Showing posts with label one star. Show all posts
Showing posts with label one star. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

[Review] My Not So Perfect Life - Sophie Kinsella: Farm Eggs and Instagram

In MY NOT SO PERFECT LIFE, Katie's super glamorous big city boss goes on a holiday in Katie's hometown after firing her.

What intrigued me: Solely the author. Didn't even read the blurb before I picked this up.

Where's the fun?

I'm starting to think Sophie and I have to part ways. She's been one of my favorite authors for years, but I have now read every single one of her stand-alones and her 5-star quota is... well, not so good. Just like with THE UNDOMESTIC GODDESS, WEDDING NIGHT, and CAN YOU KEEP A SECRET?, I just really didn't care for this one. 

MY NOT SO PERFECT LIFE is chronically missing the charme and hilarity that made me fall in love with Kinsella's writing in the first place. It just reads like a weird train-of-thought-esque narrative without an actual plot and Katie, the heroine, just feels like she's a recycled mix of the protagonists of Kinsella's earlier stand-alones. It's also really, really long, 540 pages in my translated version and about 100 pages less in English, without a plot you can imagine how tedious this was to read. Beyond that, the blurb is actually way more interesting than the book, Instagram doesn't really play as much of a role in it, it's more about going back home and life outside of the big city, and ... meh.


Way Too Serious and Angsty

There isn't really anything to talk about because so little happens and I found myself forcing myself to continue instead of actually reading it for fun and breezing through it like I did with my favorites REMEMBER ME? and I'VE GOT YOUR NUMBER. Maybe this is also because I guess this is a different type of book that I'd probably expected to see published under her Madeline Wickham publications. It just feels less fun and happy-go-lucky and more serious and contemplative, which is just not what I want when I'm picking up a Kinsella book. Katie spends a lot of time thirsting after her boss Demeter's life and contemplating the validity of her own experiences and just being sad, and I just couldn't bring myself to care about that. 

Even though all of Kinsella's books have somewhat of a New Adult aspect to them, in terms of angsting about the future, this one dig into it too hard for my taste. I want awkward situations, I want a hilarious heroine, I want a straight-forward plot and an unputdownable read. I didn't get any of that.On top of that, the love interest has the personality of a raw egg. 


Rating:

☆☆☆☆

 



Overall: Do I Recommend?

I think this might be the one book to make me never want to pick up a Kinsella book again. I found it quite dull and boring and now looking at my Kinsella shelf makes me sad.



Additional Info

Published: May 15th 2017
Pages: 544
Publisher: Goldmann
Genre: Adult / Chick Lit
ISBN: 978-3-442-48550-5

Synopsis:
"Katie Brenner has the perfect life: a flat in London, a glamorous job, and a super-cool Instagram feed.

Ok, so the real truth is that she rents a tiny room with no space for a wardrobe, has a hideous commute to a lowly admin job, and the life she shares on Instagram isn’t really hers.

But one day her dreams are bound to come true, aren’t they?

Until her not-so perfect life comes crashing down when her mega-successful boss Demeter gives her the sack. All Katie’s hopes are shattered. She has to move home to Somerset, where she helps her dad with his new glamping business.

Then Demeter and her family book in for a holiday, and Katie sees her chance. But should she get revenge on the woman who ruined her dreams? Or try to get her job back? Does Demeter – the woman with everything – have such an idyllic life herself? Maybe they have more in common than it seems.

And what’s wrong with not-so-perfect, anyway?"
(Source: Goodreads)

Have you read a book by Sophie Kinsella?



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Thursday, June 8, 2017

[Review] Across the Universe (#1) - Beth Revis: Spaceships and Cryogenic Freezing

In ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, Amy was cryogenically frozen and supposed to live on a new planet three hundred years from now, but got woken up early.

What intrigued me: I love space books, shower me in space books!

Errors and Sex-Obsessed Incestuous People

ACROSS THE UNIVERSE is probably the most frustrating book I've read this year. There are so many errors within the first 20 pages alone (15ish!), grammar issues, misplaced commas, wrong tenses etc, that it honestly gave me an eye twitch for the entire book. Just everything about the execution of this potentially interesting story misses the mark for me. 

I hated the dual POV, especially love interest Elder, mainly because the voices of both protagonists sound the exact same, which made me super uncomfortable with the romance. It's like you're reading about siblings *shudder*. The whole concept heavily relies on masterful storytelling because the setting is so repetitive and feels almost like a chamber play. Revis just doesn't deliver, it's not helping that the world building is super confusing and makes no sense. I struggled paying attention, I struggled caring for anything that's happening, I struggled finding the actual plot in there - the whole book is basically summed up by saying this lady woke up early and meanwhile the inhabitants of the ship developed a taste for incest. This also features a super unnecessary scene in which protagonist Amy gets saved from being raped. You'll find that a huge chunk of this book deals with sex and people not being able to control their desires and pumping themselves with hormones to increase their sexual desires, so yeah, that's something I wish I had known before picking this up. I was looking for a action-filled, fast-paced spaceship book, not this.

Science? What Science?

ACROSS THE UNIVERSE taught me that I love space books, but I hate spaceship books. The setting is the thing I disliked the most about this, if you're like me super into discovering new worlds and alien planets, this isn't the right pick at all. 

And if you're expecting accurate science or even just science fiction, look somewhere else. The sciencey parts are so ridiculously off that it honestly made me angry. The simplest scientific processes, even just common sense issues, really, are misconstrued in order to fill up the pages or to make a super dramatic shocking reveal. People being away while they're frozen, clones not realizing that they look like somebody else, a ridiculous shift in social behavior structures that could've never happened to human society in the 250-odd years that Amy has spent frozen - it all made me want to tear my hair out. 

ACROSS THE UNIVERSE really reads like a very awkward attempt to make a commentary on society and carnal desires in the least elegant way possible, and I couldn't help but feel tricked into reading this, because this is just not what I signed up for. What did I just read?


highlight text for SPOILER


This is literally the movie Passenger. This ends in love interest Elder admitting he unplugged Amy's cryogenic chamber, thus, forcing her to live out her life on the spaceship and she forgives him, because he's nice to her. I'm going to throw something. That only made me even angrier about this book. How am I supposed to not hate this guy with the fury of a thousand burning suns?! Feminism, who?



/SPOILER

Rating:

☆☆☆☆

 



Overall: Do I Recommend?

I genuinely disliked this, beyond the super subjective points, the craft aspects are less than ideal - so many typos, so many unncessary scenes, so much rambling - I wish somebody else would rewrite this. This is basically the movie Passenger, in an AU where everyone is incestuous and sex-obsessed. I don't even know

Trigger warning: rape, incest, suicide


Additional Info

Published: November 29th 2011
Pages: 416
Publisher: Razorbill
Genre: YA / Sci-Fi 

Synopsis:
"A love out of time. A spaceship built of secrets and murder.... 

Seventeen-year-old Amy joins her parents as frozen cargo aboard the vast spaceship Godspeed and expects to awaken on a new planet, 300 years in the future. Never could she have known that her frozen slumber would come to an end 50 years too soon and that she would be thrust into the brave new world of a spaceship that lives by its own rules. 

Amy quickly realizes that her awakening was no mere computer malfunction. Someone - one of the few thousand inhabitants of the spaceship - tried to kill her. And if Amy doesn't do something soon, her parents will be next. 

Now Amy must race to unlock Godspeed's hidden secrets. But out of her list of murder suspects, there's only one who matters: Elder, the future leader of the ship and the love she could never have seen coming."
(Source: Goodreads)

What's your favorite book set in space?



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Friday, April 21, 2017

[Review] Caraval (#1) - Stephanie Garber: Magical Games and Insensitivity

In CARAVAL, sisters Scarlett and Tella finally receive an invitation to a mysterious game.

What intrigued me: Pretty much the hype.

Lacks in World Building

CARAVAL is one of those books that charm you with flowery writing and hide the fact that there isn't really much else interesting going on. The biggest weakness is the world building. Hardly anything gets explained and the reader has very little time to get acquainted with settings, concepts, and unique elements before the sisters embark on their journey to attend Caraval. 

I assumed this would be a magical-realist read like THE NIGHT CIRCUS, which it has been so famously compared to, but CARAVAL is nothing like that. The story would've been so much better off had it been told in a Contemporary setting in my opinion. The High Fantasy world is hastily built, which lots of made-up names for existing things and for some reason half of it is in Spanish. No clue what that's all about. The setting itself is a very meager attempt to distract the reader from the fact that hardly anything in this book makes sense, the plot twists come out of nowhere and are incomprehensible, and there are also a handful of Deux Ex Machina situations.


Suicide as a Plot Device 

I was surprised to see that it's pretty much a reproduction of L.J. Smith's THE FORBIDDEN GAME series, which is one of my favorite series of all time. CARAVAL tries to hide that with a High Fantasy setting, but the comparisons are simply uncanny: Both feature a love interest named Julian and a mysterious and dangerous game that the protagonist must win to save their loved ones. Where THE FORBIDDEN GAME amazes with atmospheric truly dark and dangerous setting and characters, CARAVAL strikes me a little as PG-13. It's such a strange reading experience, because the writing is very juvenile at parts and then you have scenes involving heavy physical abuse, emotional manipulation, rape, and suicide. 

There is one scene that still renders me speechless and makes me feel sick thinking about it - at some point a character commits suicide as part of the game, only to be later resurrected with magic. I find it extremely inappropriate to use this as a plot device and for the shock value, and worse when it turns out that the character planned for this to happen all along. It's disgusting, really, and just the proverbial cherry on top of this very problematic cake. You'll find that most of the scenes involving abuse and rape are plot devices. The sisters have a very abusive father who's just there for conflict, which I can still forgive, but then there are also scenes where the love interest forces himself physically on Scarlett. He violates her consent by asking her to reconsider and/or straight up ignoring it when she says no. This is never addressed and just horrifying. I would've given this book a solid three star rating without all the problematic content, because I can still recognize that this is a book that may not be for me, but might delight other readers. But like this, I'm simply horrified and shocked and would advise you to be very careful should you plan on reading this.


Rating:

☆☆☆☆

 



Overall: Do I Recommend?

CARAVAL is the disappointment of the year. Lush prose can't really hide that the concept and world building are mediocre at best. This book is a prime example why we need trigger warnings in mainstream YA, a lot of the very mature themes are used as plot devices. The suicide one hit me the worst, I can't believe they'd put this in a book for teens.

Trigger warning: rape, physical and emotional abuse, suicide, slut-shaming, violence, kidnapping


Additional Info

Published: March 20th 2017
Pages: 400
Publisher: Piper
Genre: YA / High Fantasy
ISBN: 978-3-492-70416-8

Synopsis:
"Remember, it’s only a game…

Scarlett Dragna has never left the tiny island where she and her sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval—the faraway, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show—are over.

But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt-of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. Nevertheless she becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic. And whether Caraval is real or not, Scarlett must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over or a dangerous domino effect of consequences will be set off, and her beloved sister will disappear forever.

Welcome, welcome to Caraval…beware of getting swept too far away."(Source: Goodreads)



Have you read CARAVAL?

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Sunday, April 9, 2017

[Review] Red Queen (#1) - Victoria Aveyard: Special Snowflakes and Silverblooded People





In RED QUEEN, Mare gets mistaken for a silver-blooded princess and is able to escape her fate as a red-blooded peasant to be forced to fight in a deadly war.

What intrigued me: Recommendation by a friend.

Wait, I've seen this before

RED QUEEN is the epitome of late to the party. It's a weird mix between futuristic dystopia and your average high fantasy class revolution. 
During the height of the 2011 dystopia hype, this maybe would've been original, this maybe would've been able to keep my interest, but having read dozens of dystopian books that follow the exact same scheme, this isn't anything special. If you haven't read lots of books in the genre, this might strike you as quite interesting, I just found it dull and repetitive. 

Especially the beginning is so reminiscent of THE WINNER'S CURSE that I thought I had picked up the wrong book for a moment. 
The social divide between two people, one overpowering the other because of their almost supernatural skill, is so annoyingly overdone that I couldn't take this seriously. The red-blooded and silver-blooded people, peasants and nobles respectively, didn't even seem interesting to me. I find the premise pretty silly to be honest, the only thing that's missing to make this novel read like a bad fan fiction is that the silvers all have unusual eye and hair colors. The weirdest thing is that the set up suggests we have a straight up class war situation, but then the book does a 360 and turns into THE SELECTION, revolution style.

Let's play cliche bingo

Although there is lots of world building, it only made me shrug. Aveyard is unable to mix the futuristic influences into her medieval-ish fantasy world without making it seem lazy and strange. RED QUEEN consists of all cliches you've seen in dystopian and high fantasy books, smashed together and pretending it's something new. And adding a dreaded love triangle between the childhood friend and the forbidden lover, AND another guy (!) just made me sigh endlessly. 

Paired with a special snowflake protagonist that inexplicably has ~magical powers~, RED QUEEN comes more across as a parody on the genre than a novel that's to be taken seriously.

Without an ounce of originality, RED QUEEN reads like a half-baked cross between your average fantasy novel and the x men, in the worst way.


Rating:

☆☆

 



Overall: Do I Recommend?

No. I found it boring and full of cliches. RED QUEEN stuns with consisting of so many tropes that I'm surprised nobody has created a bingo sheet based on this.



Additional Info

Published: February 10th 2015
Pages: 383
Publisher: HarperTeen
Genre: YA / High Fantasy
ISBN: 9780062310637

Synopsis:
"This is a world divided by blood – red or silver.

The Reds are commoners, ruled by a Silver elite in possession of god-like superpowers. And to Mare Barrow, a seventeen-year-old Red girl from the poverty-stricken Stilts, it seems like nothing will ever change.

That is, until she finds herself working in the Silver Palace. Here, surrounded by the people she hates the most, Mare discovers that, despite her red blood, she possesses a deadly power of her own. One that threatens to destroy the balance of power.

Fearful of Mare’s potential, the Silvers hide her in plain view, declaring her a long-lost Silver princess, now engaged to a Silver prince. Despite knowing that one misstep would mean her death, Mare works silently to help the Red Guard, a militant resistance group, and bring down the Silver regime.

But this is a world of betrayal and lies, and Mare has entered a dangerous dance – Reds against Silvers, prince against prince, and Mare against her own heart."(Source: Goodreads)



Have you read RED QUEEN?

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Tuesday, March 28, 2017

[Review] The Amateurs (#1) - Sara Shepard: Rookie Detectives and Murder

In THE AMATEURS, Aerin and a bunch of amateur detectives are trying to solve the murder of her older sister.

What intrigued me: Felt like reading a thriller.

Awful Execution

THE AMATEURS has the strangest premise: A couple teenagers who are obsessed with unsolved crimes and frequent true crime forums decide to solve a murder case. What sounds really great in theory absolutely fails in the execution. Shepard's writing style doesn't really match the tone of the story, it's wonky at best, and never manages to convey the atmosphere you'd expect in a book like this. The multiple POVs neither work, nor are the characters fleshed out enough to make this story even remotely compelling. Had THE AMATEURS stuck with Aerin's POV alone, I would've liked this a lot more. The other characters are just messy to read about the writing feels stilted. This is definitely a subjective taste issue, if you've enjoyed other Shepard books in the past, you'll probably feel differently.

Another thing that bothers me about the execution is the fact that this is not a fast-paced thrilling narrative. It reads exactly like the premise sounds- amateurs working on a case, not knowing what they're doing. This is just not fun, and beyond that the whole reveal and set up of the mystery makes no sense whatsoever, and renders this story pretty much unrealistic and off-puttingly pointless. I also suspect that a ton of plot holes will open up when you're reading this for the second time.

Sexism, Racism, Exoticism

To a degree all I've said so far can be overlooked. It's really subjective. But the last nail in the coffin is just the horrible, extremely offensive portrayal of non-white characters in this. I hated every second of reading any description of non-white characters in this and seeing reviewers praise the "diversity" in this book is laughable at best, making me lose my faith in humanity at worst. I think there are a total of two non-white characters. One of the protagonists, Seneca, is biracial-coded. I don't think it's on-the-page representation, I certainly don't recommend that you pick this up because of this, and neither should this be on a list of books with biracial characters. She's described as exotic, with light eyes and light brown skin, and that's that. That's not how representation words, this is actually just exoticism.

Then we've got characters who homogenize Asians and make jokes about all Asians being the same, without having it addressed as racist, which renders me speechless.

Beyond that THE AMATEURS is dripping with sexism. From centering every female character's personality around their breasts, to turning the female characters pretty much just into sex objects and reducing them to their sexuality - this is as far from feminism as it gets.


Rating:

☆☆☆☆

 



Overall: Do I Recommend?

Sexism, racism, bad prose, and a plot that makes no sense - decide for yourself if you think that's worth picking it up. I certainly regret the time I spent reading this. Hours of my life I'm never going to get back.



Additional Info

Published: November 1st 2016
Pages: 320
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Genre: YA / Thriller
ISBN: 9781484742273

Synopsis:
"I need some answers about my sister. Help…

Five years ago, high school senior Helena Kelly disappeared from her backyard in Dexby, Connecticut, never to be heard from again. Her family was left without any answers—without any idea who killed Helena, or why.

So when eighteen-year-old Seneca Frazier sees a desperate post on the Case Not Closed message board, she knows it’s time to change that. Helena’s high-profile disappearance is the one that originally got Seneca addicted to true crime. It’s the reason she’s a member of the site in the first place.

Determined to get to the bottom of the mystery, she agrees to spend spring break in Connecticut working on the case with Maddy Wright, her best friend from Case Not Closed. However, the moment she steps off the train, things start to go wrong. Maddy’s nothing like she expected, and Helena’s sister, Aerin, doesn’t seem to want any help after all. Plus, Seneca has a secret of her own, one that could derail the investigation if she’s not careful.

Alongside Brett, another super-user from the site, they slowly begin to unravel the secrets Helena kept in the weeks before her disappearance. But the killer is watching…and determined to make sure the case stays cold."
(Source: Goodreads)


Have you read a decent YA thriller lately?

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Friday, March 17, 2017

[Review] Optimists Die First - Susin Nielsen: Anxiety and Amputees

In OPTIMISTS DIE FIRST, Petula meets and falls in love with a disabled boy whom she meets in therapy.

What intrigued me: I always enjoy reading about neurodiverse and disabled characters!

Juvenile and strange narration

Welp. OPTIMISTS DIE FIRST is a classic it's not you, it's me pick when it comes to the writing.

I really enjoyed the whimsical narration at first, but very much did struggle with the extremely juvenile writing. And with juvenile I mean that it doesn't read like YA, but like Middle Grade. I'm not a MG reader, so this was extremely exhausting for me and severely impacted my reading experience, considering that Nielsen writes in very short repetitive sentences that do not complement the story or POV in any way.

Petula is a quite interesting main character, but unfortunately the voice is absolutely unable to reflect that and just makes this read weirdly staccato-like, throwing you out of the story all the time.


Problematic Disability Rep

Beyond that, I had issues with the disability rep in this one. I neither have anxiety nor am an amputee, though I do have a disability, so take this with a grain of salt. 

Petula's anxiety is very much portrayed as this quirky thing that she can turn off and on whenever she wants, which is in itself very problematic. The problematicness gets doubled knowing that her relationship with love interest Jacob is the thing that enables her to do things she couldn't do before and basically turn off her anxiety. 

This is a "love cures all" kind of story, that I think has no business in the hands of marginalized readers or people who aren't versed in disability discourse, because it provides dangerous misinformation. This is bound to do immense harm. Beyond that, neither the story, the writing, or the characters are even remotely intriguing enough to warrant me giving this one a star more. OPTIMISTS DIE FIRST is one of those stories about anxiety that make it seem quirky and cool and capitalize on disabled characters instead of actually representing.


Rating:

☆☆☆☆

 



Overall: Do I Recommend?

OPTIMISTS DIE FIRST could've been great with a fabulous premise and anxious and disabled characters, but at the end of the day very much ventures into romanticizing territory and strikes me as having pretty harmful representation. Be careful with this one.



Additional Info

Published: March 2nd 2017
Pages: 272
Publisher: Andersen
Genre: YA / Contemporary
ISBN: 9781783445073

Synopsis:
"Petula has avoided friendship and happiness ever since tragedy struck her family and took her beloved younger sister Maxine. Worse, Petula blames herself. If only she'd kept an eye on her sister, if only she'd sewn the button Maxine choked on better, if only... 
Now her anxiety is getting out of control, she is forced to attend the world’s most hopeless art therapy class. But one day, in walks the Bionic Man: a charming, amazingly tall newcomer called Jacob, who is also an amputee. Petula's ready to freeze him out, just like she did with her former best friend, but when she’s paired with Jacob for a class project, there’s no denying they have brilliant ideas together – ideas like remaking Wuthering Heights with cats.
But Petula and Jacob each have desperately painful secrets in their pasts – and when the truth comes out, there’s no way Petula is ready for it."
(Source: Goodreads)



Have you read books with great disability rep?

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Sunday, March 5, 2017

[Review] Soundless - Richelle Mead: Ableism and Cultural Appropriation





In SOUNDLESS, Fei, who grew up in a village of Deaf people who are slowly also losing their eyesight, suddenly is able to hear when her village is in danger.
What intrigued me: I really liked her Vampire Academy series.

How to offend disabled people: the book

You have to be very, very, very, very careful when writing about disability. Especially when you're not disabled yourself. SOUNDLESS is the story of a girl that lives in a village of Deaf people and suddenly starts hearing.  Mistake 1: Don't "cure" disabilities for plot. 

I was hoping for a book that celebrates disability and portrays it as the absolutely normal thing it is - but nah. Disabled people in Mead's fantasy world are the losers of this story because they can't hear unlike special snowflake protagonist Fei who was magically cured. This book certainly would've dearly benefited from a sensitivity reader, anyone with a disability would have whipped out their pitchfork when coming across this book.

SOUNDLESS is proof that you shouldn't write about marginalized people if you have no experience whatsoever with the things they go through and aren't willing to put the research and resources in to make sure that the portrayal accurate.

Who needs world building?

My bitterness aside - I signed up for the typical fantastic Mead writing with a great voice and I got it. The writing truly is exceptional. Mead's storytelling is flawlessly effortless. It's very descriptive, but I personally like this, because it adds to the calm and withdrawn atmosphere of the book. The world building may be easy to understand, but that's because it doesn't exist. Nothing in this book makes sense and we just have to deal with it. 

The signed conversations between Deaf people are a little difficult to read and get used to because there is no indication that's dialogue.

Mead put an equal amount of research into the Chinese folklore part as she put into the disability part. Exactly zilch. The only thing that's sort-of-Asian is the nature surrounding them, their names, and their clothes. Here and here are some reviews by Chinese reviewers who went into more detail on this.

Still, as much as I admire the writing, SOUNDLESS is just an epic fail overall because of how Mead handles disability and the Chinese characters, and a massive disappointment. 


Rating:

☆☆

 



Overall: Do I Recommend?

If you have a disability or are very educated and passionate about disability issues, do yourself a favor and don't read this. It will only lead to high blood pressure. SOUNDLESS may be the most ableist book I've ever read, but let's not jinx it.



Additional Info

Published: November 10th 2015
Pages:  266
Publisher: Razorbill
Genre: YA / High Fantasy
ISBN: 9781595147639

Synopsis:
"In a village without sound…

For as long as Fei can remember, no one in her village has been able to hear. Rocky terrain and frequent avalanches make it impossible to leave the village, so Fei and her people are at the mercy of a zipline that carries food up the treacherous cliffs from Beiguo, a mysterious faraway kingdom.

When villagers begin to lose their sight, deliveries from the zipline shrink. Many go hungry. Fei and all the people she loves are plunged into crisis, with nothing to look forward to but darkness and starvation.

One girl hears a call to action…

Until one night, Fei is awoken by a searing noise. Sound becomes her weapon.

She sets out to uncover what’s happened to her and to fight the dangers threatening her village. A handsome miner with a revolutionary spirit accompanies Fei on her quest, bringing with him new risks and the possibility of romance. They embark on a majestic journey from the peak of their jagged mountain village to the valley of Beiguo, where a startling truth will change their lives forever…

And unlocks a power that will save her people.
 "(Source: Goodreads)


Have you read books about deaf characters?

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Thursday, February 23, 2017

[Review] Talon (#1) - Julie Kagawa: Dragons, Slayers, and a Love Triangle





In TALON, dragons Ember and her brother Dante are forced to temporarily mingle with the humans for the summer. Unfortunately they end up accidentally attracting a couple of dragon slayers.

What intrigued me: I was looking for a nice high fantasy book with dragons!

Paranormal Romance with Dragons

TALON absolutely isn't what I expected it to be. This isn't high fantasy but a class A paranormal romance with a love triangle, following the usual spiel that we've all read about a thousand times. 

We have dragon slayers, dragons, action scenes, and of course, high school and boy drama. Unfortunately these things don't go together at all. What is this book? Paranormal romance, fast-paced shooter action, sweet summer romance, high fantasy? It reads like it's trying to be several things at once when it reality it's not even well-written enough to be one of those. While the narration voice, especially Ember's, is okay, the writing is messy, the structure all over the place and the lore not really imaginative. 

TALON could've been a typical quite original paranormal romance had it just stuck with Ember's POV instead of multiple POVs from people who lead drastically different lives. I would have surely enjoyed the story of a dragon that sort of doesn't like humans falling in love with one a lot more. Shape-shifter stories are usually never my thing, but with dragons? Yes! 

Lacks in World Building

The dragon part was really what initially drew me towards this book and intrigued me and after realizing this isn't even High Fantasy, I was really rooting for the lore to make this grand. But unfortunately there is hardly any specific lore. 

The dragon organization Talon and their dragon-slaying nemesis St. George are organized in that typical military, lazy-writing style I've read about a billion times. Generally, there is absolutely nothing magical about being a dragon. The only actual giveaways we have that Ember is a dragon is that she thinks all humans look the same (before she meets her love interests of course), and that she likes shiny things. I would've loved to see more original takes on dragon lore. 

In a novel that deals with actual dragons, I expect rich world building. This might as well have been a regular shifter romance with werewolves. If you want dragons, don't read this. 


Rating:

☆☆

 



Overall: Do I Recommend?

If you're a paranormal romance fan, this surely is a welcome and pleasant spin on the topic, but it was just not what I was looking for when I picked this up and therefore didn't like it. The writing isn't for me, the world building is lacking, and the love triangle wasn't my thing either.



Additional Info

Published: October 18th 2014
Pages: 449
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Genre: YA / Paranormal / Dragons
ISBN: 9780373211395

Synopsis:
"Long ago, dragons were hunted to near extinction by the Order of St. George, a legendary society of dragon slayers. Hiding in human form and growing their numbers in secret, the dragons of Talon have become strong and cunning, and they're positioned to take over the world with humans none the wiser.

Ember and Dante Hill are the only sister and brother known to dragonkind. Trained to infiltrate society, Ember wants to live the teen experience and enjoy a summer of freedom before taking her destined place in Talon. But destiny is a matter of perspective, and a rogue dragon will soon challenge everything Ember has been taught. As Ember struggles to accept her future, she and her brother are hunted by the Order of St. George.

Soldier Garret Xavier Sebastian has a mission to seek and destroy all dragons, and Talon's newest recruits in particular. But he cannot kill unless he is certain he has found his prey: and nothing is certain about Ember Hill. Faced with Ember's bravery, confidence and all-too-human desires, Garret begins to question everything that the Order has ingrained in him: and what he might be willing to give up to find the truth about dragons.
 "(Source: Goodreads)

Do you know any good books about dragons?

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Friday, February 3, 2017

[Review] The Winner's Curse (The Winner's #1) - Marie Rutkoski: In Which Slavery Isn't All That Bad





In THE WINNER'S CURSE, Kestrel buys a slave and gets mixed up in a revolution.

What intrigued me: Gorgeous cover mostly, but also the hype.

So... slavery is okay, I guess?

I didn't really know what I was getting myself into when I started THE WINNER'S CURSE. I had no idea that it would be about slaves, and I had even less of an idea about the romance being between the slave owner and the slave! What can I say, I just find this incredibly distasteful and strange, especially as a minority myself, I don't want to read about the romanticization of slave trade.

THE WINNER'S CURSE is a prime example of how to not approach a sensitive topic and exactly the reason why I shy away from books written by white people about topics that influence the lives of POC. People never do their research. Rutkoski uses slave trade as a mere plot device to showcase her white savior protagonist and didn't even bother to portray the lives of slaves accurately. I'm not asking for historical accuracy here, it's high fantasy after all, but could we not act like the life as a slave is actually quite okay and they're basically just well-off servants? Could we not act like slavery doesn't involve torture, robbing people of their identities, robbing them of their homes, and treating them like actual human trash?

THE WINNER'S CURSE doesn't even once show us how horribly slaves are treated. The Valorians, the conquerors, are never actually shown beating their slaves. From a novel that's about such a topic you'd expect some graphic scenes. You'd expect something beyond just trading people like cattle. I assume Rutkoski decided not to show this because this would lead to us not rooting for the Valorians, aka Kestrel.

This is not a fictional scenario, slave trade exists to this day (!!!!). Could we not invalidate the experiences of minorities all over the world and act like it isn't all that bad and that you just have to wait for your rich white person to save you and give you the opportunity to revolt?

If at least the prose was great...

My personal feelings about the romance and the whole slavery thing aside, THE WINNER'S CURSE is not a skillfully written book. The writing is very technical, very emotionless. Lots of short sentences, lots of factual descriptions, even worse with changes in POV! I struggled with it a lot in the beginning because it's just not what I'm used to. 

The premise isn't that bad, despite Rutkoski not really bothering with world building. What made me lose all faith in the book is the fact that her protagonist Kestrel is an absolutely horrible person. She doesn't care about the slaves, she buys one herself even, and at no point tries to actually help the slaves. It's absolutely despicable to read about someone that doesn't understand slavery is bad - until she actually forms a bond with a slave. Wtf?!

I am tired, so, so, so tired. I can't believe that nobody bothers to mention this in reviews. I can't believe that nobody even seems to bother to get upset about this. 

Why is this so popular?

Rating:

☆☆

  


Overall: Do I Recommend?

I find this book incredibly offensive. I wouldn't recommend this to anyone and it's beyond me how you can close your eyes to the problematicness of it all. Privilege I guess. Thumbs down from me.


Additional Info

Published: March 4th 2015
Pages: 355
Publisher: Farrar Strauss Giroux
Genre: YA / High Fantasy
ISBN: 9780374384685

Synopsis:
"Winning what you want may cost you everything you love... 

As a general’s daughter in a vast empire that revels in war and enslaves those it conquers, seventeen-year-old Kestrel has two choices: she can join the military or get married. But Kestrel has other intentions. 

One day, she is startled to find a kindred spirit in a young slave up for auction. Arin’s eyes seem to defy everything and everyone. Following her instinct, Kestrel buys him—with unexpected consequences. It’s not long before she has to hide her growing love for Arin. 

But he, too, has a secret, and Kestrel quickly learns that the price she paid for a fellow human is much higher than she ever could have imagined. "(Source: Goodreads)


Have you read THE WINNER'S CURSE?

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Monday, January 30, 2017

[Review] Magonia (#1) - Maria Dahvana Headley: Bird Humans and Ableism





In MAGONIA, Aza has a chronic lung disease and suddenly hallucinates (or not?) a ship in the sky.

What intrigued me: Chronic illness and magical realism! Sign me up!


Strange narration and no structure

MAGONIA immediately surprised me with an incredibly unique voice. Aza's narration is very reminiscent of a stream-of-consciousness. It's hard to keep up with the plot, with her thoughts, with everything really, because there is hardly any indication of scene changes. I struggled a lot with the narration, even though it is undoubtedly very memorable and unique. 

MAGONIA uses the justification "it's magical realism, I don't have to explain anything" way too much. It desperately lacks descriptions to even begin to create images in the reader's head. This book can't hide that it has no structure whatsoever, doesn't make sense, and is absolutely weird. The weird thing isn't necessarily something negative, but it isn't a good kind of weird. I had no idea what was happening half of the time, and struggled to even understand the scenes because of the strange narration. It's really a novel that you have to pay attention to very closely to even be able to keep up, and I find that extremely unappealing and not very entertaining at all. 

Disabled people are not your plot device. Stop.

The problem with this book is that it starts out with a fantastic chronically-ill character and instead of celebrating the character's disability - decides to cure them. Could we just not do this generally. [highlight for spoiler]
  Yeah, I get it, she dies and ascends to another plane of existence and then it all makes sense why she was disabled in life because she's secretly a superhuman bird humanoid. Can we just not.
[end of spoiler]

What's the point in writing about disability if you magically cure it halfway in? Imagine how chronically-ill people feel when reading this book. Why couldn't Ava remain sick? This would've made for such a powerful read and I would've celebrated the crap out of this!

Even though MAGONIA technically doesn't deserve such a low rating because of the sheer skill, creativity, and unique voice, I am not supporting this behavior. Don't cure disabled characters for your plot, in fact don't even write about disabled characters at all if you only think it would make for an edgy blurb and brownie points! Just because it's fiction, you aren't allowed to write whatever you want, especially not if it involves marginalized people. Disabled people are not your plot device. Don't write about them if you just think it'll make for a good pitch.

Well, I should've known from the blurb. Describing chronically-ill people as "weak and dying thing[s]". NEXT!

Rating:

☆☆

 



Overall: Do I Recommend?

Absolutely not, I would even go as far as to actively advise against reading it because it's so incredibly, incredibly insensitive. MAGONIA lures with an interesting idea, but is absolutely ruined through its insensitivity and ignorant ableist message. So, at what point do real-life chronically ill people get invited to Magonia so everything will be rainbows and butterflies again?



Additional Info

Published: April 28th 2015
Pages: 309
Publisher: HarperCollins
Genre: YA / Magical Realism
ISBN: 9780062320520

Synopsis:
"Aza Ray is drowning in thin air. 

Since she was a baby, Aza has suffered from a mysterious lung disease that makes it ever harder for her to breathe, to speak—to live. 

So when Aza catches a glimpse of a ship in the sky, her family chalks it up to a cruel side effect of her medication. But Aza doesn't think this is a hallucination. She can hear someone on the ship calling her name.

Only her best friend, Jason, listens. Jason, who’s always been there. Jason, for whom she might have more-than-friendly feelings. But before Aza can consider that thrilling idea, something goes terribly wrong. Aza is lost to our world—and found, by another. Magonia. 

Above the clouds, in a land of trading ships, Aza is not the weak and dying thing she was. In Magonia, she can breathe for the first time. Better, she has immense power—and as she navigates her new life, she discovers that war is coming. Magonia and Earth are on the cusp of a reckoning. And in Aza’s hands lies the fate of the whole of humanity—including the boy who loves her. Where do her loyalties lie?(Source: Goodreads)


Have you read MAGONIA?

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Monday, January 16, 2017

[Review] The Graces (#1) - Laure Eve: Witches, Racism, and Biphobia

In THE GRACES, River is new to town and immediately grows obsessed with the town "celebrity" family Grace, who are said to be witches.

What intrigued me: Witches!

Carbon Copy of TWILIGHT

Many reviewers note that THE GRACES bears a lot of similarities to TWILIGHT. Which - well if you've been here for a while you know that I certainly wouldn't mind that. But it's very much a carbon copy of TWILIGHT, just interchanging vampires with witches. This is exactly the same reading experience, I don't even know what to say about the plot beyond that. 

The Grace family is exactly that brand of pretentious characters that speak in pseudo deep sentences that really makes you feel detached from the narration. None of the characters feel real, rather almost like a parody, because THE GRACES takes itself so, so seriously.
Eve has this poetic quite dreamy writing style that surely showcases her skills but it absolutely doesn't work in combination with that plot.

Beyond that we have our typical Mary Sue protagonist that's not like other girls and so special and different - can we just retire this already? There's nothing wrong with being exactly like all other girls. Girls are awesome.

Racism, Ableism, and Homophobia Galore 

THE GRACES is littered with slurs and insensitivity. So much so that I could basically educate you on what not to use just by using quotes from this book. Because it's just so much I'll use a list format.
I won't use any verbatim quotes here in the following in order not to clutter things up (and also because it's so much that going back and checking page numbers would take a century.)
  • Questionable POC/Asian rep. There is one non-white character in this book, mean girl Niral who engages in frequent homophobic comments and slut shaming. It's absolutely irresponsible to make your single POC (South-East Asian) character a despicable human being. It's even worse to include this in the first place if none of her horrible action are ever addressed and/or correct. This equals condoning her behavior.
  • Biphobia. THE GRACES uses bisexuality as a plot twist. If I tell you which character is bisexual, this would spoil the story. This is not how you represent LGBT* characters. Beyond that it's stigmatized and seen as disgusting and horrifying when the character is forcibly and violently outed. THE GRACES also features a hate crime on the basis of sexuality that is normalized and encouraged. 
  • Queerbaiting? Protagonist River has an obsession with Summer Grace that comes across more like a misguided crush. This book could've been so much more interesting if the romance was between two girls and not about running after a boy who doesn't really seem interested.
  • Homophobia. Mean girl Niral spreads rumors about a side character being a lesbian. I don't know in what world being a lesbian is a negative thing, but THE GRACES makes sure to portray it like that. Earlier on before the bisexual character is outed him being bullied by a boy is described as '[the bullied boy] seemed to enjoy [getting bullied] a little too much'. 
  • Casual racial slurs. You'll find g*psy and many more in this book as casual descriptors that are never addressed. Normalizing slurs is unacceptable. Racism isn't cool or quirky.
  • Casual ableism. The lovely line 'their parents divorce hung over them like lepracy' and calling a boy 'too strong to faint like that' are always quite lovely to read.
  • Straight-forward ableism. There's this lovely dialogue between two characters fairly early on where they talk about a supposedly mentally-ill character and say 'well you can't be friends with someone [...] with mental problems.'
...and this isn't even a complete list. At some point I just grew so emotionally exhausted that I just wanted to get this over with and stopped keeping tabs. Most of the things I mentioned can be found within the first 80 or so pages. 

It's extremely disappointing to not only see a racist homophobic and ableist book like that published, but also to see reviewers and bloggers recommend this happily. I was hurt by this book. And so many other marginalized readers in the future will be.

So yeah. That was THE GRACES. If you plan on reading this, be extremely careful.

Rating:

★☆☆☆

 



Overall: Do I Recommend?

THE GRACES shocked me through the frequent insensitivity, homophobia, biphobia, and racial slurs. It's extremely horrifying that all of this ended up in the final version. Marginalized readers, please be very careful. Beyond that it's a typical Mary Sue moves to new town story that has so much in common with TWILIGHT that you can only call it fan fiction.

Trigger warning for: racial slurs, slut shaming, homophobia, biphobia, hate crimes (LGBT)


Additional Info

Published: September 1st 2016
Pages: 415
Publisher: Faber & Faber
Genre: YA / Paranormal / Witches & Wizards
ISBN: 9780571326808

Synopsis:
"Everyone said the Graces were witches.

They moved through the corridors like sleek fish, ripples in their wake. Stares followed their backs and their hair.

They had friends, but they were just distractions. They were waiting for someone different.

All I had to do was show them that person was me.

Like everyone else in her town, River is obsessed with the Graces, attracted by their glamour and apparent ability to weave magic. But are they really what they seem? And are they more dangerous than they let on?"
(Source: Goodreads)



What's your favorite book about witches?

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Thursday, January 12, 2017

[Review] Nemesis (#1) - Anna Banks: Egyptians, Racism, and Slaves

In NEMESIS, element forger and princess Sepora flees from her home kingdom of Serubel only to end up enslaved to her nemesis Tarik, the new king of Theoria.

What intrigued me: Not the cover, that's for sure. I came solely for the enemies to lovers trope.



CAUTION: NEMESIS is a book about slavery. The fact that the blurb uses "servitude" instead of slavery (probably in an attempt to sugarcoat) is simply appalling. Google indentured servitude. There's a difference.

Cultural Appropriation and Whitewashing

NEMESIS is pretty much a "how not to" guide for white authors looking to write books inspired by a culture that is not their own. It's fairly obvious that Banks neither used sensitivity readers nor did any research that went deeper than surface level. Learn from her mistakes:

NEMESIS draws heavily from Egyptian and Jewish history and culture. And with "draws from", I mean appropriates. Complete with white savior protagonist Sepora, who starts out as a slave and easily works her way up to becoming a close advisor of the king, mostly because she's so beautiful and unique. This isn't an homage / rewrite / whatever you want to call it. There are no people of color in this book. And no, "olive skin" does not count as a stand-in for brown or black. Since this book so heavily draws from these peoples history, the least it can do is not whitewash them.

NEMESIS doesn't commit and doesn't have the guts to make this an unapologetically African or even African-inspired story and therefore can only be called cultural appropriation. You can't take the existing history of marginalized people, take the bits you like, make it all butterflies and unicorns, and paint it all white to top it off. I have major problems with the way Banks portrays the Theorians, who are very clearly fictionalized brown/black Egyptians. While Banks does not portray them bluntly like savages, thankfully, her portrayal is full of racist micro aggressions. 

From calling their language, which very clearly is an allegory to East African languages, primitive, and generally making fun of their traditions, ridiculing pretty much every Egyptian-inspired and -coded tradition they have as redundant and ridiculous as seen through King Tarik's eyes - NEMESIS is incredibly offensive on so many levels. If King Tarik's POV represents how Banks sees people of color, I am absolutely speechless.  NEMESIS is not written for people of color. It really feels like an attack, as an African, to see an author draw very obvious inspiration from an African country but to dismiss pretty much every aspect of their culture that makes them what they are. I cannot speak for Banks' portrayal of the Serubel (faux-Jewish) people and I won't, but I wouldn't be surprised if it's just as bad.

It's not very flattering either that white Sepora's arch enemy is the "olive-skinned" (speak: faux-black) Tarik, king of Theoria. It's absolutely not a good idea to insinuate brown/black vs. white conflict without committing to it. This isn't a book about race, so this allusion doesn't belong here. Banks has no business writing about this in the first place.

...and look at all that wasted potential.

I was immediately impressed with the winged serpents and element-forging protagonist in NEMESIS. And Banks also has these interesting two POVs that really complement each other. 

While I'm not necessarily a fan of the writing, which is a little too simple, info-dumpy, and clunky for my personal taste, protagonists Tarik and Sepora's alternate storylines are surely interesting. Sepora's story consists of a lot of wandering around and reckless info-dumps which easily and quickly annoyed me, and Tarik's story packs a punch from the start, beginning with his father dying of a mysterious illness. 

NEMESIS could have been SO good. Exceptional, unapologetic, and big. This book could've been huge if it was only starring a diverse cast and if Banks had bothered to hire sensitivity readers, which she c l e a r l y did not. I generally do not want to read anything about slavery in a book that doesn't tackle race.
  • And I don't know, I don't understand in what world it is okay to pretend that all of these people were white. 
  • And I also don't know in what world writing a romance between a master and a slave without even doing as much as just mentioning the word slavery, and not approaching this topic with the sensitvity and respect it deserves, is okay. 
  • And I also don't know why it seems to be so hard to have the basic decency to hire a sensitivity reader if you're going to write about a culture that isn't your own. 



Rating:

★☆☆☆

 



Overall: Do I Recommend?

NEMESIS blatantly whitewashes and culturally appropriates the history of Egyptian and Jewish peoples in the form of a fantasy rivalry between the fictional kingdoms of Serubel and Theoria. This book is about slavery while whitewashing it and using it as a plot device, which for me is absolutely a no-go, especially coming from a white author. And of course this features an obligatory master/slave romance. Don't let the blurb fool you, nobody is a "servant" in this book. It's slavery.

  • Note - even more problems: 
I have a major problem with the cover. I understand that painting their skin is a thing that Sepora's people do. But it just awkwardly seems like one step removed from blackface to me. Maybe that's far-fetched, I'm well-aware that people of color didn't invent painting their skin and don't own this, but considering that this is a practice commonly associated with the indigenous peoples of some Pacific Islands, some African countries, or New Zealand, it leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. 

If Sepora was a person of color I wouldn't even have to mention this. I don't understand why she had to be white. I know many people who were put off by this cover -specifically- because it shows a white person with full body paint in one color and decided not to read this book or anything else by this author. Which I absolutely understand knowing that the content of the book matches the cover.

[HEY JEWISH OR EGYPTIAN REVIEWERS - have you reviewed this book? I'd be happy to link your reviews here, just shoot me an email or comment or whatever!]


Additional Info

Published: October 5th 2016
Pages: 368
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Genre: YA / High Fantasy
ISBN: 9781250070173

Synopsis:
"Princess Sepora of Serubel is the last Forger in all the five kingdoms. The spectorium she creates provides energy for all, but now her father has found a way to weaponize it, and his intentions to incite war force her to flee his grasp. She escapes across enemy lines into the kingdom of Theoria, but her plans to hide are thwarted when she is captured and placed in the young king’s servitude.

Tarik has just taken over rulership of Theoria, and must now face a new plague sweeping through his kingdom and killing his citizens. The last thing he needs is a troublesome servant vying for his attention. But Mistress Sepora will not be ignored. When the two finally meet face-to-face, they form an unlikely bond that complicates life in ways neither of them could have imagined.

Sepora's gift may be able to save Tarik’s kingdom. But should she risk exposing herself and her growing feelings for her nemesis?"
(Source: Goodreads)


So... that was exhausting. Tell me something nice? Maybe about an #ownvoices book that has good representation of people of color?

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