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.