry Potter (Harmony)

Arguably one of the most controversial ships in the HP fandom, I've always been a Harry/Hermione shipper and still to this day pretend that Hermione didn't end up with Ron. As much as I hate JKR retconning all over the place, even SHE acknowledged that Hermione should have ended up with Harry instead of Ron. I also don't like the fact that literally everyone ends up a Weasley at the end of the series, so Harry/Hermione breaks that up nicely. Plus, they just have a much closer relationship and the best H/H fics really highlight that. Hermione and Harry were my very first ship, so I have strong nostalgic feelings about this pair. Plus the films definitely play up their relationship, which is one of the best things about the adaptations. Also, that whole "I'll go with you" scene? Kills me.

3. Lily Evans + James Potter (Jily)

One of the most divisive issues in the HP fandom is easily Jily shippers verses Snily (Snape + Lily) shippers. Personally, I hate Severus Snape and think that Snily is a steaming pile of abusive trash, but that's a topic for another day. James and Lily, however, are everything. They embody the "hate-to-love" relationship trope, and I am yet to read a quality Jily fic that didn't have amazing banter between the two. Plus, James/Lily obviously takes place in the Marauders Era, which is my favorite because I really adore fandom about the war during Voldemort's first rise to power. This is a hard ship to explain why I ship them so much, but trust me...I do.

4. Albus Severus Potter + Scorpius Malfoy (Scorbius)

Literally the ONLY GOOD THING to come out of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is that I now ship Albus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy, no matter what that queer baiting piece of trash play says. I've never been interested in the Next Generation, but Cursed Child made me realize that there's some prime ship material here. Scorpius, especially Cursed Child Scorpius, is an actual ray of sunshine and Albus Severus is angsty AF and together they make my new OTP. I just love the idea of Harry's troubled middle son and Draco's only child falling in love, forever forcing their fathers into awkward holiday dinners. 

5. Luna Lovegood + Neville Longbottom (Luneville)

This ship is 100% the fault of the movie adaptations. When suddenly-very-attractive Matthew Lewis says "I'm mad for her. I think it's about time I told her, since we'll probably both be dead by dawn!" in Deathly Hallows Pt. 2, the proverbial lightbulb went off. This is definitely a ship I prefer to read about as a secondary pairing in another ship's fic, but I still love them all the same.

What are your favorite HP ships? Let me know!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

ARC Review: Stalking Jack the Ripper

Title: Stalking Jack the Ripper
Author: Kerri Maniscalco
Publication Date: September 20, 2016
Publisher: jimmy patterson / James Patterson
Format: ARC*

“Seventeen-year-old Audrey Rose Wadsworth was born a lord's daughter, with a life of wealth and privilege stretched out before her. But between the social teas and silk dress fittings, she leads a forbidden secret life.

Against her stern father's wishes and society's expectations, Audrey often slips away to her uncle's laboratory to study the gruesome practice of forensic medicine. When her work on a string of savagely killed corpses drags Audrey into the investigation of a serial murderer, her search for answers brings her close to her own sheltered world.

The story's shocking twists and turns, augmented with real, sinister period photos, will make this dazzling debut from author Kerri Maniscalco impossible to forget.”

I’ve never been a fan of murder mysteries, and reading suspenseful books usually causes me more anxiety than excitement. So when I picked up an ARC of Stalking Jack the Ripper at BEA, I had no idea what to expect. I nearly decided against reading this because I was so sure it would be too gory, too spooky for me. Thankfully I gave Stalking Jack the Ripper a chance, because this book blew me away.

Our protagonist Audrey Rose is a proper lady, but all the tea parties in the world can’t hold her attention when she’d rather be conducting an autopsy. Audrey spends her free time apprenticing under her uncle as a forensic scientist, and when one of the bodies she’s studying turns out to be the Jack the Ripper’s first victim, Audrey finds herself on the hunt for a killer.

My single favorite thing about this book is how powerfully feminist it is. Audrey pushes back against societal expectations placed upon her as a young woman, and is more concerned with determining cause of death than finding a husband. Audrey asserts herself and her aspirations, going so far as to attend her uncle’s lectures dressed as a boy. Female characters who are interested in STEM fields are still unfortunately uncommon in YA, so seeing Audrey’s passion for science before women were even largely allowed to study added to my appreciate for this book. Audrey has so much working against her, but she still fights for what’s important to her.

Weaving in the Ripper murders was an interesting premise, and I’m sure that readers who are better acquainted with Jack with get even more out of it than I did. Admittedly, I know very little about Jack the Ripper, so I wasn’t overly focused on those details. Maniscalco does play around with Jack the Ripper, and while it was told well, I didn’t love where she took that part of the story. The ending felt oddly detached from the rest of the story, and that lessened my overall enjoyment of the book.

I did enjoy the romantic subplot, especially for its snappy banter and competitive nature. That being said, I wish he didn’t swoop in to save Audrey quite so much. As fierce and capable as she is, I would’ve liked to maybe see Audrey save him a couple times.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Stalking Jack the Ripper and would definitely recommend picking it up if you’re intrigued!

Rating: ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

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

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Mini ARC Reviews: Labyrinth Lost & Rani Patel in Full Effect

Labyrinth Lost (Brooklyn Brujas, #1)Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Alex is one of the most powerful brujas alive, but she hates magic and is afraid of her powers. In a misguided attempt to give up her magic, she ends up exiling her entire family to Los Lagos, a limbo world. With brujo Nova as her guide, Alex travels to Los Lagos to save her family and come to terms with her powers. The strongest elements of Labyrinth Lost were definitely the world building and the wonderful diversity of its characters. Nearly the entire cast of characters are people of color, and Mexican-American culture is represented not only with the characters, but within the bruja magic system as well. Our main character is also bisexual, and I loved seeing that, especially since it came across so naturally. That being said, for all of the positives I did have some pretty serious problems with Labyrinth Lost. Mainly, the writing feels weak and disjointed a lot of the time, and the author’s repeated use of nonsensical yet offensive phrases like “bipolar eyes” made the reading experience far from immersive. Nearly every other character in this book overshadows Alex, so by the end I still didn’t really know her voice, or feel connected to her as the protagonist. This is the first book in a series, but unless the writing improves I don’t think I’ll continue on. As much as I enjoyed the story, the actual story telling was too lacking for me to really enjoy it.

3.5 stars

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

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Set in 1990s Hawaii, Rani Patel in Full Effect was one of the most unique stories I’ve come across. Rani raps with her local crew as MC Sutra, and uses her raps to deal with what’s going on in her life – her father’s affair, the growing distance between Rani and her mother, and the years of sexual assault she suffered through. Rani has such a distinctive, powerful voice, and I loved reading about a female MC who looks up to Queen Latifah and Salt-N-Pepa. This book is Own Voices, and it really explores the expectations placed upon Indian women, especially in Rani’s Gujarati family. As much as I loved the different moving parts of this book, somehow it just didn’t quite work for me as a whole as much as I’d hoped it would. I think part of why I didn’t feel immersed in the story was because rap slang, Hawaiian words, and Gujarati phrases were used with little context or translation, so I was constantly referring to the glossary, even though many words weren’t even in the glossary. I know that Rani is 16, but the romantic subplot really diverted a lot of attention away from the family story and rushed Rani’s own personal growth instead of seeing it progress throughout the novel. I did enjoy this story, and especially Rani as a character, and loved that this book provided some much-needed representation of Hawaiian and Indian cultures, neither of which gets much attention in YA. Books are getting adapted into movies and TV shows left and right these days, but Rani Patel in Full Effect would make an amazing film. That has nothing to do with the merits of the novel, but I still wanted to share that opinion. I’d definitely recommend checking this book out, because Rani’s story and lines will definitely impress.

3.5 stars.

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

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

ARC Review: The Graces

Title: The Graces
Author: Laure Eve
Publication Date: September 6, 2016
Publisher: Amulet Books
Source: eARC*

“When a glamorous family of teenage witches brings a mysterious new girl into their fold, they unwittingly nurture a powerful black magic that could destroy them all. This paranormal YA fantasy features intrigue, spells, and a devastating twist. In The Graces, the first rule of witchcraft states that if you want something badly enough, you can get it . . . no matter who has to pay.

Everyone loves the Graces. Fenrin, Thalia, and Summer Grace are captivating, wealthy, and glamorous. They’ve managed to cast a spell over not just their high school but also their entire town—and they’re rumored to have powerful connections all over the world. If you’re not in love with one of them, you want to be them. Especially River: the loner, new girl at school. She’s different from her peers, who both revere and fear the Grace family. She wants to be a Grace more than anything. But what the Graces don’t know is that River’s presence in town is no accident.

This fabulously addictive fantasy combines sophisticated and haunting prose with a gut-punching twist that readers will be dying to discuss. Perfect for fans of We Were Liars as well as nostalgic classics like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the 1996 movie The Craft, The Graces marks the beginning of a new wave of teen witches.”

Ah, The Graces. I had such high book that this book would be the second coming of The Craft, that iconic cinematic marvel of ‘90s. I adored The Craft when I was younger – probably too much for someone my age, but no one will be surprised to hear that I was a weird kid. I digress.

All of the crucial ingredients are there: an untouchable group of suspected witches, an outsider desperate for their acceptance, and the distinct feeling that something wicked this way comes. Unfortunately, what Laure Eve delivers is something decidedly less spectacular.

I had some major issues with The Graces, chief among them that roughly the first 80% of this novel is just…boring. An unremarkable girl (who has a real name I’ve since forgotten because she insists on being called River) climbs the social ladder with such thinly veiled desperation that made me so uncomfortable at times I wished she’d failed. The Grace family is pulled from the pages of Twilight, from their unnatural beauty to the distance they maintain from the rest of the town. River, of course, falls in love with the eldest brother and uses her friendship with the youngest sibling Summer, as an excuse to get closer to him. This book also commits the incredibly problematic “kill your gays” trop and it, unsurprisingly, left me enraged.

The best part about this book is the ending. The last few pages, and what will presumably occur after them, are what I wish this entire book had been instead.

* EDIT * Ok so I just looked this book up on Goodreads, and apparently it’s the first in a series. While that explains why The Graces was so boring and felt unnecessary, that’s because it was, all for the sake of setting up a second book that will actually have an exciting story and/or some real action! I’m going to stop myself from going on a “unnecessary series” rant, but suffice it to say that I think this is silly.

Ultimately, there was little to nothing that I actually enjoyed about this book. Nearly everything from the characters to the pacing to the magic system managed to annoy or bore me, and I will not be continuing on in the series. Instead, I’m going to watch The Craft this weekend bask in its witchy glory. If you’re super into witches and don’t mind a lackluster first book, then give it a try. But otherwise I’d recommend a hard pass on this.

Rating: ⭐️ ⭐️

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

Monday, September 5, 2016

August Wrap Up | Part 2

I tend to split up my monthly wrap ups into the midpoint and end of the month, because I read too much for a single video. That being said, this month's wrap ups have been INSANE. I read 16 or so items in the first half of the month, and 17 in the second half. My August Wrap Up, Part 2 is 13 minutes long and we've got a lot to cover, so grab a cup of tea and a snack, and settle in.

Let me know what you read in August, and what you think of the books I read!

Friday, August 26, 2016

Fandom Friday: An Introduction

Today kicks off a new series – Fandom Friday! Every Friday, I’ll discuss some aspect of fandom, be it my own personal experiences or fandom in general. I’m planning to alternate weekly posts between this blog and my YouTube channel, because certain topics are better suited to written or video formats. So ever Friday, either here or on my channel, I’ll be chatting all things fandom!

I’m excited to begin this series! Fandom has always been a big part of my life, ever since I was 13 and discovered the Harry Potter online community. This was back in the heyday of Live Journal, and I was quickly introduced to fan fiction, online RPG, and the amazing sense of community. Granted this all began back when I was in junior high, and the slightest hint that you were involved in anything fandom related was enough to warrant merciless teasing and being called a nerd, the most horrifying thing a teen could ever be accused of . Needless to say, I kept my fandom involvement to myself, and for years never spoke of my online interests to anyone in my everyday life.

Fast forward a decade or so, and things have definitely changed. Fandom has become a normal part of popular culture, and there are more platforms to espouse the wonders of fandom than ever. Tumblr, podcasts, Archive of Our Own – these are a few of the major players and probably the best sources for those just getting started in any particular fandom. The advent of major comic conventions that have become star-studded affairs has helped to make fandom culture more normalized, and these days TV shows/movies/books are able to achieve massive levels of success by understanding the value of fandom. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child sold over 4 million print copies in its first week. Marvel movies regularly dominate the box office. Popular YA series skyrocket onto the NYT Bestsellers List before being adapted into successful (well, sometimes) TV shows or movies. Fandom plays a huge role in this.

As I said, I got into the fandom game relatively young, via Harry Potter online RPGs (seriously. It’s still not something I’m overly proud of) and fan fiction. There’s been endless debate over fan fiction and whether it’s plagiarism, and you’ll find plenty of Creative Writing professors more than willing to dismiss it as a joke. But you’ll find none of that here! I still remember the early days of, and the epic HP fic repository that was Fiction Alley. Fan fic and the fandom community soothed the agony of waiting years between Harry Potter books, a much-needed alternative to obsessively checking MuggleNet every day for news.

While I started in the Harry Potter fandom and still consider myself very much a part of it, I’ve been in plenty of fandoms over the years. Usually my stay in any one particular fandom is brief, because I don’t have the attention span or desire to be active in more than one or two fandoms at a time (look, fandom can be draining, ok? I’m talking time, resources, and emotions). Some of my biggest fandoms have been Teen Wolf, The 100, The Hunger Games, The Raven Cycle, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and of course Harry Potter.

Fandom Friday will cover a wide range of topics, and I’m hoping this will be a great way to get a bit more personal on this blog and my channel. If you have any recommendations of things you’d like to see me discuss, let me know in the comments!

Thursday, August 25, 2016

ARC Review: Our Chemical Hearts

Title: Our Chemical Hearts
Author: Krystal Sutherland
Publication Date: August 30, 2016
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers (Penguin)
Source: ARC*
Goodreads | Book Depository

“Henry Page has never been in love. He fancies himself a hopeless romantic, but the slo-mo, heart palpitating, can't-eat-can't-sleep kind of love that he's been hoping for just hasn't been in the cards for him—at least not yet. Instead, he's been happy to focus on his grades, on getting into a semi-decent college and finally becoming editor of his school newspaper. Then Grace Town walks into his first period class on the third Tuesday of senior year and he knows everything's about to change.

Grace isn't who Henry pictured as his dream girl—she walks with a cane, wears oversized boys' clothes, and rarely seems to shower. But when Grace and Henry are both chosen to edit the school paper, he quickly finds himself falling for her. It's obvious there's something broken about Grace, but it seems to make her even more beautiful to Henry, and he wants nothing more than to help her put the pieces back together again. And yet, this isn't your average story of boy meets girl. Krystal Sutherland's brilliant debut is equal parts wit and heartbreak, a potent reminder of the bittersweet bliss that is first love.”

This book is billed as “John Green meets Rainbow Rowell” and honestly, that should have been enough to trigger alarm bells in my head. It’s not a secret that I’m no fan of John Green’s books, and the comparison that is all-too frequently applied to YA contemporaries these days usually signals that I’m about to be underwhelmed.

Enter Henry, our basic white boy protagonist, unexceptional save for his interest in the school newspaper and his quirky band of family and friends. His posse includes an Australian best friend (because, sure), a feminist lesbian other best friend (#diversity), and a brilliant older sister who’s always around to conveniently dole out advice on life and love (probably a former MPDG herself).

Yes, you can already tell that I’m salty about this book and I’ll be honest, it’s not gonna let up.

Enter Grace, who wears boys’ clothes and uses a cane, but still manages to capture Henry’s affections. Lucky Grace. But don’t worry, Grace isn’t some Manic Pixie Dream Girl! She’s more of a Manic Pixie Depressed Girl, because she’s like super broken and Henry can totally fix her with his love. Henry then proceeds to fall in love with, and become obsessed to the point of STALKING, Grace even though she is clearly going through Stuff and is not in a good place. Henry even acknowledges at one point that Grace probably needs some help, and then does NOTHING but keep pursuing her. I just…sigh.

The way that Grace’s situation was dealt with, or rather not dealt with, was so disappointing. I can’t site the specific example I want to because it’s major spoilers, but there’s no reason why the adults in her life wouldn’t have stepped in at some point. Several moments in this book made me deeply uncomfortable, and I will admit that things ended up being much more serious (and honestly, messed up) than I had ever expected. The ending, or at least what Sutherland tried to say, was probably the strongest part of this story. Unfortunately it was pretty much lost in the 300-something pages of this underwhelming contemporary that tried way too hard.

This is my biggest gripe with Our Chemical Hearts – it tries too hard. Nothing about this book felt natural, from the characters to premise or even the reading experience itself. Our Chemical Hearts read like a desperate, overzealous attempt at writing a book worthy of a John Green comparison. It may have been too successful, because this felt like yet another reiteration of the same basic, tired John Green storyline. White boy becomes obsessed with a MPDG and drags his crew of quirky friends along for the ride while learning some valuable life lessons. This is a story I’m no longer interested in reading.

There’s so much potential in Our Chemical Hearts. I wonder if switching to Grace’s perspective would have made it more successful, or just not worked at all. Ultimately this was unimpressive and unenjoyable, and I wouldn’t recommend this unless you’re a major fan of this type of story.

Rating: ⭐️ ⭐️

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

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

DNF Diaries: Girl In Pieces & And the Trees Crept In

Welcome to another installment of DNF Diaries! It’s been a while since my last post, which I suppose is good for my reading (and man, did I read a ton so far this month), but I’ve recently DNFed two books for very different reasons. So today’s post is a dual DNF Diaries!

Title: Girl In Pieces
Author: Kathleen Glasgow
Publication Date: August 30, 2016
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Source: ARC*

I hesitantly gave Girl In Pieces a try after picking it up in the flurry of book acquisition that was BEA. If I had taken the time to read the synopsis, I probably wouldn’t have taken a copy. Girl In Pieces is about Charlotte “Charlie” Davis, who wakes up in a psych ward after a suicide attempt. This book should have “trigger warning” written all over it – the entire story revolves around self-harm, sexual assault, and substance abuse. I’m not triggered by any of those things, but I still usually avoid books with these subjects because they can quickly devolve into torture porn, or otherwise completely mishandle these topics. I thought Girl In Pieces would tackle how the system (healthcare, social services, take your pick) fails people, particularly young people, who are struggling with addiction or mental health disorders. But I honestly couldn’t get far enough into this story to see if any of that is actualized.

I DNFed Girl In Pieces at about 75 pages. Very little happened in those 75 pages – Charlie wakes up, adjusts to life on the ward, and has some flashbacks to certain traumatic experiences. The chapters are very short in the beginning, only a paragraph or a few lines, so realistically there was far less than 75 pages’ worth of content. There was nothing to connect to, nothing to keep me engaged, and through Charlie’s narration and flashbacks, I could tell the story was setting up something I wasn’t interested in following. Ultimately I DNFed this book because I did not want to suffer through hundreds of pages of Charlie suffering. Usually I DNF books for technical issues, or a strong emotional response, but in the case of Girl In Pieces, I simply did not want to read this story.

Title: And the Trees Crept In
Author: Dawn Kurtagich
Publication Date: September 6, 2016
Publisher: Little, Brown
Source: ARC*

This DNF is much more straightforward: I am a wimp. I don’t like scary movies, I can’t watch creepy TV shows, I think people who say being scared is “fun” are crazy. So when I pulled And the Trees Crept In out of the black hole that was my book suitcase after BEA, I knew how this would end up. Two sisters move in with their aunt, whose house is conveniently the color of blood. The younger sister speaks to a man no one else can see, and the trees surrounding the house apparently begin to close in around them (And the Trees Crept In, get it?). I’ll be totally honest here and admit that I only made it a chapter into this book before I had to give up. I wasn’t immediately drawn in, I knew things were about to get scary and weird, and my anxious little heart wanted none of it. Will this be a great read for some people? Yes, absolutely, but I’m just not one of them. I DNFed And the Trees Crept In at 15 pages and am now highly suspicious of the tree outside my window.

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

What's the last book you DNFed? Do you DNF books? Let me know in the comments!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

ARC Review: Poppy by Mary Hooper

Title: Poppy
Author: Mary Hooper
Publication Date: August 30, 2016
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Format: eARC*
Goodreads | BookDepository

“England, 1914. Poppy is fifteen, beautiful and clever, but society has already carved out her destiny. There's no question of her attending more school; it's too expensive and unsuitable for a girl. Instead, Poppy will become a servant to the aristocratic de Vere family . . . and bury her feelings for their youngest son, Freddie. It doesn't matter that Freddie seems to have fallen just as hard for Poppy. He could never marry a girl like her.

But the set path for Poppy's life is irrevocably altered when it becomes clear that the war isn't going to be over soon. The chains of class, wealth, and her gender no longer matter--England needs every able bodied person to serve in battle in some way. Which, for Poppy, means volunteering on the front lines as a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse. As she experiences what people are capable of--the best of humanity and the very worst--Poppy will find an unexpected freedom and discover how to be truly her own person.”

Poppy and its sequel, Poppy In the Field, were previously published in the United Kingdom to commemorate the centennial anniversary of the outbreak of World War I, and now Bloomsbury USA Childrens will publish Poppy on August 30. I haven’t come across much YA literature set during the First World War, so I was very excited to receive an eARC of Poppy via Netgalley.

The eponymous heroine of Poppy is Poppy Pearson, a parlor maid for a wealthy family at the beginning of the war who ends up enlisting as a volunteer nurse. This first book focuses mainly on the societal expectations of 1915 England, especially as it relates to an ill-advised romance between Poppy and Freddie, the son of the family for whom Poppy works. The class divide and its subsequent break down following the war is a constant theme of WWI literature, because it marks such a shift in British society. But Poppy, and all of England, is still beholden to the “above/below stairs” mentality that would prevent them from being together. The way society and class relations are portrayed in Poppy were so intriguing and well written that it was one of my favorite aspects of this book.

That Poppy becomes a Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) nurse is obviously the biggest draw into this story, and it was fascinating to learn about how these young women were trained and their experiences aiding soldiers. This book allows Poppy (and the reader through her) to acclimate to the often horrific injuries soldiers sustained at the front, but also the methods of treatment available at the time. The soldiers joke about the “tin shop” where doctors could perform facial reconstruction on soldiers, and there’s even mention of “Dottyville,” the nicknamed hospital where soldiers suffering from shell shock were sent, including famed poet Siegfried Sassoon.

All that being said, this felt like a filler book, since it’s just setting the stage and giving us enough background information for Poppy to be sent off to the front lines in the sequel, Poppy In the Field. I am intrigued to read the sequel, because I think it’ll provide some of the more action-oriented excitement missing in Poppy. Poppy as a protagonist was lovely, and I liked seeing her grow as a person and into her role as a nurse. I did find that nearly all of the other characters felt overly simple, and at times a bit too trope-ish for my taste.

Someone without much knowledge of World War I will undoubtedly learn a lot of good, basic information about the war and society at the time. However, as an historian who did her masters dissertation on WWI, I felt it was a bit heavy handed at times. The best way I can think of to describe this is that Poppy read quite like the old Dear America books that Scholastic published when I was growing up. An imaginary girl at a certain historical event kept a journal, and throughout the book it was like the author ticked points off a list, so that by the end you knew all about say, voluntary nurses in England during WWI! And a very similar effect is accomplished by reading Poppy. Did that lessen my enjoyment? Not really.

I think Poppy is a great book for those historical fiction fans who want to learn more about WWI, and it also does a great job of representing the experience of women, especially working class women, in England during the war. I’ll be eagerly anticipating the sequel, should Bloomsbury decide to publish it in the US.

Rating: ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ . 5

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

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Comic Reviews: Ladies of Marvel & DC

I've read more comics and graphic novels so far in 2016 than I had in my entire life before January. I resisted reading comics for the longest time because I found them so intimidating, but I finally took the plunge and started reading whatever seemed interesting. Of course, this meant a lot of superhero stories because as was made evident in my Superhero YA video, I love the superhero story arc.

I'll admit that I'm much more of a Marvel fan than DC, but this month I picked up two DC and two Marvel comics that sounded really exciting, so I'm going to share my reviews with y'all! While I know the larger Marvel universe much better than DC, I was still able to dive into these stories and really enjoy them.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I listed Kamala Khan in my Superhero YA Books I'd Love to Read post, and reading the first volume of her arc as Ms. Marvel only cemented that opinion. Kamala is such a wonderful MC - she's brash and defiant, but she's got a heart of gold. However, some better/further explanation of how exactly she acquired her powers and how they work would have really helped (maybe this will come up in future issues). I loved seeing Kamala's home life alongside her first forays into superhero exploits, and it was so refreshing to see positive Muslim representation in what is usually a boringly WASP medium. I did find that her family members where portrayed a bit stereotypically at times, but hopefully that something that is improved upon in later volumes. I'm definitely going to continue with Kamala as Ms. Marvel, and can't wait to see what she gets up to next. 

Batgirl, Vol. 1: Batgirl of BurnsideBatgirl, Vol. 1: Batgirl of Burnside by Cameron Stewart
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Aside from Alicia Silverstone in Batman & Robin, this was my first formal introduction to Batgirl as a character. I loved this modern day millennial take on Batgirl, and the every day life portions of this volume ended up being some of my favorite scenes. I loved the artwork, especially how the female characters are drawn. There's a brilliant cameo from Dinah/Black Canary, and she totally stole the show from Babs more often than not. While I liked the style of this, I found the actual plot to be somewhat lacking. Individual issue conflicts/story lines were tied up a little too easily, and the overarching plot of volume one had me scratching my head and whispering "wtf." And once again, it was solved rather simply. I really came to adore Babs, so I'll likely continue with her arc, but I hope that future issues have story lines that are match the epic art style.

Captain Marvel, Vol. 1: Higher, Further, Faster, MoreCaptain Marvel, Vol. 1: Higher, Further, Faster, More by Kelly Sue DeConnick
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Going into this trade, the only thing I knew about Captain Marvel was that Kamala Khan (aka Ms Marvel) idolized her. I knew that Carol Danvers was an iconic member of the Avengers and larger Marvel Universe, but I went into this newer arc blind. You don't get Captain Marvel's origin story in this volume, but thanks to a child's drawing in the first few pages I got caught up to speed. I really came to like Captain Marvel throughout this first volume, and she's a badass pilot who's not afraid to fly into space and fight a sky full of spaceships on her own. There's even a cameo from the Guardians of the Galaxy! The art style wasn't my favorite, but I appreciated that it was bold like Captain Marvel, so it still felt cohesive. The storyline itself felt a bit too "white savior," especially in the last two or three issues. I might pick up volume two, but this first volume didn't blow me away.

Gotham Academy, Vol. 1: Welcome to Gotham AcademyGotham Academy, Vol. 1: Welcome to Gotham Academy by Becky Cloonan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Boarding schools are one of my all-time favorite settings, so I was predisposed to like Gotham Academy. It's been highly recommended by several of my favorite YouTubers with comic-focused channels, so I decided to finally pick up volume 1 and see what the fuss was about. First, I have to say that the art is BEAUTIFUL, and the coloring was so amazing that I had to stop and just take it all in before moving on to the next page. I also really liked that we get a cast of characters in this, instead of the usual superhero vs the world. Olive is the main character and narrator, and things were hinted at in this first volume that make me really excited to see what happens to Olive in later issues. Although there wasn't a lot of closure at the end of this, I liked that we're clearly setting up for a longer, more involved story arc at Gotham Academy.

View all my reviews

After reading my very first DC comics, I'm definitely intrigued to read more! I think Black Canary will be next on my DC list. Do you have any comic recommendations, Marvel/DC or otherwise? Let me know!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

ARC Review: The Loose Ends List

Title: The Loose Ends List
Author: Carrie Firestone
Publication Date: June 7, 2016
Publisher: The Novl / Little, Brown
Format: ARC*

“Seventeen-year-old Maddie O'Neill Levine lives a charmed life, and is primed to spend the perfect pre-college summer with her best friends and young-at-heart socialite grandmother (also Maddie's closest confidante), tying up high school loose ends. Maddie's plans change the instant Gram announces that she is terminally ill and has booked the family on a secret "death with dignity" cruise ship so that she can leave the world in her own unconventional way - and give the O'Neill clan an unforgettable summer of dreams-come-true in the process.

Soon, Maddie is on the trip of a lifetime with her over-the-top family. As they travel the globe, Maddie bonds with other passengers and falls for Enzo, who is processing his own grief. But despite the laughter, headiness of first love, and excitement of glamorous destinations, Maddie knows she is on the brink of losing Gram. She struggles to find the strength to say good-bye in a whirlwind summer shaped by love, loss, and the power of forgiveness.”

This is one of those rare instances in which all of the ingredients are right, but the cake isn’t baked properly and thus the end result is an unsatisfying mess. I wanted to read The Loose Ends List because it’s billed as a book about “death with dignity” – when a person decides to end their life in order to relieve pain and suffering, often due to a terminal illness. Euthanasia is still a rather controversial topic, but I was impressed to see it tackled in an upcoming YA novel. I have strong personal opinions regarding this concept, and hoped that The Loose Ends List would do it justice. In terms of how death with dignity was represented, the weight of that choice and its impact upon everyone involved, I thought The Loose Ends List was spectacular. Lots of difficult but necessary conversations happen throughout this book, and I think it’s important to included “hard topics” in young adult literature. However, I have to be honest and say that I didn’t enjoy a single other thing about this book.

As I get older, it’s becoming increasingly clear that I have little natural sympathy for characters of extreme privilege, and an author really needs to work hard for me to care about their problems. The Loose Ends List epically failed in this regard. Our protagonist Maddie comes from an absurdly wealthy family, all of who are forced to go on a death with dignity cruise when their matriarch, Maddie’s Gram, announces she’s dying. I think Firestone intended to write the family as initially unlikable but ultimately a group you’d come to root for, but she utterly failed in the execution. I was continually amazed at how selfish and unbearable these characters were – from Maddie’s hateful aunt to her alcoholic mother to her cousin who’s straight up described as a slut. I mean, seriously. The entire family was simply too much, and written in such a heavy-handed fashion that I couldn’t believe Firestone actually tried to pass this off as a relatable family. No family should be this worried about whether their granddaughter/niece/daughter/cousin is still a virgin. 

Maddie was perhaps the worst of them all – an insipid girl whom Firestone strikes with IBS for seemingly no other reason than to include a handful of not-funny remarks. Maddie’s grandmother is dying, they are on a trip around the world which will culminate in her grandmother being laid to rest, and she falls for a cute boy in the span of a day. This infuriated me. Why, why ruin what could have been a heartfelt, emotional family story with a love story? Young adult books do NOT have to have romance every single time, people. And in this case, Maddie’s whirlwind romance with a boy who sounds like a total loser and shames her for being a virgin insured that by the time Gram died and Maddie was more distraught over losing her boyfriend, I did not feel an ounce of sympathy for a single character in that family. The other people on the cruise? Sure, those characters I actually cried for. But I couldn’t stand the family at the heart of this story, and that ultimately ruined any goodwill I harbored towards The Loose Ends List. 

Rating: ⭐️ ⭐️

*I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Superhero YA Books I'd Love to Read

Yesterday, I posted a discussion video on my YouTube channel about the rise of Superhero YA. You can check out that video HERE if you’d like more information, but basically, I am a huge fan of the growing trend of YA novels about comic book superheroes. Starting with Black Widow in 2015, and looking ahead to the four DC/Random House books coming 2017 – 2018, it seems like the hot new trend in YA sports tights and a cape. Sign me up.

As someone who unashamedly loves the superhero narrative – but still loves a villain, let’s be real ok guys this is me after all – I’m so excited to see what’s in store. As I said in my video, I never read comics growing up and still find them intimidating, but I’m really into the Marvel Cinematic Universe and holy hell Suicide Squad looks right up my alley. So I thought that I’d compile a list of my top five superheroes who I’d like to see get the YA treatment, plus a couple villains because sometimes you can’t help but root for the bad guy. Maybe that’s just me.

1. JEAN GREY. Growing up, I was an X-Men girl, and Jean Grey was my FAVORITE. I know we’ll see young Jean Grey in the next X-Men movie, but I would love to get a YA novel from her perspective. Jean struggles with the intensity of her powers in a different way than her cohorts, and I think this would provide a great framework for a story. Plus, teenage X-Men at boarding school is just so very much a thing I want.

2. SPIDER GWEN. As much as I love Peter Parker, Gwen Stacey as Spider Woman is such an awesome novel waiting to happen. I’ve actually read the Spider Gwen comics, and this is a character and story arc that I really enjoy. Gwen plays drums in her all-girl band, The Mary Janes, and tries to reconcile her vigilante justice with her father’s status as head of police. This is prime novel material, people!

3. BLACK PANTHER. Aside from his role in Captain America: Civil War, I know little to nothing about T’Challa, which is A CRYING SHAME FOLKS. A prince who becomes king and a superhero, T’Challa has a lot going on – it can’t be easy to run a country and be an Avenger. Plus, he’s the first black superhero in a mainstream comic, and it’s time we stop accepting the media’s insistence that you must be a white man to be the hero and worthy of a story. Personality-wise, T’Challa is such a refreshing divergence from snarky Stark and whimsical Rogers. In my opinion, he’s one of the most exciting characters in the MCU, and while I’m so pumped for the Black Panther movie in 2019, I think a YA novel about this character would be awesome.

4. MS. MARVEL. Kamala Khan is Marvel’s first Muslim headliner, and oh is she awesome. Who wouldn’t devour a YA book about a sixteen year old who finds herself with super powers? Uh, no one, that’s who. Comics are woefully male, pale, and stale, but the latest incarnation of Ms. Marvel shows just who really runs the world. Girls. I know that Kamala Khan’s comics are very recent releases, but they’ve created great buzz, so all the better to capitalize on that popularity and write a book.

5. DEADPOOL. Because obviously. I don’t know how a teenage Deadpool story would work, but I want one.

I just realized these are all Marvel characters, whoops. If you’ve got DC recommendations, let me know!

And here are a couple villains I’d like to see featured, if not in their own novel, then at least in their superhero counterparts’ books: Poison Ivy, Harley Quinn. Loki, and Magneto!

What are some comic characters you would like to see get their own YA book? Let me know in the comments!