Showing posts with label ya. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ya. Show all posts

Friday, March 24, 2017

[Review] The Kiss of Deception (Remnant Chronicles #1) - Mary E. Pearson: Runaway Princesses and Assassins

In THE KISS OF DECEPTION, princess Lia runs away from home on the day she is supposed to get married to the prince of a nearby kingdom.

What intrigued me: I don't know. I guess I wanted a decent high fantasy read.

Romance and Love Triangles

Ebony Dark'ness Dem- ... um I meant Arabella Celestine Idris Jezelia is your typtical runaway princess with special powers who finds herself torn between the prince she was supposed to marry and the assassin sent to kill her for fleeing the wedding.

It doesn't sound very original and really doesn't read that way either. THE KISS OF DECEPTION really reads like a very lengthy set up for a boring love triangle in a world that isn't interesting or original either. If you're generally a romance reither, you may like this, but since I was looking for fantastic world building and epic high fantasy, THE KISS OF DECEPTION fell more than just flat for me. There is just too much plot convenience and instant love to make all that even remotely interesting. THE KISS OF DECEPTION really is just a read for hardcore romance fans. The rest of the story is filled out with aimlessly wandering around, reminiscing, and of course the obligatory run-ins with the evil peoples of the surrounding kingdoms. 

Very uncreative world building

What instantly irked me about THE KISS OF DECEPTION is the world building. The protagonist's home kingdom is surrounded by other kingdoms whose inhabitants are described as vicious barbarians that dance around fires and bite heads off, and dangerous vagabonds (often called g*psies). It's quite obvious that both of these peoples are very clear allusions to the very common savage aggressor trope and of course a questionable portrayal of Romani people. Generally, I just wish authors would stop inlcuding that in their books. I'm done reading about it. If it's not #ownvoices or historical fiction, can we stop basing our fantasy races on real people or disgusting stereotypes of them? It's not 1930 anymore. It's fantasy - make something up instead of halfheartedly writing down maybe/maybe not offensive portrayals of real peoples.

THE KISS OF DECEPTION generally severely lacks creativity when it comes to the world and the plot. Nothing happens for the majority of the narrative and blank spots are filled with ramblings and passive narration. Considering that this book is more than 490+ pages long (550 in my translated version!), this is a tough read.


Rating:

★☆☆☆☆

 



Overall: Do I Recommend?

THE KISS OF DECEPTION really is just your average not-so-special high fantasy read with a love triangle. The lack of plot and questionable world building made me raise eyebrows more than actually get me invested.

[If there are any Romani reviewers who read this - let me know, I'd be happy to link your review here.]

Additional Info

Published: July 14th 2014
Pages: 489
Publisher: Henry Holt & Co.
Genre: YA / High Fantasy
ISBN: 9780805099232

Synopsis:
"A princess must find her place in a reborn world.

She flees on her wedding day.

She steals ancient documents from the Chancellor's secret collection.

She is pursued by bounty hunters sent by her own father.

She is Princess Lia, seventeen, First Daughter of the House of Morrighan.

The Kingdom of Morrighan is steeped in tradition and the stories of a bygone world, but some traditions Lia can't abide. Like having to marry someone she's never met to secure a political alliance.

Fed up and ready for a new life, Lia flees to a distant village on the morning of her wedding. She settles in among the common folk, intrigued when two mysterious and handsome strangers arrive—and unaware that one is the jilted prince and the other an assassin sent to kill her. Deceptions swirl and Lia finds herself on the brink of unlocking perilous secrets—secrets that may unravel her world—even as she feels herself falling in love."
(Source: Goodreads)



What's your favorite high fantasy read?

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Thursday, March 23, 2017

Recommendation: How to Make a Wish - Ashley Herring Blake: Bisexuality and Sadness

In HOW TO MAKE A WISH, Grace's mom makes her move in with her ex-boyfriend's dad and meets Eva, who is struggling with her mother's death.

What intrigued me: Biracial and bisexual characters?! YES

Snarky Teen and Sad Vibes

HOW TO MAKE A WISH is one of those very quiet reads that you definitely have to have a thing for and have to be in the right mood for. Blake tells Grace's story with the authentic snark that I would've adored reading about as a teen. The thing Is - HOW TO MAKE A WISH is so character-driven and so quiet that I just didn't feel as enthusiastic about it as I would've liked. 

This is a me thing. This has nothing to do with the book. It's skillfully written with a killer voice and with heart. Also #ownvoices by a bisexual author, which clearly, obviously shows in the nuanced way Blake writes her characters. It reads somewhere inbetween books like those by Sarah Dessen and Jenny Han. If you enjoy works by these authors, you'll surely adore this one. 

HOW TO MAKE A WISH will surely hit close to home for many people out there, not only because of the fabulous narration but because it features a bisexual protagonist and a black biracial love interest.


Representation goddamn matters.

I've got a confession to make here. This is first time that I've read about a biracial character portrayed so accurately that it freaks me out. I'm biracial and usually the representation we get hardly ever is stated on the page, and if it is, there are probably a lot other things wrong with the book. HOW TO MAKE A WISH presents biracial love interest Eva in a way that hit so close to home to me that I'm genuinely wondering if this was written about me. Is this me? Is this what representation feels like? 

Despite HOW TO MAKE A WISH missing the mark for me personally because of totally arbitrary and highly subjective reasons that stand in no relation to the quality of this book, this is an extraordinary book that I wish a lot of success. I refuse to give this any less than five stars and I urge you to be lenient with this book when rating and reviewing it as well. There is virtually no representation for people like me and we need to cheer those authors on that bother to do it right.

I would've needed this book at 14, 15, 16 - hell, I still need it now. I really don't know how to handle this. It's weird being represented, but it's also nice. Do me a favor and shove this book into the hands of any black biracials you know, okay? It'll mean the world to them.


Rating:

★★★★★

 



Overall: Do I Recommend?

So, HOW TO MAKE A WISH apparently is the first book written for people like me. And it feels damn good, you guys. Representation matters. Gift this to your biracial friends.



Additional Info

Published: May 2nd 2017
Pages: 336
Publisher: HMH Kids
Genre: YA / Contemporary
ISBN: 9780544815193

Synopsis:
"All seventeen year-old Grace Glasser wants is her own life. A normal life in which she sleeps in the same bed for longer than three months and doesn't have to scrounge for spare change to make sure the electric bill is paid. Emotionally trapped by her unreliable mother, Maggie, and the tiny cape on which she lives, she focuses on her best friend, her upcoming audition for a top music school in New York, and surviving Maggie’s latest boyfriend—who happens to be Grace’s own ex-boyfriend’s father.

Her attempts to lay low until she graduates are disrupted when she meets Eva, a girl with her own share of ghosts she’s trying to outrun. Grief-stricken and lonely, Eva pulls Grace into midnight adventures and feelings Grace never planned on. When Eva tells Grace she likes girls, both of their worlds open up. But, united by loss, Eva also shares a connection with Maggie. As Grace's mother spirals downward, both girls must figure out how to love and how to move on."
(Source: Goodreads)



What was the first book that made you feel represented as a marginalized person?

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Saturday, March 11, 2017

[Review] Letters to the Lost - Brigid Kemmerer: Grief and Photography

In LETTERS TO THE LOST, Declan finds the letter Juliet writes to her late mom at the cemetery and they become unlikely pen pals.

What intrigued me: I've been in the mood for more mixed format books.

Super sad and depressing

LETTERS TO THE LOST is a very heartbreaking book. Kemmerer showcases her advanced skills through giving this book a so, so, so, so depressingly sad tone. This wasn't really my thing - I don't like books that deal majorly with grief, but that doesn't mean LETTERS TO THE LOST is a bad book and you shouldn't pick it up. Kemmerer is an extremely talented writer, this story flows beautifully, if very slowly paced, and the prose is breathtaking. The dual POV is executed wonderfully with the protagonists Declan and Juliet having two very distinct voices.

The back story, however? I struggled, I gotta admit. LETTERS TO THE LOST is too over the top for me, full of cliches, domestic abuse, melodrama, and I just don't like these types of books. Both Declan and Juliet do nothing but indulge in their sadness and it's not varied enough to make for a compelling narrative for me. I couldn't swoon over their relationship or find any joy in following their stories because there's just nothing but dealing with grief in this. Again, very, very subjective.

Wildly Inappropriate Refugee Comparisons

LETTERS TO THE LOST starts every chapter with a letter from either Declan or Juliet. Very frequently Juliet describes pictures her photographer mom took to him, usually of suffering or starving children in the Middle East and comparing herself to them, saying she understands their pain because her mom died. And I just - no. It's even worse considering that these are pretty much the only relevant characters of color in the story. There's a black family that's mentioned in passing, but the only non-white representation in this comes in the form of starving refugee children. This is so wildly inappropriate and offensive that I'm honestly speechless. You'd have her describe a picture of a little brown girl that's on the brink of starvation and has a vulture circling around her, and Juliet will say, yes, I relate to this. Oh my god.

I... I don't even. It's not like these are integral to the plot, this is absolutely redundant and very much cheapens this story. I usually would've given this book three stars, despite it not being my thing at all, it's well-written and will entertain and delight a lot of people - but this specific aspect made me sick to my stomach. I've informed the publisher and will be adding the missing star and revising my review if this is changed in the final version.


Rating:

★★☆☆

 



Overall: Do I Recommend?

LETTERS TO THE LOST is a very You've Got Mail kind of story mixed with grief and sadness. If you're looking for a love story like I was, you might not enjoy this. The extremely inappropriate comparisons to refugee children left a bitter taste in my mouth that severely impacted my reading experience as well.

Trigger warning: blood, (domestic) violence, abuse, guns, war



Additional Info

Published: April 6th 2017
Pages: 400
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Genre: YA / Contemporary
ISBN: 9781408883525

Synopsis:
"Juliet Young has always written letters to her mother, a world-traveling photojournalist. Even after her mother’s death, she leaves letters at her grave. It’s the only way Juliet can cope. 

Declan Murphy isn’t the sort of guy you want to cross. In the midst of his court-ordered community service at the local cemetery, he’s trying to escape the demons of his past. 

When Declan reads a haunting letter left beside a grave, he can't resist writing back. Soon, he’s opening up to a perfect stranger, and their connection is immediate. But neither of them knows that they're not actually strangers. When real life at school interferes with their secret life of letters, Juliet and Declan discover truths that might tear them apart. This emotional, compulsively-readable romance will sweep everyone off their feet. "
(Source: Goodreads)



What's your favorite mixed format book?

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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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Sunday, February 19, 2017

White Authors Who Write about Slavery | YA Talk




Due to harassment and lack of allyship this educational post has been removed. Why?

More on problematicness:
Should We Separate Authors from Their Problematic Work? 
Do We Owe it to Authors to Call Out Problematic Books Nicely?
What is POC rep to you? "Olive Skin", On the Page, and Non-#Ownvoices Authors 
All YA Talk posts

BEFORE YOU COMMENT -
I don't want to hear about white authors who did it well or answer your question about your slavery book. Please listen. I'm trying to make you understand.

For personalized advice on writing diversely and recognizing problematicness, check my Patreon.
If you want to support The Bookavid and posts like this, feel free to buy me a virtual coffee via ko-fi.

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Saturday, February 11, 2017

Recommendation: The Seafarers Kiss - Julia Ember: Bisexuality and Mermaids

In THE SEAFARER'S KISS, mermaid Ersel falls in love with shieldmaiden Ragna and causes lots of trouble back home at the ice castle.

What intrigued me: I absolutely loved her debut UNICORN TRACKS.

Action-filled intricate world

I knew I'd love THE SEAFARER'S KISS after about five pages. Just like with her fantastic debut UNICORN TRACKS, Ember writes fast-paced and action-oriented - just what I like.

It's absolutely amazing how Ember painted this intricate world with its own customs and little sayings - THE SEAFARER'S KISS doesn't read like paranormal romance or mythology - it truly reads like a contemporary set in a mermaid kingdom. And you guys, this is the best.

I absolutely fell in love with the characters. Especially Ersel's best friend and now king's guard Havamal - the swoon is real. Even though this isn't really a book with a love triangle, I found myself rooting a bit for him and Ersel. You'll ship everyone while reading this book, that's the beauty of everyone being bisexual! The characters are all just so lovely, you'll find yourself wishing that they'd all just get along. It might also be relevant to your interests to know that Loki is genderfluid with they/them pronouns in this and that there is an amputee. The marginalized identities representation is fabulously refreshing and fun to read about. 

The Little Mermaid gone dark


THE SEAFARER'S KISS is a roller coaster of emotions. The first half of the book presents you with super cute contemporary romance fluff and all the feels, and towards the end it gets so dark that you'll find yourself wanting to turn the lights on. The two halves that THE SEAFARER'S KISS is divided into are without a doubt my favorite thing about this book - it manages to flawlessly combine a cute bisexual romance with an exciting fantasy adventure.

Filled with plot twists, THE SEAFARER'S KISS explores the moral shades of gray between good and evil while being an absolute page-turner. Ember managed to get me with every single twist. I saw none of them coming and am thoroughly impressed with the way she magnificently managed to make this The Little Mermaid retelling absolutely 100% her own.

THE SEAFARER'S KISS stuns with intricately developed character relationships, a fantastic world, and an action-filled plot that'll probably tempt you to binge-read this in one sitting.



Rating:

★★★★★

 



Overall: Do I Recommend?

THE SEAFARER'S KISS is the bisexual Norse Little Mermaid retelling you've been waiting for. Trust me, you want this. I think I have a very strong contender for new favorite LGBT+ writer. Julia Ember's one to watch.



Additional Info

Published: May 4th 2017
Pages: 230
Publisher: Duet Books
Genre: YA / Mythology / Norse Mythology
ISBN: 9781945053207

Synopsis:
"Having long-wondered what lives beyond the ice shelf, nineteen-year-old mermaid Ersel learns of the life she wants when she rescues and befriends Ragna, a shield-maiden stranded on the mermen’s glacier. But when Ersel’s childhood friend and suitor catches them together, he gives Ersel a choice: say goodbye to Ragna or face justice at the hands of the glacier’s brutal king.

Determined to forge a different fate, Ersel seeks help from Loki. But such deals are never as one expects, and the outcome sees her exiled from the only home and protection she’s known. To save herself from perishing in the barren, underwater wasteland and be reunited with the human she’s come to love, Ersel must try to outsmart the God of Lies."
(Source: Goodreads)



What's your favorite mermaid book?

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Thursday, February 9, 2017

[Review] A Million Worlds With You (Firebird #3) - Claudia Gray: Parallel Universes and Evil Twins




In A MILLION WORLDS WITH YOU, Marguerite's evil parallel universe self is hell-bent on killing every version of Marguerite in every single universe she can so she can't sabotage the plans of Home Office.

What intrigued me: The conclusion to my favorite series of all time. It hurts.

Chasing through universes

A MILLION WORLDS WITH YOU picks off right where the sequel left off. And I gotta say - that premise didn't do it for me. While Firebird is and will always remain my favorite book series, I wish it had been a duology. See, this whole Evil Twin coming to destroy the world storyline does feel a little over the top in my opinion and I just didn't enjoy it as much as the other books and found myself wishing for the story to get wrapped up more quickly. This is absolutely subjective.

The universes Gray shows us this time around are interesting, but not explored nearly as much as they could have! But because the premise is so reliant on the chasing part I was a little sad to see Marguerite spend very few time with the individual Pauls or even just in the universes. Where is the fluff! I feel like sometimes along the complicated plot lines and the excellent world building, the romance fluff got lost. Sure, we had Russia. But that was it? 

Arguably the most interesting parts of  A MILLION WORLDS WITH YOU are those when Marguerite returns to previously visited universes. I really loved that in TEN THOUSAND SKIES ABOVE YOU already and I just can't get enough of checking in with the other scientists.  But regardless, A MILLION WORLDS WITH YOU feels like a wild goose chase, jumping from universe to universe so fast and filled with barely plausible plot conveniences, I didn't like this nearly as much as the other books in the series.

Still grieving my husband

I have a confession to make: I don't think I ship Paul and Marguerite. I don't think I ever did. The problem is that both the reader and Marguerite get to know Paul on a deep emotional level in the Russia!Verse, where he is the Grand Duchess' protector Lieutenant Markov. And I never got over him. 
See, Lieutenant Markov shows the tender side of Paul, the romantic side - and in "real life" he's this grumpy smart-aleck who's angry all the time. The swooniness and the magic all poofed away with Lieutenant Markov's passing. A moment of silence. Anyway. I'm complaining on a high level here and this might not even ring true for you because you probably really loved Paul. I'm just a sad widow because my book husband was taken from me. 

But I'm so happy that we got another cuddly version of Paul with the sweet Father Paul from the Rome!Verse who has to choose between letting himself love Marguerite or staying celibate. Be still my beating heart! I'll definitely go back to TEN THOUSAND SKIES ABOVE YOU and reread the Rome!Verse parts with him, he's such a gentle flower that must be protected and made up a bit for the chronic lack of calm romantic fluff in this series. 

The Firebird books are excellent and just like the predecessors A MILLION WORLDS WITH YOU presents an interestesting journey through the universes. It would've wanted more action and a compelling narrative from this than it actually delivered - it very much feels like an unnecessary sequel with a very disappointing and too convenient ending. However, if you've read one, you gotta read them all. I'm sad to say goodbye.




Rating:

★★

 



Overall: Do I Recommend?

A few words to mourn the ending of this series: Despite A MILLION WORLDS WITH YOU's lack of my favorite thing about this series, my darling Russia!Verse including my favorite Paul, I loved visiting these different worlds.

I surely wouldn't mind returning to the world of Firebird with a prequel about Conley and Josie's romance from the Home Office!Verse. So if Claudia's up for that, I'll be back.

The rest of the series reviewed
A THOUSAND PIECES OF YOU (1) | TEN THOUSAND SKIES ABOVE YOU (2)


Note: A thing that seriously worries and confuses me is that out of ALL the worlds and universes we visit, there isn't a single one where Marguerite/Paul/Theo are lgbt. There is only one universe where one of them is disabled - deaf, actually - though the time spent there is so short that you can barely call this representation. (Well then there's one where a character loses a leg but they don't appear on-screen after that so that doesn't count either.)

While there is an explanation for this lack of marginalizations/diversity in the books ~wishy washy we're meant to be together fate yada yada~, I think it wouldn't have been that hard to even just add -one- universe where they're lgbt. Out of all the decisions they have to make to lead to Marguerite and Paul's epic love 90% of the time, you can't try to tell me that there isn't a single universe where Paul ended up with Theo, or Marguerite decided she liked neither and is a lesbian or is bi and ended up with a girl. [Totally seeing her and Romola. Yes.] What do you guys think?



Additional Info

Published: November 1st 2016
Pages: 419
Publisher: HarperTeen
Genre: YA / Sci-Fi / Parallel Worlds
ISBN: 9780062279026

Synopsis:
"A million universes. A million dangers. One destiny.

The fate of the multiverse rests in Marguerite Caine’s hands. Marguerite has been at the center of a cross-dimensional feud since she first traveled to another universe using her parents’ invention, the Firebird. Only now has she learned the true plans of the evil Triad Corporation—and that those plans could spell doom for dozens or hundreds of universes, each facing total annihilation.

Paul Markov has always been at Marguerite’s side, but Triad’s last attack has left him a changed man—angry and shadowed by tragedy. He struggles to overcome the damage done to him, but despite Marguerite’s efforts to help, Paul may never be the same again.

So it’s up to Marguerite alone to stop the destruction of the multiverse. Billions of lives are at stake. The risks have never been higher. And Triad has unleashed its ultimate weapon: another dimension’s Marguerite—wicked, psychologically twisted, and always one step ahead."
(Source: Goodreads)


Have you read any books by Claudia Gray?

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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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Thursday, January 26, 2017

Recommendation: The Women in the Walls - Amy Lukavics: Victorian Mansions and Disappearances

In THE WOMEN IN THE WALLS, Lucy and her cousin Margaret are hearing voices inside the walls of their Victorian home after Lucy's aunt disappears.

What intrigued me: Horror, horror, horror, give me all the creepy YA horror.

Bursting with talent

I've seldom read such effortlessly beautiful writing. There is not a single word too much in this book, Lukavics writes so infuriatingly beautiful that you can't help but be a little jealous of her talent. THE WOMEN IN THE WALLS tells a fascinating yet very simple story without much of a complicated plot that is so, so, so enhanced and livened through the fantastic writing. Lukavics has a very atmospheric writing style that is so essentially eerie. It's incredible how much Lucy's voice sucks you into this story, makes you feel like you're wandering through this creepy Victorian mansion with her.

I started out slightly skeptical because of the setting - it surely isn't anything I haven't seen before, but THE WOMEN IN THE WALLS perfectly illustrates that you can write with the most overdone premise ever and turn it into a masterpiece, if only you put your own spin on it. And that's what Lukavics absolutely does. 

Peak Creepiness

When it comes to horror, I'm a reviewer that you wouldn't want to read your book. I'm hardly scared of anything. You need to be exceptional to scare me and that's absolutely what THE WOMEN IN THE WALLS is. It feels a little like psychological horror, how Lukavics pretty much gives you zero information on whether these voices are real or not and what they exactly are throughout the majority of the story. Until the bombastic finale that's riddled with absolutely unpredictable plot twists, you'll find yourself questioning whether Lucy and Margaret are imagining things or not constantly. It's so well-done that I genuinely grew a little paranoid while reading and I surely loved the way Lukavics wraps it all up. 

A word of caution towards the end: if you're not a fan of open endings, THE WOMEN IN THE WALLS will be very difficult to part with. Personally, I just can't help but keep thinking about Lukavics' characters because the story doesn't quite have an ending. But that's part of the brilliance and what good horror should do in my opinion. It should leave you thinking about the gruesome creepiness for days. Lukavics certainly and effortlessly managed to knock my favorite creepy horror writers from the throne. THE WOMEN IN THE WALLS is absolutely a book you should read if you like everything eerie and Victorian. 


Rating:

★★★★★

 



Overall: Do I Recommend?

THE WOMEN IN THE WALLS is exceptional. A masterpiece, really. Written with literary ease and multi-faceted atmospheric writing, this is more than just a recommendation - this is a must-read.

Note: Massive trigger warning for suicide, body horror/gore, emotional abuse, and cutting/self harm if you plan on reading this book.


Additional Info

Published: September 27th 2016
Pages: 278
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Genre: YA / Horror
ISBN: 9780373211944

Synopsis:
"Lucy Acosta's mother died when she was three. Growing up in a Victorian mansion in the middle of the woods with her cold, distant father, she explored the dark hallways of the estate with her cousin, Margaret. They're inseparable—a family.  

When her aunt Penelope, the only mother she's ever known, tragically disappears while walking in the woods surrounding their estate, Lucy finds herself devastated and alone. Margaret has been spending a lot of time in the attic. She claims she can hear her dead mother's voice whispering from the walls. Emotionally shut out by her father, Lucy watches helplessly as her cousin's sanity slowly unravels. But when she begins hearing voices herself, Lucy finds herself confronting an ancient and deadly legacy that has marked the women in her family for generations.
 "(Source: Goodreads)



Have any horror books scared you lately?

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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?

Continue Reading...

Sunday, January 8, 2017

[Review] The One Memory of Flora Banks - Emily Barr: No Short Term Memory and Romanticization

In THE ONE MEMORY OF FLORA BANKS, Flora has no short term memory but when she kisses her best friend's boyfriend, the memory somehow seems to stick.

What intrigued me: I love the movie Memento.

Compelling story and interesting concept

THE ONE MEMORY OF FLORA BANKS is unlike anything I've ever read. Barr uses the premise cleverly to establish a compelling story. In some parts it gets a little repetitive because Flora constantly needs to be reminded of basic info about herself. Paired with the writing that feels very Middle Grade, it's certainly not the right pick for everyone.

What I cherished the most about THE ONE MEMORY OF FLORA BANKS is that each scene works as a standalone. You could basically start reading anywhere and still have no issue following the story. The unreliable narration aspect is surely the most enjoyable and unique thing about this novel.

But at the end of the day I just have tremendous problems with the story that I just cannot overlook. I would've loved THE ONE MEMORY OF FLORA BANKS if it wouldn't venture into the dangerous territory of romanticization. Had the memory just been something else. Sigh.

Insensitive and romanticizing

As someone with a chronic illness that does affect their memory, I just have to make remarks about the problematicness of this narrative. The whole premise of Flora remembering nothing since the accident that left her without a short term memory but then suddenly falling in love with a boy and getting cured...? Oh hell no. 

Flora even says this herself that Drake's kiss "healed" her brain. This is exactly where THE ONE MEMORY OF FLORA BANKS ventures into difficult and problematic territory. I stopped identifying with Flora's story the second it became about the boy. Barr deeply romanticizes her illness, suggesting that love is all she needs to be "normal". Being neurotypical is the desired goal here and THE ONE MEMORY OF FLORA BANKS more than just once clearly states that Flora's illness is something that has to be overcome and a hinderance. While I understand that she thinks like this to some degree, Barr doesn't try to open a dialogue about this.

Flora is constantly portrayed as a weird outsider that has no chance of ever being like her peers. The antagonist of the story is Flora's illness. And this is just so damaging, so unnecessary. THE ONE MEMORY OF FLORA BANKS uses her illness as a gimmick to tell an ~edgy~ story instead of even remotely considering that there are people out there who are affected with similar illnesses. It's insensitive. Very much unapologetically so and I just can't condone this, I just can't ignore all this and rate this based on the entertainment factor. Chronically ill people are not your gimmick. We are not your edgy premise.



Rating:

☆☆

 



Overall: Do I Recommend?

THE ONE MEMORY OF FLORA BANKS isn't a story for chronically-ill people or anyone who struggles with serious memory problems. At no point does it try to give representation to sick people - it only wants to give healthy people an edgy premise to be entertained by. I found it very insensitive and offensive as someone with serious memory problems due to chronic illness. Can we just stop pretending falling in love cures all illnesses?



Additional Info

Published: 12th January 2017
Pages: 320
Publisher: Penguin
Genre: YA / Contemporary
ISBN: 9780141368511

Synopsis:
"Seventeen-year-old Flora Banks has no short-term memory. Her mind resets itself several times a day, and has since the age of ten, when the tumor that was removed from Flora’s brain took with it her ability to make new memories. That is, until she kisses Drake, her best friend's boyfriend, the night before he leaves town. Miraculously, this one memory breaks through Flora's fractured mind, and sticks. Flora is convinced that Drake is responsible for restoring her memory and making her whole again. So when an encouraging email from Drake suggests she meet him on the other side of the world, Flora knows with certainty that this is the first step toward reclaiming her life.

With little more than the words "be brave" inked into her skin, and written reminders of who she is and why her memory is so limited, Flora sets off on an impossible journey to Svalbard, Norway—the land of the midnight sun—determined to find Drake. But from the moment she arrives in the arctic, nothing is quite as it seems, and Flora must "be brave" if she is ever to learn the truth about herself, and to make it safely home."(Source: Goodreads)



Have you ever read books with unreliable narrators?

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Thursday, January 5, 2017

[Review] Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles #1) - Marissa Meyer: Cyborgs and Cultural Appropriation





In CINDER, cyborg Cinder gets mixed up in royal business and a conspiracy when her stepsister catches the Plague.


What intrigued me: I'm the last person on this planet that hasn't read this.

A horrific lack of... well, everything?

Bland is probably the most fitting word to describe the world of CINDER. What initially got me interested in this novel was the so highly-acclaimed and praised imaginative world. I was expecting top-notch world building and a lot of creativity. I was surprised to find neither in this novel. 

Meyer applies a very amateurish technique when it comes to establishing her world - throwing around words with no meaning and expecting the reader to buy this. Nod and smile. The Lunar people who are barely in this book yet make up a huge chunk of the blurb, aren't explained at all. Why are cyborgs outcasts? How do Lunars get their power? How did humanity colonize the Moon? CINDER fails at even establishing the most basic questions about this world.

Following this trend, the plot isn't even worth mentioning, neither are the characters. Instead of a retelling, I'd simply call this a reproduction of the original, throwing in the cyborg thing. It's predictable, and the characters have an astonishing lack of personality. The only character that I found remotely interesting is Queen Levana, who is basically the YA equivalent of a Disney villain that's evil for evil's sake. Yawn.

People of color are NOT your aesthetic

Aside from the sheer boringness of the plot the one thing that upsets me, offends me, and makes me quite sad that people don't talk about more is the fact that CINDER simply uses Chinese characters, imagery, and culture for aesthetics.

You can absolutely tell that there went no thought and no research into developing New Beijing, aside from creating a generic Chinese town. The characters have Chinese names, there are bits and bobs you've probably recognized from every Hollywood movie set in China ever, but not a hint of Chinese culture. The characters aren't Chinese, they are white people dressing up. Meyer's characters are wearing a POC costume, just for the sake of being able to say that this is a diverse book. This is not a diverse book. 

This is not the kind of representation people of color want, care for, or appreciate. This is cultural appropriation actually. Of course there are always people who'll say "hey, it's fiction, let her do what she wants", which I consider absolutely irrelevant to the point. Had Meyer bothered to add an ounce of actual Chinese customs and culture in this, even tried instead of just throwing Chinese names around thinking that's enough for world building, I wouldn't have been so harsh.



Rating:

☆☆

 



Overall: Do I Recommend?

CINDER is an absolute disappointment. The blatant use of a "foreign" culture for aesthetics is simply appalling, only surpassed by the boring characters and lack of world building.

Link to a review by an Asian reviewer who basically said the same thing.


Additional Info

Published: January 3rd 2012
Pages: 390
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Genre: YA / Dystopian
ISBN: 9780312641894

Synopsis:
"Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl.

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.
 "(Source: Goodreads)

Have you read CINDER?

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