Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Book Review: The Cilantro in Apple Pie by Kimberley Nadine Knights

Fragnut. Confused? Well so is everyone else at Lumiere Hall Prep when sixteen-year-old Rubie Keane rolls in from Trinidad and Tobago talking her weird lingo. Not that she minds the culture confusion; she's determined to leave the past behind her and be overlooked—but a certain stoic blue blood is equally as determined to foil her plans.

Gil Stromeyer's offbeat personality initially makes Rubie second-guess his sanity, but she suspects his erratic outbursts of violence mask a deeper issue in his troubled, charmed life. Despite his disturbing behavior, a gradual bond forms between the two. However, on the night of the annual Stromeyer gala, events unfold that leave Rubie stripped of her dignity and kick Gil's already fragile world off its axis.

Both their well-kept secrets are uncovered, but Gil's revelation proves that sometimes the best remedy for a bad case of lost identity, is a dash of comradery from an ally packed with flavor.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for a review.

I'm going to say right off the bat that I really wanted to like this book.  There is so much potential in all of it, but in the end, I felt like it was all hype and no substance, making it a pretty disappointing debut from this new author.

My biggest complain is definitely about the writing.  It's amateur at best, or at least reads like a first draft.  In fact, it reads like the first drafts I read from new writer sin my FictionPress days, all said replacers and unnecessary adverbs.  I kid you not, things like "'I know that look in your eye,' he accused me knowingly." and "'You've changed, too,' I admitted honestly." are pretty much par for the course in this book and it is so, so grating.  The dialog is also full of cliche phrases and in scenes where there's supposed to be a huge emotional impact, Rubie and the others end up just speaking like robots and ruining it.

And then there was the hook, that Rubie is from Trinidad and has her own ‘weird lingo’ as they put it.  Except I feel like the author tried way too hard on this.  All I can think of is reading books set in Maine thinking “Oh cool, I’m from Maine, I should appreciate this” only to find that they tried way too hard with it and are slapping the reader in the face with the culture and dialect.  She even goes so far as to bold words that are part of Rubie’s Trinidad dialect, which just makes it all the more obvious it’s shouting “LOOK AT ME I’M DIFFERENT.”

Another thing that caused me a lot of trouble was the big reveal, where it turns out that Gil had a twin sister who was stillborn a few days before their due date.  While I can see him perhaps being aggressive and violent as he's portrayed, I definitely don't believe that he could be given hypnotherapy and 'remember' that he 'killed' his younger sister.  The author couldn't even be bothered to throw in a quick 'oh they told me when I was three but I was traumatized and repressed it' to make it believable, but she spends an entire section of a chapter having Rubie look up the consequences of having a dead twin like she realized it sounded unbelievable and was pointing like "Look, science!" when everything Rubie looked at was likely talking about identical twins (which Gil and his sister couldn't have been, being opposite sexes).  Fraternal twins are not part of the same egg even if they end up being the same sex, so that entire sequence did nothing to make me believe the "plot twist" more.

And then was that the entire thing was about how boys and girls can have platonic relationships and it doesn't have to be romantic or sexual at all.  It's a good thing to tell people, but I was put-off that there was nothing to do with alternate sexualities, for instance, and that in the end the reason Gil wanted her to be his friend was because he thought she looked like this girl he saw in National Geographic that he 'felt his sister in.' In other words, the only reason he even approached her was he was trying to replace his sister, thus sort of defeating the point of it.

And the final thing I have to point out is that the last part of the book starting at  ~65% has a lot of mentions of religion that put me off.  I felt like a lot of stuff about Rubie was held back for nothing but dramatic effect and it failed, but the religion thing is one of the worst.  She stopped believing (or at least started questioning) in God after her mother had a stroke and her father was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, and when we finally find out, a lot of it is just super gross.  There's even a conversation where it's pretty much said that if you don't believe in God you're wrong and need psychological help.  Not really a message you want to be sending teens who are figuring things out for themselves at that age.  So yeah, fail.

Overall, I'd say it's a two stars just because the plot could've been great.  But too much drama, too much mediocre writing, and too much Evangelizing made it fall flat on its face.  Like I said, I wanted to like this book.  I'm a bit sad it didn't work out.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

A little late, but release day for me!

My most recent published piece, a short story called Watch the World Burn, went up on Indestructible Spec, an e-zine for speculative LGBT stories.  You can read it for free here!

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Book review: Imitation (Clone Chronicles #1) by Heather Hildenbrand

Everyone is exactly like me. There is no one like me.

Ven wrestles with these contradicting truths every day. A clone of wealthy eighteen-year-old Raven Rogen, Ven knows everything about the girl she was created to serve: the clothes she wears, the boys she loves, the friends she loves to hate. Yet she’s never met the Authentic Raven face-to-face. 

Imitations like Ven only get to leave the lab when they’re needed—to replace a dead Authentic, donate an organ, or complete a specific mission. And Raven has never needed Ven . . . until now.

When there is an attack on Raven’s life, Ven is thrust into the real world, posing as Raven to draw out the people who tried to harm her. But as Ven dives deeper into Raven’s world, she begins to question everything she was ever told. She exists for Raven, but is she prepared to sacrifice herself for a girl she’s never met?

I received a free ARC from Netgalley in return for a review.

Cloning seems to be a pretty popular thing in YA sci-fi in the last few years, and like every other trend, with the oversaturation, there’s always going to be hits and misses.  In this case, I think Imitation was just average.  There were some interesting ideas in this book and if it was really all that bad, I wouldn’t have been afraid to not finish it.

Unfortunately, it really is mediocre to a little below average.  There are things that don’t connect with each other like I’m seeing an older draft in some parts and they forgot to change things to line up with the new direction.  Not to mention that the ARC I received was really poorly formatted so as to distract me from the story at times, which I hope was fixed in the final version.

My biggest complaint is probably where the book ended.  Without giving any spoilers, it was one of those ones that clearly is leading into the next book, but I hate series book endings where there isn’t any actual closure.  Pretty much nothing is resolved and they’d just found out about some things and suddenly, the end.

If I got the chance I might read the next book just to see how it goes, but eh. This one is take it or leave it.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Book Blitz: The Cilantro in Apple Pie by Kimberly Nadine Knights

The Cilantro In Apple Pie by Kimberley Nadine Knights
Published by: Ravenswood Publishing
Publication date: May 5th 2016
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult

Fragnut. Confused? Well so is everyone else at Lumiere Hall Prep when sixteen-year-old Rubie Keane rolls in from Trinidad and Tobago talking her weird lingo. Not that she minds the culture confusion; she’s determined to leave the past behind her and be overlooked—but a certain stoic blue blood is equally as determined to foil her plans.

Gil Stromeyer’s offbeat personality initially makes Rubie second-guess his sanity, but she suspects his erratic outbursts of violence mask a deeper issue in his troubled, charmed life. Despite his disturbing behavior, a gradual bond forms between the two. However, on the night of the annual Stromeyer gala, events unfold that leave Rubie stripped of her dignity and kick Gil’s already fragile world off its axis.

Both their well-kept secrets are uncovered, but Gil’s revelation proves that sometimes the best remedy for a bad case of lost identity, is a dash of comradery from an ally packed with flavor.

Kimberley Nadine Knights knew when she kept willingly opting out of parties so she could stay
home and write instead, that she was destined to be an author.

Born and raised in the tropical twin islands of Trinidad & Tobago, when this Caribbean girl isn't creating new plotlines for her ever growing lineup of fictional characters, she spends her time strumming her guitar to indie rock songs and snapping once in a lifetime photos halfway across the globe in countries such as Estonia, Finland, Sweden, Denmark and France.

She's an avid fan of The Walking Dead series and firmly believes that The Food Network should consider her being a judge on the next Chopped challenge.
Visit her website http://kimberleynknights.wix.com/author and learn more about this up and coming author.

You can buy the book at Amazon or Barnes and Noble.com, and find it on Goodreads!

Monday, May 9, 2016

Book review: Tell the Wind and Fire by Sarah Rees Brennan

In a city divided between opulent luxury in the Light and fierce privations in the Dark, a determined young woman survives by guarding her secrets. 

Lucie Manette was born in the Dark half of the city, but careful manipulations won her a home in the Light, celebrity status, and a rich, loving boyfriend. Now she just wants to keep her head down, but her boyfriend has a dark secret of his own—one involving an apparent stranger who is destitute and despised.

Lucie alone knows of the deadly connection the young men share, and even as the knowledge leads her to make a grave mistake, she can trust no one with the truth.

Blood and secrets alike spill out when revolution erupts. With both halves of the city burning, and mercy nowhere to be found, can Lucie save either boy—or herself?

Celebrated author Sarah Rees Brennan tells a magical tale of romance and revolution, love and loss.

A copy was received for free from NetGalley in exchange for a review.

Sarah Rees Brennan is one of those authors I had heard plenty about but never actually read any of her books.  Reading Tell the Wind and Fire, I can certainly understand the hype: it has a certain magic to it that still, for the most part, is grounded in a reality you can believe.  It’s not from the point of view of someone who knows a whole lot about how light and dark magic came into being or why light and dark magicians are separated despite needing each other beyond what she and everyone else has been told, but you can still get a feel for the society and the strain that the separation and segregation does to it.

I enjoyed this book, for the most part, but I think a problem I had with it was where it ended.  There’s so much more to reasonably explore in this world, and in my opinion, it ended right when the action was really starting.  The climax of the story is hard to pin down because it depends on what you think is most important to the story, Lucie herself or the building revolution. Either way, we’re left with so many unanswered questions that it feels like only part of the story and it left me not wanting more but feeling dissatisfied.

Because of this, I’d only rate this book average.  It was a good read and I’d recommend at least looking at it yourself, though.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Book review: The Art of Not Breathing by Sarah Alexander

Since her twin brother, Eddie, drowned five years ago, sixteen-year-old Elsie Main has tried to remember what really happened that fateful day on the beach. One minute Eddie was there, and the next he was gone. Seventeen-year-old Tay McKenzie is a cute and mysterious boy that Elsie meets in her favorite boathouse hangout. When Tay introduces Elsie to the world of freediving, she vows to find the answers she seeks at the bottom of the sea.

A free copy was provided to me through Netgalley for review.

I had mixed feelings about The Art of Not Breathing.  On the one hand, you have a story that the author seems to have put a lot of thought into, with the twists and turns that don’t just reveal themselves unintentionally right from the start like so many other family mystery books I’ve read.

On the other hand, I found myself not really liking Elsie a lot of the time.  She’s sort of a brat, and nosey as hell (she even spies on her brother and his girlfriend having sex? while still taking about how gross it is? you could look away, you know) and she falls for Tay way too quickly.  It felt less like a ‘teens fall in love quick’ thing and more of a ‘Elsie really wants to get laid’ thing, honestly.  Though I will give it mucho credit that Elsie doesn’t actually end up with anyone in the end.  Though that’s balanced out by the fact that Elsie is such a snob to literally everyone in school, so it’s no wonder none of them really want her.  She’s supposed to be a bullying victim but she turns around and does the same sort of thing to the one guy there besides her brother who’s willing to be nice to her.

All in all, I’d say it’s a good story, but the main character can sort of break you out of it because you find yourself not caring about a girl who can be so shallow and mean.  I’d say it balances out to be about average.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Cover reveal: Seven Deadly Sins, A YA Anthology (Envy)

Coming out April 1st, Envy will be my second publishing credit!  It features short stories from several different YA authors, with the only prompt being that the deadly sin, envy, had to be featured.  You'll be able to get an ebook or physical copy when it's out!  And without further ado, here's the cover.

Isn't it awesome?  Make sure to pick up your own copy when it's out!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Book Review: Death Wish (Ceruleans #1) by Megan Tayte


The Ceruleans: mere mortals infused with power over life and death. Five books; one question: If the might of the heavens were in your hands, would you be sinner or saint? 

Seventeen-year-old Scarlett Blake is haunted by death. Her estranged sister has made the ultimate dramatic exit. Running away from school, joining a surfing fraternity, partying hard: that sounds like Sienna. But suicide? It makes no sense. 

Following in her sister’s footsteps, Scarlett comes to an isolated English cove with grand plans to uncover the truth. Alone. But she hasn’t reckoned on meeting two boys who are determined to help her. Luke: the blue-eyed surfer who’ll see the real Scarlett, who’ll challenge her, who’ll save her. And Jude: the elusive drifter with a knack for turning up whenever Scarlett’s in need. 

As Scarlett’s quest for the truth unravels, so too does her grip on reality as she’s always known it. Because there’s something strange going on in this little cove. A dead magpie circles the skies. A dead deer watches from the undergrowth. Hands glow with light. Warmth. Power. 

What transpires is a summer of discovery. Of what it means to conquer fear. To fall in love. To choose life. To choose death. 

To believe the impossible. 

A free e-book copy was given to me by the author in exchange for a review.

I loved this book.  It wasn’t perfect, by any means, but there was so much to like about it.  I found myself telling my friends lines, such as the one where Scarlett had gotten raging drunk at a party the night before and was trying to remember what had happened after those first couple tequila shots, only to say, “Conga… had I done the conga?” Scarlett is a good narrator, and unlike so many YA novels I didn’t really find myself annoyed with her for any significant part of the book.

The concept itself is an interesting one, although if I had to say, I would’ve liked there to be a little more lead-up to the concept of Ceruleans.  It’s in the summary, after all, but other than a couple scenes where we see there’s something up that isn’t normal, it reads just like a realistic contemporary book about a girl who’s just trying to find out why her sister would walk out into the ocean and drown herself.  Realistic contemp is probably my favorite genre so I’m not complaining, but it would’ve been nice to have a bit more mysteriousness to the whole thing.

The only other complaint I would have is that I did feel like it was a little slow to start.  As she’s getting her bearings around town there’s unnecessary details that slow things down and could’ve easily been cut to make things keep going.  Still, it definitely didn’t ruin the book, and I’d definitely recommend this one.  Happy reading!

Monday, January 18, 2016

Book Review: Under the Dusty Moon by Suzanne Sutherland

She's with the band, whether she likes it or not.

Victoria Mahler is the sixteen-year-old only daughter of rocker Micky Wayne, whose band, Dusty Moon, took the world by storm when Micky was just a teenager. The band broke up under mysterious circumstances, but, after years spent off the road being a mom, Micky’s solo career is finally starting to take off.

When an offer to tour Japan falls into her mom’s lap, Vic is left to spend the summer under the care of her distant grandmother, and without her built-in best friend. Fortunately, a boy with a secret geek side and a group of feminist game-makers save the season, and Vic starts to see herself as her own person, out from under her mother’s shadow.

But when Micky finally comes home — with a poorly chosen boyfriend in tow — all bets are off. Will Vic be able to maintain her newfound sense of self amidst the building thunder of Micky’s second chance at stardom? And through it all, will Micky still really be her best friend?

A free copy was provided to me through Netgalley in exchange for a review.

Looking through the other reviews of this book after finishing it, I have to say that I share a lot of people’s sentiments about this book: it has SUCH an interesting summary, and I went in expecting Victoria to be hanging out with a cute nerd and spending time with some female video game programmers who acted like surrogate moms/big sisters to her while her mother was away touring Japan.  I expected lots of personal growth from a girl who spends all her time with her cool rocker mom to a young woman who had her own ambitions but still wanted to be friends with her mom.

Unfortunately, what I got was a whiny protagonist who was OBSESSED with her mother’s stardom and who was such a brat to said mother I  had to wonder what the author was thinking when she thought this was how teenagers are friends with their mothers.  Vic made me cringe so hard, from her ‘accidentally’ bringing Shaun to a nudist beach (seriously you claim to spend like your entire summer on that island, how could you have not known it was there?) to her mouthing off to her mom and beyond.

Of course there were times when I could sympathize with Victoria but only because the other characters were so terrible, too.  She and her friend Lucy were making a text adventure and suddenly, Lucy had to stay at her aunt’s to babysit while the grownups went on a trip to help her grandmother move.  She was gone for about a week from what I can tell.  In that time, I don’t recall one mention of Lucy trying to call or text her, and in fact Vic took that initiative a lot, asking how she was and whether she was going to be home for Vic’s birthday.  Then all of a sudden, Lucy’s home and had COMPLETELY changed their game without Vic’s permission, claiming that ‘you never answered my calls so I did it myself.’ Ex-squeeze me?  And based on the fact that Lucy only had ideas that she called ‘homages’ to a video game series she was obsessed with, I’m not really convinced that the game she made was the funny, highly original story people at the She Shoots showing claimed it to be.

And then there’s the matter of Vic’s mother.  She flip-flops so badly between characterization as a woman who hadn’t planned on being a mom but was doing her best and an emotionally abusive, immature thirty-something who was famous young and never grew up from that.  She CONSTANTLY bugs Vic about what she’s doing with her life when it doesn’t involve her, and Vic is rightfully reluctant to tell her about the game and She Shoots because every time Vic brings up something she likes or tries to voice an opinion, Mickey makes fun of her so badly that it sometimes has her in tears.  She can never, not once, take her daughter seriously, and that’s REALLY damaging for a teenager, not something to casually laugh at and brush off.  I feel like it’s supposed to be portrayed as something quirky, but it’s just horrible, especially since it’s obvious that it always happens.

Not to mention huge scenes are brushed right through.  The trip to the convention that had been mentioned repeatedly throughout the book and that Vic finally got to go on when Shaun got them tickets?  Nothing big really happened.  She met one of her mom’s friends and got a Ms. Pac-Man dress.  The She Shoots display where they presented their game to a bunch of people from the group?  We don’t even get to hear any of it, it’s pretty much just “We did the talk and it was awesome.” There’s no such thing as tension or excitement in this thing because nothing actually happens, and that’s really disappointing.

And the romance was sort of gross, too.  Vic really had no reason to fall for Shaun at first other than lust, and even then she talks so much about how much he smokes pot and how he stinks (which is supposed to be romantic, I guess?) that I can’t believe anyone would find him anything other than really rank.  If it had been about her becoming FRIENDS with him and then finding out they had a lot of shared interests I’d have been more on-board, maybe, but as it was, bleh.  No thanks.

In other words, a book that could’ve been great... in theory.  Maybe they should’ve written the back cover summary first and then made the author actually write around that.  If you were thinking about pick it up, I’d give this one a huge NO.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Book review: When by Victoria Laurie

Maddie Fynn is a shy high school junior, cursed with an eerie intuitive ability: she sees a series of unique digits hovering above the foreheads of each person she encounters. Her earliest memories are marked by these numbers, but it takes her father’s premature death for Maddie and her family to realize that these mysterious digits are actually death dates, and just like birthdays, everyone has one.

Forced by her alcoholic mother to use her ability to make extra money, Maddie identifies the quickly approaching death date of one client's young son, but because her ability only allows her to see the when and not the how, she’s unable to offer any more insight. When the boy goes missing on that exact date, law enforcement turns to Maddie.

Soon, Maddie is entangled in a homicide investigation, and more young people disappear and are later found murdered. A suspect for the investigation, a target for the murderer, and attracting the attentions of a mysterious young admirer who may be connected to it all, Maddie's whole existence is about to be turned upside down. Can she right things before it's too late?

A free copy was given to me through Netgalley in exchange for a review.

When is the story of a girl who can see people’s deathdates.  They’re always hovering there above their foreheads, and after her father dies and her family is left with very little money, her mother convinces her to read for people so they can know when they’ll die.  The story does take a tiny bit of time to really get going, and we find out that there’s a serial killer going around and Maddie is being blamed for it because all of the victims seem to have a connection to her.

The book itself is mostly average.  I actually finished it in a couple days just because I was curious where things were going to go.  The characters don’t have a lot of particularly interesting things different about them, but I don’t find them terrible, either.  What I think mostly saved this book for me was the first climax, in which they’ve finally found out just who the killer is and Maddie and Agent Faraday go to apprehend them.  Another good moment was the scene not long before that when Maddie visits the hospital and breaks down crying; it was powerful and I found my eyes misting a little right along with her.

Unfortunately, I also feel like this book was dragged on longer than it really had to be.  There’s actually a second climax where Maddie faces off against the killer and I just didn’t feel the same tense excitement that I did with the one before that.  So it was kind of a letdown.

All in all, I’d rate this about an average book.  Pick it up if you want.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Graphic Novel Review: The Misadventures of Grumpy Cat (volume one) by Ben McCool

Dynamite proudly presents the comic book misadventures of Grumpy Cat, featuring "The World's Grumpiest Cat" and her brother, Pokey! With her ever-present pout and sassy disposition, Grumpy Cat has won the hearts of people everywhere. Now, her unbearable cuteness and infectious sourpuss are featured in an all-new, all-sensational collection of comic stories, sure to make fans of all ages laugh! If you love the memes, the videos, and that irresistible scowl, then get ready for the wildly fun antics of Grumpy Cat and Pokey!

A copy of this was given to me through Netgalley in exchange for a review.

Grumpy Cat is an internet phenomenon, and you wouldn’t think that the transition from a meme to a comic would be all that smooth.  A lot of people have tried to cash in on memes and I don’t think I’ve seen much success, especially since memes tend to have such a short shelf life.

However, after reading this graphic novel based on Grumpy Cat (and her friend Pokey!) I have to say that they’re on the right track with this.  The art is pretty good, though the humans look a little strange when put beside the cats; the artist seems to have drawn super hero comics in the past and they probably have a bit of a style clash, but it’s okay.

The stories themselves are light and cute, and like a lot of slice of life type of stories, they don’t really effect each other.  Of course, this brought about maybe the only problem I actually had with it: the first and last stories were both about haunted houses, and there was no continuity between them so it was a bit jarring and perhaps repetitive even if the actual stories were different.

Still though, I was really glad I was able to get this, and I’m looking forward to more volumes.  It’s cute and definitely for all ages; safe for kids but not dumbed-down.  Go ahead and pick it up when it comes out in Februrary!

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Book Review: Bottled Up Secret by Brian McNamara

Brendan Madden is in the midst of his senior year of high school and couldn’t be happier. He has a great group of friends, his pick of colleges, and he has recently come to terms with his sexuality. One night, he meets Mark Galovic, a gorgeous, younger classmate of his. In a matter of minutes, Brendan is hooked. As the friendship between them grows, Brendan reaches his breaking point when he spontaneously confesses his feelings to him. Brendan is shocked and elated to find out that Mark feels the same way about him. The two begin to date, but because Mark is not out, it must remain a secret. As their friends and family become suspicious, openly gay Brendan becomes increasingly frustrated with their discreet relationship, while Mark becomes more and more paranoid that they’re going to be found out.

A free copy was provided to me through Netgalley in exchange for a review.

Alright so this review is going to start with a story.  When I was in college, the popular thing was to post your writing to FictionPress.  It was a sometimes simple display site that separated your work by genre.  I posted slash, otherwise known as gay romance.  Make no mistake, I read it as well, and I was friends with plenty of other people who posted their own.

At least from what I saw, it was most common to have the main characters either high school or college age, making things roughly YA.  This was 2008 through 2010 that I was really active on this site, so a few years ago (five years is a long time in internet time).  Why am I mentioning this?

Because Bottled-Up Secret honestly reads like something I would have read on Fictionpress.  A main character who isn’t stated to be upper class but spends money like he is, main character and friends who think they’re so OMG RANDOM AND WEIRD, a parent who is hardly characterized beyond their irrational disapproval of their child’s sexuality, love at first sight, tons of tell-not-show, manufactured drama, guy who went out with girls and the MC is the first guy he’s ever had feelings for, keeping their relationship a secret for no real reason, biphobia and no real climax.  In fact, if I’d made a Cliché Slash Story Bingo Card, the only thing missing would’ve been strange names.

FictionPress was a dark time for me now that I look back on it, to be honest.

Given all this, I have to say I have no idea how this book got published.  It really does read exactly like something from back then.  It could’ve been an okay if mindless romance story, but it’s marred by uncreativity and a horrible need for some actual editing.  I didn’t connect with any characters and didn’t really see what the big deal is with any of their problems.

In other words, I would definitely give this one a pass.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Maxine Wore Black by Nora Olsen

Maxine is the girl of Jayla’s dreams: she’s charming, magnetic, and loves Jayla for her transgender self. There’s only one problem with Maxine—she already has a girlfriend, perfect Becky.

Jayla quickly falls under Maxine’s spell, and she’s willing to do anything to win her. But when Becky turns up dead, Jayla is pulled into a tangle of deceit, lies, and murder. Now Jayla is forced to choose between love and the truth.

Jayla will need all the strength she has to escape the darkness that threatens to take her very life.

A free proof copy was provided to me through Netgalley for review.

Maxine Wore Black is such an issue book that it practically radiates it.  It’s based off (or is an homage, or retelling, or whatever) another story called Rebecca, though I’ve never read it so I’m going in blind and can only base this review off of the book itself and not that context.

There is plenty to like about Maxine Wore Black.  It deals with a lot of issues and puts them in your face rather than trying to make light of them.  And I really liked the parts where Jayla is taking care of kids, because even when tensions are high otherwise, it shows a part of her that lets us know she is a responsible, perfectly capable person.

Unfortunately, I’ve spent a lot of time on Tumblr and it felt like reading a blog of people derisively called Social Justice Warriors at times, especially when she approaches Francesca for help getting out of her situation with Maxine and the argument that ensues.  Not that the arguments are always invalid, but scenes like that, and also the climax when Danny shows up, are just incredibly melodramatic to the point where you wonder if the author actually wanted us to take it seriously or not (probably she did, and that makes it worse).

In other words, there are plenty of gems in this book, but pivotal scenes don’t have the sort of impact they’re supposed to and so it sort of ruins the flow and impact of it all.  If you’re more tolerant of soap opera-level drama, be my guest and pick it up.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Those Girls by Lauren Saft

Junior year, the suburbs of Philadelphia. Alex, Mollie and Veronica are those girls: they're the best of friends and the party girls of the school. But how well does everybody know them--and really, how well do they know one another? Alex is secretly in love with the boy next door and has joined a band--without telling anyone. Mollie suffers from a popular (and possibly sociopathic) boyfriend, as well as a serious mean streak. And Veronica just wants to be loved--literally, figuratively, physically....she's not particular. Will this be the year that bonds them forever....or tears them apart for good? 

A free copy was provided to me through Netgalley in exchange for a review.

Those Girls, as you can probably tell from the summary, is a book mostly about issues and friendship.  Reading through it, I think the biggest impression I got was that it was kind of a cheap version of Pretty Little Liars and all the other books and shows that have come out lately that center around the problems of upper-class teenagers.  Unlike those other titles, though, I found myself not necessarily caring about any of them.

The book is told from three point of views, each of the girls who are friends and, at the beginning, it mentions that two of them have been best friends all their lives, while the third, Veronica, got into their circle starting in fifth grade.  It might just be me, but the way they treat each other does not scream ‘best friends’ so much as ‘you have things I want so I tolerate you a lot.’ There is very little to show they’re friends anywhere in the book other than talk of it, while in the present they’re pretty much treating each other like crap.  Which is okay considering what’s supposed to be going on, but I felt like maybe the book should’ve started a little earlier or not tried to put so much emphasis on what good friends they were and more on how they were falling apart.

I also found myself not really empathizing with the characters, because their three point of views were so jumbled and confused that there really wasn’t a way to tell them apart from each other, other than a few defining characteristics that ended up being interchangeable anyway.  I could sort of see what the author was going for, which seemed to be that your friends don’t always know things and often have different impressions of you than is the truth or than you do of yourself, but it wasn’t really passed off that well.

I did find myself enjoying the times when Alex was practicing and playing with the band, and I felt like that was the best part of the novel and sort of wished there was more of it.

I think the worst part of the book is that it centers so much around drugs and alcohol, when I felt like a lot of scenes could have happened exactly as they did without mention of them getting high or even drunk.  I’m not against using those as plot devices in fiction, let alone YA fiction, but other than a few instances, it felt sort of forced and like the author felt like she had to have her characters be drunks and stoners when she really didn’t.

All in all, it’s an okay book, but the redeeming qualities in don’t make up for the bad in my eyes, so I’d probably say pass this one up.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Forever (An Unfortunate Fairy Tale 5) by Chanda Hahn

With the Godmother Guild destroyed by Teague's army, Mina finds herself without the guidance of her Fae Godmother. Alone and confused, she must lean on her friends for support. The dark prince threatens their very existence with a show of power on the human plane that has everyone running for their lives. 

To save them, Mina must make a deal with the prince to become his prisoner or lose her friends forever. But is there any hope for Jared and the love they briefly shared, or must beauty destroy the beast she created?

And here we come to the conclusion of the Unfortunate Fairy Tale series.  It’s only five books, which certainly seems short compared to other series, but it seems like it’s been such a long ride.  Like I said in my review of the last book, I really feel like Chanda Hahn has improved through the course of this series.

This time we follow Mina as she attempts to fix things after she found out that she, in fact, is the one who started the entire curse in the first place by going back in time.  Because of the desperate situation, I feel like there’s a lot more action packed into this book, though there’s plenty of breathing room as well, such as when things are starting to really go well at the castle between Mina and Teague.  I actually recall feeling like Hahn was going to have the entire thing be following Beauty and the Beast, since it was pretty close to it with Mina being willingly held captive in place of her loved ones, and them slowly warming up to each other as Mina got to know him and help around the castle, and I was just a little disappointed that it didn’t.

However, I do feel like this book really shined in the way it handled Mina’s siren lineage and her family and their crewmates.  It actually made me really wish that we had found out a lot sooner that her mother was a siren and they were around to help, because I feel like it would really have benefited the earlier books, which I frankly found a bit mediocre and annoying.

All in all, I’d say that while it is a bit corny at times, especially in the end (though it was obviously trying to go for Happily Ever After so I can give it a little credit there) this was a pretty good ending to the series, and I just might look into Hahn’s other books, or keep an eye out for any new ones she puts out in the future.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

This Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp

10:00 a.m.
The principal of Opportunity, Alabama's high school finishes her speech, welcoming the entire student body to a new semester and encouraging them to excel and achieve.

10:02 a.m.
The students get up to leave the auditorium for their next class.

The auditorium doors won't open.

Someone starts shooting.

Told over the span of 54 harrowing minutes from four different perspectives, terror reigns as one student's calculated revenge turns into the ultimate game of survival.

A free copy was provided to me through Netgalley in exchange for a review.

This Is Where It Ends is actually being released this month (January, if you’re reading this review late) and it comes at a time when mass shootings are a hot button topic in America.  All in all, I feel like this treated it relatively well.  The biggest issue with people trying to figure out a mass shooter is them blaming it on mental disorders, and as far as I can recall, it never once mentions it, or at least tries to use it as an excuse with Tyler.  Things have been going badly in his life, but no one thinks that’s an excuse for trapping everyone in the gym and picking them off (the final count at the end of the book is thirty-nine, with twenty-something injured).

The book is told from several points of view, and unlike so many books that head hop, I felt like it mostly worked.  Supplemented with social media accounts at the end of every chapter (mostly Twitter, with a blog every now and then) it definitely had the feel of a book that takes place in modern times as well, rather than someone trying to write a book about modern teenagers but using their own childhood a few decades ago as the springboard.

Besides treating the issue of school shootings pretty well, a selling point with this book has to be its diversity.  Two of the points of view are girls who are in a romantic relationship with each other, two more are a brother and sister who are some sort of Hispanic (people who know the language better might be able to tell what country from the phrases and wording they use) and the brother is friends with a boy from Afghanistan.  So if you’re looking for an issue book with a diverse cast where their diversity isn’t the issue, I’d say give this one a try and see how you like it.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Reign (An Unfortunate Fairy Tale book 4) by Chanda Hahn

Going to the Fae plane against Jared’s orders has cost Mina dearly. Her decision continues to haunt her as a new danger surfaces. The Grimms are fading. 
To save her family’s future, Mina Grime will have to travel to the past with the help of her Fae Godmother and a magic pair of shoes. 
She must go to where the Story first began, to the beginning of the dark prince’s reign. But can she finish her quest before her time runs out or will she be trapped in the past forever? 

Reign is the fourth book in the Unfortunate Fairy Tale series, following Mina Grimm as she attempts to work through the fairy tales that have been thrown at her family as part of a curse ever since the famous Brothers Grimm first encountered the Fae years ago.  If you’ve been reading my blog for a while or looked at the archives, you’ll see that I’ve read and reviewed the previous three and will know that I felt like they’ve improved as they went, because I really wasn’t a fan of the first one.

This time around, I’d say there’s not a whole lot of improvement from the third book, but that’s not entirely a bad thing since I did enjoy it.  This time Mina’s trying to deal with the fact that Jared has been recombined with Teague and that the Cinderella fairy tale is chasing after her as she goes to a ball with her on again, off again love interest Brody.  There’s also time travel this time, as the Godmother Guild finds out that certain members of her family are simply disappearing.

I will be the first to say that I think Chanda Hahn is extremely creative.  I love her ideas and twists on the tails so that she can make them work in a modern setting, and as this series continues, she really seems to be getting her footing.  However I would have to have a little complaint about what we find out is the cause of the disappearance, namely that William Grimm had fallen ill and until Mina showed up, might not have made it through the night.  We have a huge build-up, expecting it to be something Teague was doing, and it just seems like a bit of a letdown, especially since it’s connected with the huge journey she makes that’s related to the tales, and it just seems like something that the GMs should’ve known about or seen coming so that they could deal with it better and more easily.

I’d also have to say that the editing in this is sometimes shoddy.  I’m of the frame of mind that self-publishing isn’t an excuse for lower readability, and the fact that I found a lot of missing words and tense switching, among other things, brought down my impression of it despite the vast improvements in both characterization and writing.

Despite this, if you don’t mind a series that takes a couple books to really get off the ground in terms of quality, I’d say that this is worth a read.