Posted in Book Review Tuesday

Book Review Tuesday (11/29/22) – The All-Consuming World

Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles!

I never learn, do I? Every few weeks, I always start craving sci-fi again, and when there’s nothing readily available at the library or on Kindle, I just sift through the dust bunnies in my TBR until I find something interesting. And to be fair, The All-Consuming World did sound interesting. I was willing to give it a chance despite the pitifully low ratings it’s been getting (a 3.28/5 on Goodreads, as of now), but it turned out to be exactly the disappointment that the reviews promised.

Enjoy this week’s review!

The All-Consuming World – Cassandra Khaw

Maya’s glory days are over. After being resurrected dozens of times, she’s slowly outgrown the Dirty Dozen, the galaxy’s most infamous criminal group, and decided to make her own way. But when the galaxy’s ruler, an all-powerful, sentient AI, threatens to hold their realm in a chokehold, it’s up to Maya to recruit the disbanded bunch of cyborgs, clones, and lowlives to save the galaxy from complete control.

TW/CW: body horror, sci-fi violence, amputation/emergency medical procedures, suicide

DNF at 35%.

I genuinely can’t think of a book with a more jarring writing style than this one. Jarring can sometimes be good, but in the case of The All-Consuming World, it seemed like a case of vast stylistic indecision, and this indecision dragged the entire book down with it. I really wanted to like this book—queer space opera is always up my alley, and I always want to try and support queer authors—but it ended up being a sore disappointment all the way through. (What I could stand to read before I gave up, anyway.) As I always say with my negative reviews: I completely understand. Putting yourself out there as an author is an immensely hard thing to do, and I always admire the work put in. But this book just did not click with me at all.

The writing style is what, for me, made The All-Consuming World crash and burn. Maya was clearly supposed to be a rough-around-the-edges character, battered and bruised, and all around Tough and Gritty™️, and at least half what I read seemed to try and get that voice…with at least 15 f-bombs dropped within rapid succession of each other on each page. Now, I don’t have a problem with swearing at all, and I appreciate the art of a well-placed, well-timed swear. But the excess of ill-placed cusses (along with more f-bombs than there are leaves on the trees in the Amazon Rainforest)—half of which were in combinations that made absolutely no sense at all—made for writing that read more like a middle schooler trying to be edgy than a tough and hardened criminal.

But on the other hand, the other half of what I read was some of the wordiest, floweriest prose I’ve ever read. And some of that had moments of being good—I’ll give Khaw some credit for that—but it was such a jarring contrast. Sometimes, juxtaposition like this works, but the two, distinct voices that Khaw was trying to go for had such a vast gulf in tone between them that it lacked any sense of cohesion whatsoever. I really wanted to stick it out to see what happened, but it was just giving me such a headache to try and weather the writing, so I had to quit.

I stopped at 35% of the way through, and I still don’t have a clue what was going on, plot-wise. I seriously can’t remember if there was a plot beneath all of the flashbacks and exposition, impenetrable prose, and multitudinous f-bombs. From the synopsis, I was told that Dimmuborgir was supposed to be a central plot point, but I only remember it being mentioned a single time. Yes, 35% of the way in isn’t all that far, but that close to the halfway point, I would’ve thought that the characters would have at least moved the slightest bit towards their destination. It was all very…vague. Vague sense of rebellion towards a vague concept of an omniscient, ruling AI with a vague set of characters that fell into either AI or Hardened Criminal™️ boxes. And the worldbuilding? Left the building before the book had even begun. Trying to read The All-Consuming World felt like trying to dig through a messy closet, and emerging an hour later without having found the thing you needed to find in the first place.

All in all, a book that it pains me to rate so low, but crashed and burned in almost every conceivable aspect. 1 star.

The All-Consuming World is a standalone, but Cassandra Khaw is also the author of the Persons Non Grata series (Hammers on Bone and A Song for Quiet), Nothing but Blackened Teeth, These Deathless Bones, and several other novels and novellas.

Today’s song:

BACK TO BLUR AGAIN!! so far, this is my least favorite album of theirs that I’ve listened to, but it’s still a fantastic listen—take this song, for instance

That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!

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Book Review Tuesday (11/22/22) – The Depths

Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles!

I found out about The Depths after Nicole Lesperance’s other YA novel, The Wide Starlight, was my first 5-star read of the year. (For my review of The Wide Starlight, click here!) After it came out, I was excited to read it after how much The Wide Starlight impacted me. I knew going into The Depths that it would be a very different kind of book, and that was certainly the case—compared to Starlight, it was a slight disappointment, but when separated from Lesperance’s other works, it’s a unique horror story with a creative setting.

Enjoy this week’s review!

The Depths – Nicole Lesperance

After a free-diving accident left her medically dead for several minutes, 17-year-old Adeline Spencer has to tag along with her mother and step-father on their honeymoon. In a secluded, nearly uninhabited island, Addie is supposed to stay put while she recovers from her near-fatal lung injury. But Eulalie Island is full of strange secrets—birds that seem to call her name, flowers that bleed bloodred sap, and a 200-year history of mysterious deaths. When she uncovers a centuries-old mystery hidden in a remote cave system , Addie must rescue herself from the same fate before Eulalie Island takes her in as one of its own.

TW/CW (from the author): death, past child death, blood, drowning, venomous insects/arachnids (spiders, centipedes, etc.)

I’m not much of a horror person, but after The Wide Starlight captured my heart, I was willing to give this novel a try. Sadly, The Depths didn’t blow me away like her previous novel did, but it still held its own with its unique take on a spine-chilling ghost story.

What really saved The Depths for me was its unique approach to the genre. Even though I don’t read/watch much horror at all, I’ve seen hardly any horror stories that take place in tropical locations. The secluded setting of Eulalie Island was the perfect, underused setup for a story like this—a chilling history of shipwrecks and sickness, cave systems that are all too easy to get lost in, and plenty of creepy crawlies to go around—not to mention the color-changing flowers that appear to bleed. (If I hadn’t already been dissuaded before, The Depths further convinced me that I’m not going caving any time soon.) Despite the supernatural elements, there were so many elements that felt real, and that’s part of what made it so successful. The Depths is a fantastic case study in using all aspects of your setting to make the most of your story.

I also love how Lesperance wove all of these centuries of history into her mystery; it’s easy to establish recurring events in your story, but the detail that she put into each part of the timeline—plus the presence of the ghosts and each one of their stories—gave the plot a more tangible sense of scale and weight. Even though I’ve repeated that The Wide Starlight and The Depths are two very different novels, when they stand together, you can see how skilled Lesperance is with building history and establishing a clear and well-thought-out timeline.

However, I found several elements of the story to be rather predictable. As detailed as the timeline was, the “plot twists” were often left behind, making for plot points that were easy to see coming—and I’m saying this as someone who hardly ever reads or watches horror. Without spoiling anything, the most obvious was the twist with Sean—I remember seeing that one coming from at least 100 pages before it was revealed. To be fair, it was at least a decently clever twist, but the fact that it was so easy to predict took a little bit away from my enjoyment of the story, even though I’m not the best at maneuvering plot twists.

All in all, a solid horror story that excelled in its unique setting, but fell flat in its predictability. 3.5 stars!

The Depths is a standalone, but Nicole Lesperance is also the author of The Wide Starlight, as well as the middle grade Nightmare Thief duology (The Nightmare Thief and The Dream Spies).

Today’s song:

the single most unexpectedly motivational song I’ve ever heard and I LOVE it

That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!

Posted in Book Review Tuesday

Book Review Tuesday (11/15/22) – She Gets the Girl

Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles! Even more snow today…

I initially put She Gets the Girl on my TBR because of so much buzz from my fellow bloggers, and I like to go for a queer romance every once in a while. I read it recently and I liked that it was from the perspective of a freshman in college (hey, it’s me!), but beyond that, it felt more like a mess of unlikeable characters and uncomfortable peer pressure instead of feel-good romance.

Enjoy this week’s review!

She Gets the Girl – Rachael Lippincott and Alyson Derrick

Alex Blackwood is entering college on the heels of a nasty breakup. Molly Parker is looking for love, and she’s in luck—her longtime crush, Cora Myers, is attending the same college as her. Problem is, Molly’s hopelessly awkward, especially around people she likes. When she and Alex have a chance encounter, they hatch a plan for Alex to polish up Molly’s flirting skills so that she can get the girl. But when Molly starts falling for Alex instead of Cora, the end goal becomes hazy…

TW/CW: alcoholism, toxic relationships, internalized racism, substance abuse

It’s all fun and games until the romance you picked up because you wanted it to be somewhat “feel-good” turns out to be…more uncomfortable than feel-good. It’s even harder when you hate one of the characters, and harder still when the two main characters seem to have hardly any chemistry. That’s the story of She Gets the Girl—a romance with an easy enough concept that was dragged down by forced and unlikable elements.

I’m sorry, I just have to get it out of the way: I hated Alex Blackwood. Hated her. It was clear that the authors were trying to make her a rough-around-the-edges character that would a) contrast Molly’s uptight and awkward personality and b) push her out of her comfort zone, which was a good enough pairing in concept. Key words here are “in concept.” What Alex ended up being was a total hypocrite—she’s so intent on being the opposite of her toxic ex, but turns around and manages to be just as toxic, just in a different way. And the whole concept of pushing Molly out of her comfort zone so that she can get with Cora? Most of it just ended up being Alex forcing Molly to do things that she was deeply uncomfortable with.

Thus, Molly and Alex had almost zero chemistry. Their entire relationship was built on the shaky foundation of knowing that they would end up together by the end of the book, and not much else. Everything was just…so forced. It’s heavily implied that Cora wasn’t a good option either since, yes, it as forced, but…I really don’t think dating Alex would’ve been a great option either, seeing as how much of a manipulative jerk she was to Molly. Proposed third option: Molly just takes off and finds better friends/lovers that…y’know, aren’t toxic?

That brings me to the weird message of this book. Throughout the book, all of the things that Alex pushes Molly to do to win Cora’s love involve changing herself in some way: changing her wardrobe into things she would normally be uncomfortable wearing, going to events that you have no experience in just to fit in with Cora, etc. It was sort of resolved by the relationship with Cora not working out, but Alex’s “advice” boiled down to Molly changing herself so that Cora would like her. I suppose they were trying to go with a “be true to yourself” message, which I really would’ve liked, but they resolved it by…pairing Molly with Alex, the one who was trying to force Molly to change in the first place. And Alex never apologizes for any of that—they just fall in love and then move on. Hence—no chemistry. No repercussions, save for the fling with Cora not working out. All that really happened was Alex’s manipulative actions being rewarded, which really rubbed me the wrong way. Even though Molly and Alex got into an argument about that, there was no sense of Alex taking responsibility for forcing Molly into all that uncomfortable stuff. I really wish Lippincott and Derrick had handled their relationship—and the message—better. She Gets the Girl had an easy way to send a good message, but it ended up bungling it all in the end.

There were a few aspects of She Gets the Girl that I did like. It’s always nice to have a mixed race character, and having Molly be mixed race really freshened things up, as well as some of the discussions about internalized racism. Even though I still despise Alex, the way they handled the situation with her mother was also respectfully handled—hard to read, but it seemed genuine to me. However, a lot of this ended up being overshadowed by how much of a mess the rest of the book was.

Overall, a romance that stumbled and fell when creating chemistry between the two characters, making for an uncomfortable book—and an uncomfortable message. 2 stars.

She Gets the Girl is a standalone, and the first and only book that Rachael Lippincott has written with her wife, Alyson Derrick. Lippincott is also the author of Five Feet Apart and All This Time (both co-written with Mikki Daughtry), as well as The Lucky List.

Today’s song:

listened to the whole album yesterday! it was one of those cases where I listened to all of the best songs beforehand so the rest of the album wasn’t *as* good (still good though), but it’s a great album

That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!

Posted in Book Review Tuesday

Book Review Tuesday (11/8/22) – Huntress (Ash, #0.5)

Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles!

Huntress is one of those books that just sat on my TBR collecting dust for several years. I decided to read it after finishing Ash a few years back, and I finally was able to get my hands on a copy from the university library. After remembering liking Ash, my expectations were average, and I was rewarded with a solid, strong fairytale full of darkness in unexpected places.

Huntress is technically a prequel, but it doesn’t necessarily require reading Ash beforehand, as its set in the same world, but hundreds of years earlier (you should read it anyway, though!). If you’d like to read my review of Ash, click here!

Enjoy this week’s review!

Huntress (Ash, #0.5) – Malinda Lo

Kaede and Taisin have been chosen for an insurmountable task: restoring order to the human world. For years, the sun hasn’t shone, the crops have dried up, and strange creatures have begun to breach the boundaries of human and otherworldly. The only way for them to seek answers is through the mysterious Fairy Queen, but the journey there may be more dangerous than what lies at the end. But as members of their party begin to die off, Kaede and Taisin must grapple with their futures—the future of the human world, and of the feelings they’re having for each other.

TW/CW: blood, fantasy violence, death, descriptions of injuries/corpses

“I don’t want to marry the man you arranged for me to marry because I don’t know him and I want to have control over my life”: good, good

“I don’t want to marry the man you arranged for me to marry because I don’t know him, I want to have control over my life, and also I’m a lesbian”: EVEN BETTER

It’s been a few years since I’ve read Ash, but reading Huntress doesn’t necessarily require a whole lot of knowledge of Ash‘s world to understand it. What remains, however, is that you have to remember that it was some of the first of its kind. Nowadays, YA is dominated by fairytale-inspired and fairytale retellings, some of which are queer, but stories like Ash and this companion were some of the first ones to do so—and some of the first to be openly queer. If you remember that (and if you can get past the painfully dated cover), you’re in for a fun ride—a dark and atmospheric piece of high fantasy filled with all sorts of danger and strange creatures.

Lo’s world is pretty distinctly High Fantasy™️, which I’ve been jaded with as of late, but her unique spin on it was enough to create a captivating world. Although the magic system was a little hazy, Lo’s descriptions of the barren landscape and treacherous forests created a world that felt real enough to step into. Even more captivating were the creatures that inhabited this world—everything from unicorns to horrifying changelings; the mythology around them and the stakes they created propelled the story even more. Plus, it’s always refreshing to have non-European inspiration for a high fantasy novel; in the author’s note, Lo explains that most of the book was inspired by both Chinese and Japanese mythology.

What I remember about Ash was how much I loved the main couple, but with Huntress, that was a little bit less of the case. In fact, I found Kaede and Taisin to be almost interchangeable (accentuated by the sporadic POV changes), but still compelling enough to root for. Most of the other characters were rather underdeveloped and forgettable, but Lo has a grim solution for the problem—killing them off. For me, it was Con who stole the show; he was the only character with a distinct personality, and it was a very lovable one at that. He’s the kind of character who probably would’ve been lumped in as the love interest in any other YA book, but having him as a platonic friend was so much more endearing.

Even though I loved Lo’s worldbuilding, I still wish that more was explored; we only got tidbits of the creatures in the Fairy Queen’s kingdom, and especially since the main villain was introduced so late in the book, I wished that we’d spent less time on the road and more time near the destination. The journey was interesting, sure, but it would’ve been more interesting to explore the more alien, unfamiliar corners of the world Lo created.

All in all, a solid piece of fantasy that made good use of its dark, barren atmosphere, but could’ve pushed it even further. 3.5 stars!

Huntress is a prequel to Ash, and they are the only books set in that universe. Malinda Lo is also the author of Last Night at the Telegraph Club, the Adaptation duology (consisting of Adaptation and Inheritance), and several other books for teens and adults.

Today’s song:

found this and “Metal Mickey” in a video somebody made of a medley of Britpop riffs, and…maybe I should check them out now?

That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!

Posted in Book Review Tuesday

Book Review Tuesday (11/1/22) – I Am the Ghost in Your House

Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles! I hope you all had a safe and spooky Halloween!! I went to class (and took a stats test) dressed up as Columbia from The Rocky Horror Picture Show (in the pajamas and the Mickey Mouse ears), so that was a lot of fun, even though I didn’t see a bunch of other people dressed up. I guess most of the Halloween festivities happened over the weekend. Oh well.

I picked this book up on a whim while scrolling through the books on my Libby wishlist to see what was available. The cover was already eye-catching (no pun intended), but I didn’t expect for I Am the Ghost in Your House to hit as hard as it did—stunning prose and a poignant, strange story to match.

Enjoy this week’s review!

I Am the Ghost in Your House – Mar Romasco Moore

Pie and her mother have been on the run for their entire lives. They are both invisible—Pie born and her mother turned as a teenager—and have been living in other people’s houses all across America. Their lives are constantly transient, and although Pie has lived in many places, she doesn’t have a place to call home.

When her mother disappears, possibly dead, Pie is left alone. Sheltering in Pittsburgh with a group of art students, she goes in search of her missing mother and a girl she once loved. But if the girl Pie loves can never see her, how can they be together?

TW/CW: kidnapping, off-page sexual assault (past), substance abuse, absent father

For a book I picked up almost purely on a whim, this was such an emotional hard-hitter. From this alone, I’m absolutely going to seek out Moore’s other books—I haven’t read such fantastic, immersive prose in ages, and through Pie, Moore has created a truly unique protagonist and a strange world paired with her.

Moore’s prose is what stood out the most to me about I Am the Ghost in Your House. Magical realism is a hard genre to get right, and writing prose that fits with it can be half the battle, and it’s a battle that Moore absolutely won; their weaving of delicate metaphors into Pie’s voice created such a distinct atmosphere around the whole book, as though we too were nestled in lonely train cars, unable to be seen by anyone but our own kin. I read this on my Kindle, and I highlighted so many passages—Moore’s prose rarely faltered, and it was the perfect vehicle to carry this story.

The worldbuilding behind invisibility in I Am the Ghost in Your House was incredibly thought out as well! With magical realism novels like these, it’s sometimes okay to have changes to a world with little to no explanation—it adds some ambiguity to the story, and if it’s done well, it can add a charm and mystery to the world. Moore, however, has done the opposite. Without infodumping or rambling excessively, they define so much about invisibility, its origins, and more importantly, its limits, in terms that make something so fantastical seem so authentic. It feels like the kind of story that stemmed from a conversation—what would you do if you were invisible? Where would you live? What would you get away with, knowing that nobody’s watching?

Pie herself, however, was what made this novel so emotional and poignant. There’s an intense loneliness to her; after her mother disappears, she has nobody, since her father left her before she was born. Moore’s prose shapes a character with seemingly ordinary struggles—unrequited love and general uncertainty, among other things—into someone so deeply isolated, someone fighting alone, since only a handful of people can even see her in the first place. But as she develops, meeting other people and coming to terms with truths about her family, she finds closure in solace in knowing that she’s never been alone, being able to communicate with visible people and knowing that there are others out there like her.

My only problem was the paranormal investigator subplot. In contrast to how smoothly and deliberately most of the book moved, this spot near the end felt rushed and unfinished, thrown in at the last minute to add conflict where there didn’t need to be. Since it was crammed in the last 20% of the book or so, it didn’t feel like it had any place, other than providing a little more worldbuilding details on invisibility. Given what happens to Pie, the suddenness almost feels genuine, but it seemed to come more from a place of rushed writing than actual feeling.

All in all, a bittersweet and atmospheric piece of magical realism that never falters in its deeply emotional core. 4.25 stars!

I Am the Ghost in Your House is a standalone, but Mar Romasco Moore is also the author of Some Kind of Animal and the anthology Ghostographs: An Album.

Today’s song:

this song just emanates sheer power—there’s truly nothing quite like it

That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!

Posted in Art, Book Review Tuesday

Book Review Tuesday (8/9/22) – That Dark Infinity (ft. my fanart!)

Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles!

I wasn’t able to go to the library last week, so I went through the Kindle library for books to read. I was in a fantasy mood for no rhyme or reason for most of the week, and That Dark Infinity presented itself. My expectations were average, but this book turned out to be one of the most creative fantasies that I’ve read in a long time!

Enjoy this week’s review!

That Dark Infinity – Kate Pentecost

The Ankou is an infamous, immortal monster hunter, but few know his true secret: while he’s still immortal, a curse made it so that during the day, he’s nothing more than a pile of bones. All he wants is to break the curse—and be able to die.

Flora is the former handmaiden of the princess of Kaer-Ise, but after her kingdom is sacked and she’s left for dead, she goes on the run. Looking for work, she seeks the Ankou to become a monster hunter like him. His only condition is that she help break his curse that’s kept him immortal. But the price of breaking the curse may be greater than she ever could have imagined.

TW/CW: off-page rape, rape/sexual assault-related trauma, violence, murder, body horror, suicidal ideation, descriptions of illness

I remember liking Kate Pentecost’s previous novel, Elysium Girls, but I didn’t have any expectations for That Dark Infinity. But to my surprise, it blew me away—one of the most inventive YA fantasy standalones that I’ve read in ages!

Let’s start off with the worldbuilding, which was a good portion of what made That Dark Infinity so unique! Pentecost doesn’t shy away from pushing the boundaries of the genre, and it really shows. Not only do we have classic fantasy settings filled with strange monsters, but there are also more industrializing parts of the kingdom, with buildings made of copper and automatons! There are tons of interesting creatures, from the hydra-like monster in the water system to giant eagles large enough to ride like horses. It all felt so imaginative, and even amidst the darker themes of the book, pure fun.

The main characters were so incredibly endearing as well! I haven’t come across a character quite like the Ankou/Lazarus in a while; his curse is so unique, and the way that Pentecost handles how it affects both his physical and mental health was so well-thought-out and detailed. He’s both caustically sarcastic and incredibly thoughtful and tender, which is a refreshing combination after years of male YA fantasy characters who were all aloofness. (Plus, can’t deny that he’s got a 10/10 wardrobe) Flora was also a lovely protagonist, so authentically written and wonderfully determined! I love the bisexual rep, and I also love the fact that Pentecost didn’t take the easy way out and automatically throw her into a romance with the Ankou; giving them a platonic relationship was a much wiser (and sweeter) decision, and romance would’ve been weird with him. (Still scarred by many years of authors pairing up their teenage protagonists with love interests who are 100+ years old…)

That Dark Infinity‘s depiction of trauma was also incredibly respectful, which was, again, very refreshing. It’s implied off-page that Flora is raped, but instead of that being a plot point just to amp up the drama in the book and give her a Tragic Backstory™️, her trauma and healing journey is a consistent part of the book. Her healing journey is one that I rarely see in fantasy books, and I’m so glad Pentecost included it as more than an afterthought. And another addition to why I love the Ankou—he was also incredibly considerate when her triggers resurfaced, making their friendship all the more strong. Again—I’d be hard-pressed to find a male protagonist written quite like this, and I’m grateful for both Flora and the Ankou as characters.

My only major gripe with That Dark Infinity was the ending. It was a…weird way to resolve the book, to say the least? Without spoiling it, I’ll say that it felt rather rushed, but in the end, the very last twist made me like it a little more. Even though it took a roundabout way to get there, I liked that Flora and the Ankou got their hopeful endings.

Also—the Ankou/Lazarus was such a fun character design-wise that I decided to draw him! I haven’t shared any art of mine on my blog since middle school (we don’t talk about how this blog was in middle school 🫥), but I figured it would be an artistic challenge (since I’ve never really drawn skulls without a reference) and a fun addition to the review. So here we are—my interpretation of the Ankou!

credit to madeline @ The Bookish Mutant

and here’s my sketch/practice page, just for fun:

credit to madeline @ The Bookish Mutant

All in all, an inventive standalone fantasy that was tender, inventive, and truly one of a kind. 4.5 stars!

That Dark Infinity is a standalone, but Kate Pentecost is also the author of Elysium Girls.

Today’s song:

That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!

Posted in Book Review Tuesday

Book Review Tuesday (8/2/22) – The Blood Trials

Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles!

I’d seen this book floating around for a while, and the promised blend of sci-fi and fantasy hooked me in. But soon after I started The Blood Trials, it proved to be a disappointment to me—although there’s a great discussion of systemic racism and misogyny, the rest of the book lacked steady worldbuilding, and the writing tried too hard to be gritty.

Enjoy this week’s review!

The Blood Trials (The Blood Gift Duology, #1) – N.E. Davenport

Ikenna is the granddaughter of a prominent politician; both of them drew scrutiny from within the Republic of Mareen for their Khanian heritage, so Ikenna was trained in self-defense and blood magic by her grandfather in secret. But when her grandfather is assassinated, Ikenna suspects foul play—none other than the Praetorian Guard, the elite military might of the Republic of Mareen, could have orchestrated his murder. Determined to find his killer, Ikenna climbs through the ranks of the Praetorians, fighting her way to the top to avenge the death of her grandfather. But what she finds deep within the Praetorian Guard is worse than she could have ever imagined.

TW/CW: graphic violence, murder, loss of loved ones, racism, misogyny, substance abuse (alcohol)

The Blood Trials had a ton of potential, but it ultimately felt like an early draft as opposed to a finished book—although it had some great commentary on systemic racism and misogyny, the lack of worldbuilding and the writing style made for a book that failed to hook me once I got started.

I’ll start with the one thing I did appreciate about The Blood Trials—there were some great themes of how racism and misogyny, more often than not, run deeper than surface interactions and are embedded into the very fabric of a society. Ikenna’s experience in the Republic of Mareen mirrors so much of the sociopolitical climate of the U.S. and beyond, and it served as a timely and cogent commentary on how society systemically oppresses women, people of color, and other marginalized groups.

Beyond that, however, The Blood Trials consistently fell flat. I was excited to see how Davenport would blend sci-fi and fantasy into her world, but other than a base conflict that served as the origins for the Republic of Mareen and the surrounding countries, it left a lot to be desired. There wasn’t any indication of how magic and technology existed, what role technology played in this society, or how humans existed in this place in the first place. The magic system was even more so—all I could glean was that the blood gift was passed down genetically and very few possessed it. For such an interesting concept, I’m sad that The Blood Trials left me wanting more.

Additionally, the writing style did little to invest me in the story. I’ve seen a lot of reviews mix this up as YA, and that’s understandable—even though this book is technically billed as adult, it did feel like a YA book masquerading as an edgy, gritty adult novel. And this is coming from someone who predominantly reads YA—even from me, it felt like Davenport was trying too hard to make it “adult,” what with the excessive, graphic violence, the frequent swearing, and the sex. I don’t have a problem with any of those, but they all felt intentionally amped up to make the book more “adult” as opposed to making it more of a fleshed-out story.

Ikenna’s character was also an example of how Davenport’s writing style failed to hit the mark. She should, in theory, have been a character that would be easy to root for, especially given the themes of the story. But she tragically falls into the trap of a “Strong Female Character™️” who just ends up being a woman written with traditionally masculine traits without any sense of vulnerability. Even though her motives were good enough to move the plot along, Davenport was, again, trying far too hard to make her tough, and left her without any other character traits. Her main motive was to avenge her grandfather, and yet her grief was glossed over to the point of nonexistence in favor of making her tough and stoic. Similarly, most of the other characters seemed to come and go without consequence, only having a few base traits and disappearing and reappearing seemingly at Davenport’s will.

The Blood Trials also could have done with a little slimming down; for me, it could have easily ended after Ikenna beats the Praetorian Trials. The last 100 pages felt like they could have been a setup for the second book in the duology, but they were shoehorned sloppily into the last quarter of the book. I’d already lost my faith in most of the book by then, but those last pages only served to make it even less cohesive.

All in all, a sci-fi/fantasy novel that brings great commentary to the table, but lacked in worldbuilding and writing. 2 stars.

The Blood Trials is the first book in the Blood Gift duology, followed by the forthcoming sequel The Blood Gift, set for release in April 2023. The Blood Trials is N.E. Davenport’s debut novel.

Today’s song:

That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!

Posted in Book Review Tuesday

Book Review Tuesday (7/26/22) – Follow Your Arrow

Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles!

Ever read a book because of one aspect people have been telling you about? That was me about Follow Your Arrow—I don’t know if I would have picked it up if not for several people telling me how good the bi rep was. And you know how much of a sucker I am for good bi rep. So I picked it up—and yes, the bi rep and discussions around biphobia were great, but the rest of the story I found to be a little lacking.

Enjoy this week’s review!

Follow Your Arrow – Jessica Verdi

CeCe Ross is an influencer with nearly a million followers. Her relationship with her girlfriend of two years, Silvie, has gained an extensive following, with thousands of fawning followers making #Cevie all the rage. But when she and Silvie break up, her life is turned upside-down—both on and offline. To make matters more complicated, she’s met Josh, a musician who has no idea about her online following. Will she be able to reckon with the storm she’s stirred up online—and keep her secret from Josh?

TW/CW: Biphobia, cyberbullying, homophobia

My feelings about Follow Your Arrow can essentially be summed up by that one Reductress article—“Why I Couldn’t Care Less About Your Relationsh—Oh, It’s Gay? Tell Me More.” I don’t think I would’ve picked up this book if not for several people telling me about how great the bisexual rep was, and I liked it on that front. However, it was definitely lacking for me in some of the other departments.

So, the bisexual rep! That aspect of Follow Your Arrow was what stood out most to me, and it was the most well-executed aspect of the book! Verdi did a fantastic job of discussing so many aspects of bisexuality and biphobia, especially about the stigmas of bisexual people in straight-passing relationships. Even though some of the social media aspects of the book weren’t very well-done (more on that later), the backdrop of social media was a perfect setting for CeCe to come into her own. There’s so much discussion about how bisexual people are pigeonholed as simply straight or gay, depending on their relationship, and how even within the queer community, there’s still so much biphobia present. Follow Your Arrow is a solid book for anyone who wants to learn more about bisexuality, and Verdi did a great job of representing it respectfully.

As far as the other aspects of the book…I wasn’t quite as invested. The romance, although the representation of bi people in a straight-passing relationship was great, didn’t hold a lot for me. It’s a pretty standard setup—”she’s an influencer, he’s a hipster musician who doesn’t even have social media! oh boy, how will this work out? he doesn’t even know what ‘ship’ means, tee hee!” It didn’t help that neither CeCe nor Josh were characterized much more beyond a few base character traits. The combination of the cliche pairing without much of an original spin on it (other than CeCe being bi) and the lack of characterization for both parties made me lose interest more than not.

I also had an issue with the writing—it tried way too hard not to date itself, but it ended up backfiring spectacularly. Even though app names (Instagram, Twitter, etc.) weren’t specifically mentioned (there was only the mysterious App…oookay) , the slang peppered in and the excessive use of hashtags at the end of every other paragraph made it feel painfully like a Gen X-er trying to sound “hip.” (How do you do, fellow kids?) CeCe’s status as an influencer didn’t make the hashtags make any more sense—I doubt that even influencers think in random hashtags. It felt weird. Additionally, Follow Your Arrow couldn’t seem to make up its mind about the message it was trying to share about social media; all it got was that there are good and bad aspects of social media, but it never got much more nuanced than that. Given how large of a role social media played in this book, I wish that were more developed.

All in all, a decent rom-com with great discussions around biphobia and bisexuality, but not-so-great writing and an underdeveloped romance. 3 stars.

Follow Your Arrow is a standalone, but Jessica Verdi is also the author of And She Was (really hoping that’s a Talking Heads reference lol), The Summer I Wasn’t Me, What You Left Behind, and several other novels.

Today’s song:

That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!

Posted in Book Review Tuesday

Book Review Tuesday (7/19/22) – Not If I Can Help It

Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles!

Ever since I realized that literature has been something I could see myself in, I’ve been looking high and low for books with SPD representation. For years, all I managed to find were help books for parents SPD children (again—not diminishing their value, I was just looking for something else) and hardly any fiction in sight. By some miracle, I ended up coming across this book recently, and I was elated to find a book that finally reflected my disability! I set my expectations hesitantly high, but I ended up adoring Not If I Can Help It; I wish I had it when I was Willa’s age.

Enjoy this week’s review!

Not If I Can Help It – Carolyn Mackler

Willa has Sensory Processing Disorder—she hates the texture of certain foods, tags and seams on clothes irritate her to no end, and she gets overwhelmed easily. With her occupational therapist, she’s been able to manage it—and keep it a secret from her 5th-grade class. But when her dad breaks the news that he’s engaged to her best friend’s mom, she struggles to handle the change—she loves her best friend Ruby, but being her sister would be another situation entirely. As 5th grade draws to a close, can she and Ruby work things out—as best friends, and as sisters?

TW/CW: sensory overload, bullying

I’m going to go so far as to say that Not If I Can Help It is a fairly monumental book for me. It’s the first book I’ve ever read with a protagonist who has SPD, and as somebody with SPD, it fills my heart to see myself in a book like this. I’m so, so, so glad this book exists.

I’ve been trying to find any kind of SPD fiction for years, and Not If I Can Help It surprised me with how realistically and respectfully SPD was handled. I related so much to Willa—even though our specific brands of SPD differed (Willa’s seems to be more tactile, whereas mine are mainly auditory), I related so much to Willa’s experience, from her experience with handling change to the everyday things she does with her parents to cope with her SPD. (I JUST GOT MY OWN BODY SOCK TOO??? we love the body sock in this house) I’ve been going back to OT in preparation for college lately, and I also loved the scenes with Willa and her therapist in the sensory gym—again, so respectfully written and authentic! Mackler mentions in the acknowledgments that Not If I Can Help It was partially based off of her experience with one of her sons, who has SPD, and this is bound to be a book that so many of us with SPD will relate to—I certainly did.

It’s been a while since I’ve read any middle grade, but the gap was a lot easier to bridge than I thought it would be. Mackler’s writing, along with our shared experience, made me instantly feel for Willa. She’s such a unique, determined character, so full of life and spirit. I loved her individual quirks, and her growth over the novel made me wish that I had this kind of book when I was her age—I could’ve used a Willa when I was going into middle school. (Also, kudos to Willa for managing her SPD on top of living in MANHATTAN, wow…)

The story was additionally a super sweet one. I completely related to Willa’s reticence to having change, and all of the changes she experiences (her dad getting married to her best friend’s mom, going to middle school, and her longtime babysitter moving, to name a few) served to help her grow so much as a character. All of the supporting characters were wonderfully unique in their own ways, adding not only to the story, but helping to emphasize the point, to paraphrase Ruby’s mom, that we all have our “things” going on—not everybody is as normal as you may think they are, and that there will be all kinds of people to support you along your journey.

All in all, a book that I sorely wished that I’d been able to read when I was younger, but one that I’m so glad I got to read here and now. This is the first book with SPD rep that I’ve read, and given how authentically it was represented, it will always have a special place in my heart. Thanks so much to Carolyn Mackler and Willa. 💗 4.5 stars!

Not If I Can Help It is a standalone, but Carolyn Mackler is also the author of several middle grade and YA books, including Tangled, Infinite In Between, Love and Other Four-Letter Words, and The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things.

Today’s song:

adding this song to my internal list of songs with god tier intros

That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!

Posted in Book Review Tuesday

Book Review Tuesday (7/12/22) – The Reckless Kind

Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles!

In my endless hunt for books with good disability rep, I found this one recommended in several places. I’m not usually one for historical fiction, but I was glad to see a disability book in a genre other than realistic fiction. To my surprise, it became a rare 5-star read for me—tender, heartfelt, and so unabashedly queer and disabled!

Enjoy this week’s review!

The Reckless Kind – Carly Heath

Norway, 1904. Even though marriage is what traditional society expects of her, Asta has no interest in marriage, and especially not in Nils, the rude boy her mother has set her up with. Her mother sees a life of domesticity as her only path, but Asta is determined to carve her own way. After Nils’ recklessness cements her wish to not marry, she runs away with her two friends, Gunnar and Erlend. They make a life caring for Gunnar’s family farm, but with the money running out and the rest of their village against them, it will take all of their strength to create their own destinies.

TW/CW (from Carly Heath, inside book): ableism, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia, suicidal ideations, violence, descriptions of injury, references to alcoholism, abuse, and self-harm

what if 😳 I melted down a priceless family heirloom 😳😳 and made it into a prosthetic arm for you 😳😳😳 (and we were both boys)

I picked up The Reckless Kind for the promise of queer and disabled rep, but I didn’t expect it to become a 2022 favorite of mine so quickly! It’s rare that I enjoy historical fiction this much, but this novel was a success on every front imaginable.

The diversity of The Reckless Kind is what drew me in, and it was such a central and beautiful aspect of this novel! This book focuses on not one, but four characters who are disabled—Asta has Waardenburg syndrome (includes single-sided deafness), Gunnar has Brown-Séquard syndrome and has a prosthetic arm, Erlend has an anxiety disorder, and Fred, one of the secondary characters, has Post-Concussion syndrome! On top of that, Asta is asexual, Gunnar and Erlend are in an mlm relationship, and the three of them are in a queerplatonic triad! Does it get any better than that? I think not. Just what I needed as a queer, disabled reader.

Each and every aspect of said diversity is handled so thoughtfully and lovingly; you can tell from the first page just how much love and care Heath put into writing this story. Even though their traditional society looks down upon them for a number of reasons, the journey these characters take to make their own way is heartwarming to read. Everything from the special modifications on Gunnar’s car to the life they carve out for themselves on the farm is filled with such palpable determination and love that only a bunch of outsiders making their own way can make me feel. Found family trope for the win, as always.

All of that would work fantastically on its own, but it’s Heath’s characters that made The Reckless Kind truly shine. Asta was an absolute DELIGHT. Just an absolute sweetheart. Even though the world has beaten her down so much, she has this consistent spunk and contagious kindness to her that she brings everywhere she goes. I loved the way she cared for all of the animals on the farm, and her story is sure to resonate with so many. Gunnar and Erlend were equally wonderful, and they balanced each other out perfectly, what with Erlend’s theatrical charm and Gunnar’s droll, self-deprecating humor. Their relationship made me giddy more than not; I loved how Heath depicted all the messiness of relationships, as well as two characters who did their best to work with each other’s problems. All three of them together made for the recipe for a near-perfect book.

Through it all, Heath presents a story of persistence despite the odds and the love it breeds between outsiders. All three of the characters faced parents, peers, and others who shunned them for parts of themselves, but this book was all about self-love and living in a world that doesn’t love you. It’s fiercely queer and disabled, and it’s the perfect story for anyone who has ever felt like the world is against them.

All in all, a tender, powerful, and heartwarming story of disability, queerness, and making your own way that quickly found its way to my 2022 favorites. 5 stars!

The Reckless Kind is a standalone and Carly Heath’s debut novel.

Today’s song:

That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!