Posts Categorized: Reviews

Review: The Hearts We Sold by Emily Lloyd-Jones

January 5, 2018 Reviews 0 ★★★★½

Review: The Hearts We Sold by Emily Lloyd-JonesThe Hearts We Sold by Emily Lloyd-Jones
Published by Little Brown BFYR on August 8, 2017
Genres: YA, YA Horror, YA Paranormal
Pages: 400
Format: Hardcover
Source: finished copy from Amazon Vine
Goodreads
four-half-stars
When Dee Moreno makes a deal with a demon—her heart in exchange for an escape from a disastrous home life—she finds the trade may have been more than she bargained for. And becoming “heartless” is only the beginning. What lies ahead is a nightmare far bigger, far more monstrous than anything she could have ever imagined.

With reality turned on its head, Dee has only a group of other deal-making teens to keep her grounded, including the charming but secretive James Lancer. And as something grows between them amid an otherworldy ordeal, Dee begins to wonder: Can she give someone her heart when it’s no longer hers to give?

But Who Does it Represent?

  • Dee is a Latina girl from an abusive, alcoholic home
  • Riley is trans

Ah, a novel in which someone might say “it cost me an arm and a leg” and mean it literally! The novel’s blend of magical realism and the paranormal entertains with its team of portal destroyers and brave, desperate heroine Dee as much as it horrifies with its homunculi and the more mundane, reality-grounded horror of exactly why Dee sold her heart away for boarding school tuition money.

The outlandish and the unfortunately everyday blend seamlessly, though the novel’s pacing is a bit lax and it’s somewhat repetitive toward the middle. Luckily, James and Dee’s developing romance helps pick up some of the slack. One major event that isn’t satisfactorily handled may ruin the book for some readers, but I found myself engaged enough that I overlooked it for a while.

And that ending? I CRIED A LOT, READER. Though I find it unlikely I’ll reread this book due to those waterworks, it’s going on that bookshelf I reserve for all books with value to me as a writer–because it gave me some serious writerly inspiration.

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Review: The Rose Society by Marie Lu

January 4, 2018 Reviews 0 ★★

Review: The Rose Society by Marie LuThe Rose Society by Marie Lu
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons BFYR on October 13, 2015
Genres: YA, YA Fantasy
Pages: 400
Format: Paperback
Source: Bought (Used Bookstore)
Goodreads
two-stars
Once upon a time, a girl had a father, a prince, a society of friends. Then they betrayed her, and she destroyed them all.

Adelina Amouteru’s heart has suffered at the hands of both family and friends, turning her down the bitter path of revenge. Now known and feared as the White Wolf, she flees Kenettra with her sister to find other Young Elites in the hopes of building her own army of allies. Her goal: to strike down the Inquisition Axis, the white-cloaked soldiers who nearly killed her.

But Adelina is no heroine. Her powers, fed only by fear and hate, have started to grow beyond her control. She does not trust her newfound Elite friends. Teren Santoro, leader of the Inquisition, wants her dead. And her former friends, Raffaele and the Dagger Society, want to stop her thirst for vengeance. Adelina struggles to cling to the good within her. But how can someone be good when her very existence depends on darkness?

Bestselling author Marie Lu delivers another heart-pounding adventure in this exhilarating sequel to The Young Elites.

(My reviews are likely going to turn out short like this more often. I have three or four ready and literally written on the backs of advent calendar pages. The only time I have now to write reviews is during my lunch break!)

But Who Does It Represent?

  • Adelina is missing an eye and starts hearing whispers/voices in her head; harmful rep on the latter
  • Plenty of brown-skinned characters like Raffaele
  • Maeve and one of the Daggers are in love but are kept apart because Maeve needs an heir and her lover refuses to be a mistress

Just like its predecessor The Young Elites, The Rose Society sucks you into its world so you can have some fun and tune out the mess that is our world. The storyline is genuinely engaging, as is Adelina’s turn to the dark side. Between everything she’s been through and the toll her illusionary powers are taking on her mind, she goes to some very dark places in what is hands-down Lu’s darkest book.

What’s less impressive are the deeply ableist stereotypes fallen back on via Adelina’s auditory hallucinations. These whispers encourage her to kill and generally be evil, playing a large part in Adelina’s journey toward villainy. This link between the voices and evil actively encourages the prejudice and discrimination those who live with auditory hallucinations have to deal with daily. That extends to mental illness as a whole as well. On an entirely difficult to understand Magiano’s attraction to Adelina in light of his characterization.

I don’t think I’m gonna bother finishing the series.

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Review: Before I Let Go by Marieke Nijkamp

January 1, 2018 Diversity 4, Reviews 1 ★★★★★

Review: Before I Let Go by Marieke NijkampBefore I Let Go by Marieke Nijkamp
Published by Sourcebooks Fire on January 23, 2018
Genres: Mystery, Suspense, YA, YA Contemporary, YA Horror, YA Thriller
Pages: 368
Format: eARC
Source: eARC via NetGalley, YA Books Central
Goodreads
five-stars
Days before Corey is to return home to the snow and ice of Lost Creek, Alaska, to visit her best friend, Kyra dies. Corey is devastated―and confused. The entire Lost community speaks in hushed tones about the town's lost daughter, saying her death was meant to be. And they push Corey away like she's a stranger.

Corey knows something is wrong. Lost is keeping secrets―chilling secrets. But piecing together the truth about what happened to her best friend may prove as difficult as lighting the sky in an Alaskan winter...

But Does It Represent?

  • #ownvoices asexual representation in Corey
  • Kyra is pansexual and has bipolar disorder
  • Roshan and Sam are gay and together
  • Roshan and his father are Indian and from the UK
  • Native and indigenous people are mentioned regularly but never appear on the page

Ah, Alaska: the US state where the people have Canadian accents, can see Russia from their backyards, and have one of the only decent Republicans in the entirety of Congress. (Their senator Lisa Murkowski has been instrumental in stopping ACA repeals, though her general record is spotty and she’s very pro-gun.) You won’t find many YA books set in Alaska and now Before I Let Go joins the small club. It also joins the “books I’m gonna get but never reread” because it’s SO GOOD but omfg I can’t put myself through this book again. MY HEART.

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Review: Echo After Echo by Amy Rose Capetta

October 27, 2017 Diversity 3, Reviews 0 ★★★★

Review: Echo After Echo by Amy Rose CapettaEcho After Echo by Amy Rose Capetta
Published by Candlewick Press on October 10, 2017
Genres: Mystery, YA, YA Contemporary
Pages: 432
Format: ARC
Source: YA Books Central
Goodreads
four-stars
Debuting on the New York stage, Zara is unprepared—for Eli, the girl who makes the world glow; for Leopold, the director who wants perfection; and for death in the theater.

Zara Evans has come to the Aurelia Theater, home to the visionary director Leopold Henneman, to play her dream role in Echo and Ariston, the Greek tragedy that taught her everything she knows about love. When the director asks Zara to promise that she will have no outside commitments, no distractions, it’s easy to say yes. But it’s hard not to be distracted when there’s a death at the theater—and then another—especially when Zara doesn’t know if they’re accidents, or murder, or a curse that always comes in threes. It’s hard not to be distracted when assistant lighting director Eli Vasquez, a girl made of tattoos and abrupt laughs and every form of light, looks at Zara. It’s hard not to fall in love. In heart-achingly beautiful prose, Amy Rose Capetta has spun a mystery and a love story into an impossible, inevitable whole—and cast lantern light on two girls, finding each other on a stage set for tragedy.

Diversity Rating: 3 – Closer to Reality

Racial-Ethnic: 3 (Eli is Puerto Rican, Zara is culturally Jewish)
QUILTBAG: 5 (Eli is a lesbian, Zara is bi, and there are plenty of QUILTBAG side characters)
Disability: 0
Intersectionality: 3

Much like we now own every rainbow in existence, queer people own the world of theater. We may not always be visible, but we’re definitely there. (I’m always in the audience. I may be ridiculously dramatic, but I can’t act in front of a crowd to save my life nor reliably work backstage.) If you’ve been waiting around for a theater book starring queer girls–because the gay guys who make up the G in QUILTBAG get almost all the queer rep–you’ve got that rep now in Echo After Echo and it is good.
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Review: Karma Khullar’s Mustache by Kristi Wientge

October 25, 2017 Diversity 3, Reviews 0 ★★★★½

Review: Karma Khullar’s Mustache by Kristi WientgeKarma Khullar's Mustache by Kristi Wientge
Published by Simon and Schuster BFYR on August 15, 2017
Genres: MG Contemporary
Pages: 272
Format: ARC
Source: YA Books Central
Goodreads
four-half-stars
Debut author Kristi Wientge tackles the uncomfortable—but all too relatable—subject of female body hair and self-esteem with this sweet and charming novel in the tradition of Judy Blume.

Karma Khullar is about to start middle school, and she is super nervous. Not just because it seems like her best friend has found a newer, blonder best friend. Or the fact that her home life is shaken up by the death of her dadima. Or even that her dad is the new stay-at-home parent, leading her mother to spend most of her time at work. But because she’s realized that she has seventeen hairs that have formed a mustache on her upper lip.

With everyone around her focused on other things, Karma is left to figure out what to make of her terrifyingly hairy surprise all on her own.

Diversity: 3 – Closer to Reality

Racial-Ethnic: 5 (Karma is Sikh through her father and turns to her faith to help her cope with being bullied)
QUILTBAG: 0
Disability: 0
Intersectionality: 2

They are truths universally acknowledged that middle school is terrible and body hair is annoying. I don’t actually have much of an issue with body hair, luckily. Armpit hair is so nonexistent it’s only a twice-a-year thing and my legs get taken care of every three months just so I don’t feel like bugs are constantly crawling on me. (I use hair-removal lotion due to the traumatic incident of me cutting open my pinkie toe with a razor when I was four.) Not here for that TMI? TOO BAD, THIS BOOK IS ALL ABOUT BODY HAIR. And also one adorable little girl named Karma whose best friend is dumping her for the new girl. Read more »

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Review: Now is Everything by Amy Giles

October 23, 2017 Diversity 1, Reviews 0 ½

Review: Now is Everything by Amy GilesNow is Everything by Amy Giles
Published by HarperTeen on November 7, 2017
Genres: YA, YA Contemporary
Pages: 368
Format: eARC
Source: eARC via Edelweiss
Goodreads
half-star
Now Is Everything is a stirring debut novel told in alternating THEN and NOW chapters, perfect for Sarah Dessen and Jennifer Niven fans, about what one girl is willing to do to protect her past, present, and future.

The McCauleys look perfect on the outside. But nothing is ever as it seems, and this family is hiding a dark secret.

Hadley McCauley will do anything to keep her sister safe from their father. But when Hadley’s forbidden relationship with Charlie Simmons deepens, the violence at home escalates, culminating in an explosive accident that will leave everyone changed.

When Hadley attempts to take her own life at the hospital post-accident, her friends, doctors, family, and the investigator on the case want to know why. Only Hadley knows what really happened that day, and she’s not talking.

Trigger warning: Now is Everything is about child abuse and also features a brief but graphic moment of self-harm via a suicide attempt.

Whoo, what a disappointment! Now is Everything had me excited to begin with, seeing as it opens with Hadley being pulled from the scene of a plane crash followed by pieces of interviews with her friends as investigators try to figure out what caused the crash. It doesn’t stay good for long. Instead, it devolves into a book flatter than the paper it’s written on.

The characters are flat enough to be described by their roles rather than who they actually are. Hadley is the Main Character, Charlie the Boyfriend, Meaghan and Noah the Best Friends (Noah is the Gay Best Friend specifically), Claudia is the Slutty Mean Girl, and so on.

Claudia’s characterization is especially appalling. I’ve gotten used to YA books that break down the boundaries of the trope and make sure the antagonistic role is filled by a more nuanced character readers can’t dismiss so easily as the Mean Girl. Meanwhile, we have Claudia, who very openly offers Hadley’s boyfriend a blow job while she’s drunk.

Our most noteworthy example of bad characterization actually comes from Lila, Hadley’s angelic, precocious ten-year-old sister. Lila exists not as a character but as a plot device, something precious for Hadley to protect from their abusive, controlling father. There’s nothing wrong with her, but there’s nothing right either. I was dealing with bullies and getting my first school referral at ten, but Lila doesn’t seem to have anything of her own going on! She’s just kinda there and cute.

There is some merit to the book as an exploration of parent-child physical and emotional abuse, but when other books can approach the same issue and actually draw you in with the skilled writing and deft characterization, why bother with this one?

After half the book, I started skipping the more plentiful “Then” chapters to read the “Now” and it didn’t feel like I was missing much. I gathered what was going on: increasing tension between Hadley and her abusive father, her mom not helping, her little sister Lila being a sweet angel she wanted to protect, her friends and boyfriend being around, etc. But then Hadley realizes that her father is planning to make Lila “shape up” into a proper daughter now that she’s ten years old–the same age at which he literally beat Hadley into the perfect lacrosse-playing, plane-flying child he wanted, breaking her bones until what came back together was to his liking.

She’s not going to let precocious little Lila go through the same hell she did.

Set-ups like this are literally what Battered Woman Syndrome is made of! It promises a glimpse at how far an abused person will go to save either themselves or their most precious person–in Hadley’s case, Lila–from their abuser. In fact, we do see Hadley make preparations to do what she has to in order to keep Lila safe from years of beatings and conditioning and the loss of the little girl sweetness Hadley loves her so much for.

But at this pivotal moment that offers the one point of moral complexity in the entire book, we lose it all. View Spoiler »

There are better books out there that cover similar topics to Now is Everything, like Thicker Than Water by Kelly Fiore. Though it covers abuse by a sibling and drug addiction rather than abuse by a parent and the ending is similarly disappointing, its characters are more complex and the book remains memorable even a year and a half later! Even “tragedy porn” books like A List of Cages by Robin Roe does it better thanks to vivid characterization and an ending unafraid of letting characters suffer long-lasting consequences! Reader, you can easily find books more worth your time than this one.

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Review: Dear Martin by Nic Stone

October 9, 2017 Diversity 4, Reviews 0 ★★★★½

Review: Dear Martin by Nic StoneDear Martin by Nic Stone
Published by Crown on October 17, 2017
Genres: YA, YA Contemporary
Pages: 224
Format: eARC
Source: eARC via NetGalley, YA Books Central
Goodreads
four-half-stars
Justyce McAllister is top of his class, captain of the debate team, and set for the Ivy League next year—but none of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs. He is eventually released without charges (or an apology), but the incident has Justyce spooked. Despite leaving his rough neighborhood, he can’t seem to escape the scorn of his former peers or the attitude of his prep school classmates. The only exception: Sarah Jane, Justyce’s gorgeous—and white—debate partner he wishes he didn’t have a thing for.

Struggling to cope with it all, Justyce starts a journal to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. But do Dr. King’s teachings hold up in the modern world? Justyce isn’t so sure.

Then comes the day Justyce goes driving with his best friend, Manny, windows rolled down, music turned up. Way up. Much to the fury of the white off-duty cop beside them. Words fly. Shots are fired. And Justyce and Manny get caught in the crosshairs. In the media fallout, it’s Justyce who is under attack. The truth of what happened that night—some would kill to know. Justyce is dying to forget.

Diversity Rating: 4 – This Is Our World

Racial-Ethnic: 5 (Blackness is centered through the novel by Jus’s own experience with police brutality and his friend’s death halfway through; his love interest Sarah Jane is Jewish)
QUILTBAG: 0
Disability: 2 (after being shot halfway through the book, a bunch of nerves in one of Justyce’s arms are messed up and he has to relearn use of the limb)
Intersectionality: 4 (covers a lot of what black boys and men face but neglects the black woman’s perspective)

First off, black teens’ opinions on Dear Martin are worth much more than mine and you should seek out their reviews first before bothering with my white woman opinion. Being that I am a white woman, this book isn’t for me and there are a lot of small cultural touchstones that I won’t get but that black teens will. Doesn’t make it any less brilliant! I wanted to flip through some quotes in my eARC before I wrote my review, but I ended up rereading the entire book.

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