Review: The Way I Used to Be by Amber Smith

Hello everyone, and welcome back.

Some time after reading Exit, Pursued by a Bear, I committed myself to eventually reading a lot more books about the subject of sexual assault, since I wanted to have a sense of what I’d feel comfortable recommending on the topic. Last year, I read All the Rage (not reviewed, but one of my best fall reads), The Female of the Species (also one of my best of the year), and What We Saw. This time around, I picked up The Way I Used to Be.

The Way I Used to Be

(And this is a content warning that I’m going to talk about sexual assault in this post, although not graphically, and that if you read those books, that content is contained in them, sometimes graphically.)

It’s difficult to qualify these types of books, in some ways, because I haven’t read one yet that doesn’t cover sexual assault and rape in a different and important way. Exit, Pursued by a Bear is about someone who actually has an excellent support network, the kind of book meant to inspire hope, even after something incredibly bleak. All the Rage is about the frustration of not being believed, about living with the hostility of the people who see you as a liar. The Female of the Species is about rape culture generally, but also about how difficult it is to work past the aftermath of assault. (It’s also about murdering rapists, so it’s pretty dark.) What We Saw is also about rape culture and the way that others enable awful behaviours.

These books are different in quality, for sure. Some are just more compelling than others, either in the perspective they choose to take, the amount of time they devote to character development, the subtlety of the delivery of their message, whatever. It’s difficult when I write about this subject to talk about the parts of writing as clearly as I try to for other books, which is maybe why I’ve been waiting to review a lot of these in comparison rather than as individual novels.

The subjects these books cover are important and I do feel that, when this topic is handled with compassion and a sense of responsibility, there’s always going to be someone who needs a specific book and a specific protagonist, even if I think some books are technically better-written than others. Speak is an excellent example of handling this kind of subject well, but maybe Melinda, who finds a way to vent through art, isn’t the protagonist every reader needs. Maybe they need Romy from All the Rage, who wears her makeup like armor, who creates the ritual of her nail polish to protect herself. Maybe they need What We Saw’s Kate, who wasn’t assaulted but needs to learn to challenge the assault-enabling behaviours of the men in her life, who needs to learn who to trust and who to stand up against. Teens are a multitude, and teens who need books about rape and rape culture are varied with different needs and different characters they’ll connect with.

One common thread I do find through a lot of these books is the narrative of the young woman who has been assaulted or who has been surrounded by that environment and who is having a hard time with the idea of physical intimacy. This makes intuitive sense; in a book about rape, people living with the reality of it don’t feel comfortable being physically vulnerable.

The aspect this doesn’t cover is that some survivors of sexual assault trauma actively seek sex and tend towards a different pattern of behaviour, and that’s the reality The Way I Used to Be portrays. Eden feels distrustful, distances others, puts up walls—but she also seeks out sexual encounters, needs to put them behind her meaninglessly like she needs to escape her bed, her home, the way she used to be. She doesn’t seek to make herself unnoticeable, like some, or to take vengeance, like others. She takes on a bad-girl role to try to put the trauma behind her, and she commits to it entirely.

It’s on that merit that I do think that some people will read and connect with this book in a way that they won’t with others, because this brings that unique and somewhat opposing reaction to the table. Eden is a sympathetic character who has been through something awful, but her method of dealing with it involves a lot of destructive coping mechanisms, some of which harm others. And some people will need to read that character, because some people will feel like Eden does and react the way she does, and they shouldn’t feel alone.

That said, regarding the writing of The Way I Used to Be? This book was a bit of a miss for me. It felt like it had a lot of time to develop relationships between Eden and her parents, brother, best friend, and love interest(s), but didn’t really do much but tell us what the status quo of those relationships looked like, so it was hard for it to hit home when those relationships shifted in the book. No one beyond Eden seemed to have significant character development, so I wasn’t particularly moved or surprised (or not surprised) by any of their actions. Sympathizing with Eden and wanting to know how she’d find a way through it carried me through the book, but in some ways, I wonder if that’s only because she was a (fictitious) person who went through awful trauma, not because she was a character I was particularly invested in.

For me, this was one of those books that didn’t spend enough time showing us who its characters were to earn the emotional beats when they fought, made up, fell apart, or came together. But I did feel for Eden, and maybe for someone reading this book, they’ll know exactly how she’s feeling. And for that reason, though I didn’t think this book was anything more than okay to read and messily written, it might still be very important.

So that’s my review for now, and my commitment to continue reading books on this subject because I now think I know that, although I’ll find some books to be “better books” than others, some people will need different books than others do. And I want to be able to point to which is which (and, if I find them, to the books that might be just plain harmful).

If you have any further suggestions, please leave them in the comments. And I’ll be back in my next post with actual star ratings and less heavy subjects.

Review: Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman

Hello everyone, and welcome back!

I’ve been looking forward to this sequel to Scythe for a while. It was one of the books I enjoyed most last year, and it’s hard for me to find a series that I’m stoked to continue with. (I seem to have much better luck with one-shots, whereas most trilogies for me go downhill.)

So how did I feel about this continuation? Well, let’s get to that.

Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman

This is a pretty good cover, as covers go. I am not yet profound on this subject. I think it evokes the two main characters and it’s got a smooth, futuristic look that kind of suits the world in this series.

Thunderhead

Thunderhead is the follow-up to Scythe, a utopian novel about a world in which humans have figured out the secret to (basic) immortality and have given over the stewardship of society to a benevolent, all-seeing AI called the Thunderhead. However, the one thing the AI doesn’t control is death, which is still necessary to curb population growth—and death is the function of specially trained humans called Scythes.

In Scythe, the two main characters (Rowan and Citra) are recruited by a wise and compassion Scythe to be his apprentices. They end up embroiled at the centre of a Scythe political conflict, between the old guard, who believe their work to be a regrettable act of compassion and mercy, and the new order, who say it should be no shame for Scythes to revel in the dealing of death.

Thunderhead continues that conflict, and there’s not a lot more I can say about it that isn’t spoiler-y, which is kind of the junk part of reviewing sequels. The Thunderhead, as you might imagine, is more important in this novel, and its given its own voice and cares and concerns accordingly, which is interesting and a part I generally liked.

As is Shusterman’s style (in the previous book and that I found in Unwind), this book spirals out from the main characters to include what’s going on with other characters, sometimes characters who seem very insignificant but who might later do something of importance. While I think this worked well in Scythe because all of the outside information we received was necessary (Rowan and Citra were, after all, new to this world and not privy to everything that was going on), in this book, there were times when I felt like there was a lack of focus, and to the book’s detriment. The time we spent getting to know The Thunderhead and one of his most devoted “friends,” so to speak, was worthwhile; the time we spent lurking around some other Scythe characters felt like it had less payoff, and I really wanted Rowan and Citra, at this point, to be more involved in and aware of events.

Rowan and Citra have the potential to be very strong characters, but that’s a potential they had in the first book that wasn’t entirely realized, and it felt not entirely realized here, either. In the first book, they’re people plucked out of mundane existences because they have some small spark that defines them, but it’s not clear exactly the people they’re going to be. By the end of the first book and the start of the second, their approaches to improving the state of Scythedom are clear, but their personalities still feel in some ways indeterminate. And since we travel around to others more in this book, we have a dwindling amount of time we get to spend seeing them interact with others and develop.

(Their relationship with one another also felt fairly shallow here; they didn’t get to spend much time together, but this book also didn’t do much to build on what it was they felt about one another in the wake of the events of the first book.)

However, the plot lurking in this one somewhat behind the scenes was interesting, so maybe this book is mostly suffering from a second book syndrome where the major conflict can’t come to fruition, but also the two main protagonists aren’t spending the book together. The tension between The Thunderhead and the Scythes, the one segment of humanity that it cannot interfere with, seemed like it’ll pay off in book three; it also seems that then, the Tonists will probably be more important, and the conflict that has been largely political and slow-moving in the first two books will come more so to a head.

Also, while this book felt a little slow at times, it does have a pretty splashy and cliffhanger-y ending that does make me want to see what happens next. So it is really likely that I continue with this series.

So that said, I generally enjoyed this book because, as it went on, I still really wanted to know what happened. But I also felt a twinge of repetition, because, having read Unwind, I feel like there are a lot of similar elements across these two series by the author; his style does seem to be to spiral out to more and more characters over time, include some destructive rebels, include some religious fanatics, young protagonists to shake things up, etc. But I don’t know. It would be odd to encounter books within almost the exact same genre by the same author without feeling some stylistic similarities, but I think what I’ve seen in second chances makes me believe that some authors really pivot a lot?

Tl;dr: I had some fun reading this because I wanted to know what happened in this world and situation, but I feel like I had a hard time getting very invested in the main characters, even though they have a lot of potential. (And it wasn’t for lack of pages to develop them; it’s not a short book.) Cool world, interesting plot threads and AI voice, but a bit of a set-up book other than the wild last bunch of chapters.

Overall:


What sequels are you looking forward to in 2018? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll speak to you again soon.

Top Five Books I Meant to Read in 2017 (and Might in 2018, Maybe)

Hello everyone, and welcome back!

I still have some books to get to on my last TBR list of shame from 2017, but here I’m mostly going to talk about some other books I’ve had on the pile for a while that I’d like to get around to in 2018! This post is for top ten Tuesday over at The Broke and the Bookish, which is soon to move to a new blog, so pay your respects to the awesome creators of this meme while you can.

Without further ado…

The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman

The Book of Dust

You can find this one on my winter TBR, which I’m proud to say I’m doing well with—I’ve read the books on it that I already have except this one.

This is a companion book to His Dark Materials, which I reread last fall to get hyped for this release. (His Dark Materials is a sweet middle grade fantasy trilogy that you should definitely check out if you haven’t.) But the thing is, that trilogy was a childhood favourite of mine, so I’m nervous about reading this book because I don’t know if it’ll live up to my nostalgia for those novels? (Especially after the atrocity that was Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Shudder.) Still, I really do have to get it done before I stumble across one billion reviews that’ll muddle my opinion before I even start.

Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson

MistbornBasically everyone in the BookTube community is so hyped about this author’s books, so I picked up this one last year as an entry point, as I’ve heard this is one of his best series? (There are so many, sheesh.) This book is…I don’t know. High fantasy with magic based on metals? I hear he has cool magic systems and everyone is just very excited. Sanderson is fantasy and not really YA, but I’ve heard this one is pretty YA-reader friendly.

I was reminded of this book the other day when I was watching a favourite Magic: the Gathering streamer on Twitch and this author dropped in. I mean, if we both like this one really niche thing, I’ll probably like his books, right? Plus it’d be good to know what everyone is talking about going forward.

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

IlluminaeSpeaking of hype, this sci-fi novel is one of the very loved books of the past couple of years in the YA reviewing community, although I haven’t investigated opinions of its sequel yet too much (for obvious reasons).

This book is probably one I’d really like—told not in regular narrative, but in redacted government documents, transcripts, and other mediums. It’s some kind of futuristic space opera and probably also has a romance? Anyway, I’ve been meaning to get to it for a long time, but although I know it’s a fast read because of its use of different forms, it looked too long for what was The Year of Short Books, so I’m hoping to get to it for The Year of Longer Books and Less Ridiculous Reading Goals.

The Starlit Wood, ed. Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe

The Starlit WoodSpeaking of books that were too long for last year’s marathon, here’s the anthology I didn’t get to that I was actually the most excited about. (I have not had good luck with YA anthologies.)

This is an anthology of retold fairy tales that gathered a lot of critical acclaim and, although it’s not YA-targeted, contains some well-known YA authors (Seanan McGuire and Garth Nix, among others). This came out a couple of years ago and I’ve been meaning to read it for a while, but it’s always so easy to let new releases overwhelm any intentions of catching up with something big on the backlist. Still, I hope this one makes the reading chair in 2018.

Girl Mans Up by M-E Girard

Girl Mans UpI mine a lot of the books I put on my TBR from other reviewers’ favourites, upcoming books with hype, authors I’m keeping an eye on (either because I like their books or am going to second chance them), or just recommendations from friends. That’s already a lot of books, so it’s pretty rare that I come across something on a table in the Indigo that I haven’t heard of but would be interested in reading. This, though, was one of those books, and the author happens to be from my area, so I picked up a signed copy.

This book is about a Canadian teen girl struggling with her gender identity and sexuality vs. a lot of people who want to impose expectations on her, and I don’t know why I hadn’t heard of it but Canadian books don’t seem to get a huge amount of press. In any case, I really want to make an effort to root out more Canadian YA so that I can find some gems to recommend (Fate of Flames and Everything Beautiful is Not Ruined from last year were both…eh), so I want to kick it off with this one in 2018.


What reads do you need to catch up on in 2018? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll speak to you again soon!

Review: The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore

Hello everyone, and welcome back!

I decided to kick off 2018 with some more magical realism and some more Anna-Marie McLemore. I don’t think I liked it more than When the Moon Was Ours, but then, it’s an earlier book than that, so I’ll have to see how I feel about her newer release, Wild Beauty. 

Buuut I’m definitely going to read it. And in any case, let’s talk about this book!

The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore

This cover is pretty on point, by the way, in terms of capturing some of the imagery in the book. And design-wise, it’s pretty nice. Not the best of the year, but above average. (Maybe I should best-covers in 2018.)

The Weight of Feathers

So this is a magical realism novel and a bit of a Romeo and Juliet situation. Cluck and Lace are from travelling performing families who are bitter rivals and who come to the same town once a year for a blackberry festival. Cluck’s family, the Corbeaus, performs winged, in the trees; Lace’s family, the Palomas, performs in mermaid tails in the water.

The book is about the two falling in love as well as the deep rivalry between the two families, with the backdrop of performing life, deeply superstitious and close-knit families (along with some family jerkwads), and dazzling performances.

There are definitely some common points between this and When the Moon Was Ours. The family histories are secretive and rooted in trauma, the book is largely driven by character arcs and description, and there’s definitely some angst embedded in the protagonists choosing one another.

I found the description here to be stronger than in When the Moon Was Ours in terms of creating vivid imagery of both families’ performances, although a little weaker in terms of establishing the setting of the town, which did turn out to be somewhat important (although less so than it was in When the Moon Was Ours, so overall I feel like the descriptiveness here was just more useful).

But I found the romance in this one somewhat less compelling? It follows a pretty established pattern of mistaken and hidden identities, forbidden romance, and so on. The two characters see the good and beauty in one another, but they seem to do so mostly because they are kind to each other at times when others are cruel; the relationship doesn’t seem to be built on a foundation of who they are so much as a need to feel accepted. It doesn’t feel as if they’ve really gotten to know each other by the time they’re in love? Which is fine and realistic in terms of first-love romance, but doesn’t feel as compelling to root for as when two people clearly fit together.

Sam and Miel in the other book have an established friendship and status quo of interaction before their relationship, and their getting together is more compelling because the barriers they face re: being together are internal and more unique, but a reader can also root for them getting together because it’s already established how good they are for one another.

(Internal conflict in relationships is often just so much more compelling than external forces keeping people apart, generally, because in romances it’s obvious the way the conflict will be overcome in the latter case: the couple will decide to ignore what other people think, say, or do or what happens and will try to be together anyway, probably after a short period of being bitter and missing each other. Getting over internal conflict can have more varied solutions, I think.)

Aaaanyway, that huge rant aside? This was a book I enjoyed, but I’m not sure I got to know the characters beyond Cluck and Lace well enough to become really embroiled in all of their drama. This was the kind of book that felt like an ensemble cast kind of story, but stayed very much with its protagonists at all times. And Cluck and Lace were likable enough as characters, but their dreams and personalities felt a bit vague?

This author has some definite strengths in terms of lyrical and flowing writing and a sense of magic that’s never explained but never really goes over the top, and I appreciate the diverse characters she writes and the values of her protagonists. I think she definitely improved from book one to two, though, except in that I think the descriptions of performances in this one really outstripped the descriptions of most things in the second book in terms of being much more concrete.

Overall:


Do you usually find that you enjoy an author’s second book more than their first? Or are there cases where you love the author’s earlier work and not so much their newer novels? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll speak to you again soon!

Reading Stats for 2017 + Resolutions for 2018

Hello everyone, and welcome to my end-of-2017 wrap-up (in 2018)! (Also, welcome to 2018.)

2017 stats

Cat opens and shuts book cover with her nose

I’m going to talk a bit here about the stats for all the books I read this year. You can check out the actual list of books (minus rereads; I’m just starting to learn how to record those) over at Goodreads. I ended up reading 90 books plus 13 rereads, so I made it over 100 overall? Which is not bad, but I was aiming to read 100 new books.

I only read 16% books by men vs. 84% books by women (up from last year, when I read 69% books by women), so reading more women is just…really not a concern for the next year. It’s really not difficult to read women when you read YA? It would be good to see if I can find some non-binary authors to read or more trans authors (as I seem to have only read one book by a trans author this year). It’s not the easiest representation to find, to be honest, but I have a couple ideas on my wishlist.

In terms of diversity, about 23% of my books were written by POC, while a similar amount were about POC leads. That’s up from last year dramatically (when I was at 8%), which is a nice result of a challenge I did actually take on re: reading more diversely. That’s something I will resolve to keep up and improve on, if possible. About 16% featured LGBTQIA+ leads, up somewhat from last year where it hovered around 10%, and including ace and trans leads, which was great. (More contained characters across those gender and sexuality minorities, but in smaller roles.)

Contemporaries (usually with heavy romance and/or drama) probably ate up the biggest piece of the genre pie at 29%, but I tried to switch it up a lot with some fantasy, sci-fi, thrillers, dystopian/utopian/speculative future stuff, magical realism, and whatever I could get my hands on, basically. Different genres and tropes definitely trend in YA (I think we’re finally at the tail end of fairy tale retellings? maybe?), but contemporary with a heap of romance will always be right at the centre of things.

I had zero DNFs this year, which is mildly surprising considering that I made it through some definitely “nah” reads (Zodiac comes to mind). I guess that’s what happens when you try to rack up short reads to boost your book count? My average read length was 365 pages, which is actually longer than 2016’s with 331, but that year I also read a bunch of poetry books and comic book trades, so this year’s average really reflects just…reading a lot of short YAs.

2018 resolutions

A cat watching her human reread Harry Potter 6

This year, I’m aiming to read 60 books overall, with rereads. Why am I aiming so low compared to the last couple of years? Well, over this past year, I read a lot of short books in an attempt to keep up (since I was also otherwise busy), and I found a lot of them to be, well, too short. I don’t want to feel hung up on that this year; I’d rather feel confident about picking up something long and not fall behind!

I also don’t want to feel so badly about wanting to do rereads. Over the past couple of years, I haven’t been really recording them on Goodreads or counting them towards my goals, so even when I feel the urge to pick something up on my shelf again, I often decide against it so that I can read something new. But that really goes against my whole mood reading thing where I don’t queue up my TBR so that I can keep reaching for what I want to read and not fall into reading slumps. (Which I did this year when I probably would’ve rather been doing rereads.) So I’m going to nix that and try to do more rereads and post more about them!

I’m also not going to pick up any official reading challenges this year, because I basically forgot about them last year and I don’t think it’s very productive for me? But I did think the idea of the 24 in 48 reading marathon (and other marathons) was pretty cool, even if I didn’t finish mine this year, so I’m hoping to participate in something like that again!

The tl;dr version of my reading challenges for myself:

  1. Read 60 books.
  2. Read longer books.
  3. Reread more books (and post about it).
  4. Do another reading marathon.

(I’m hoping keeping it simple will make it happen.)

What are you hoping to achieve in your reading this year? Any goals you’ve set for 2018? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll speak to you again soon!

Monthly Reads: December 2017

Hello everyone, and happy end to the year! I hope 2018 is about to bring you good luck and a much better world.

I’m excited to get into some stats from my 2017 reading (and maybe some simpler, better reading resolutions I can actually follow for this year), but for now, here’s my reading round-up for December.

Bone Gap by Susan Ruby

Bone Gap

This is a magical realism novel about some characters who live in a town called Bone Gap, particularly Roza, a girl from afar who arrived mysteriously, and Finn, the only witness when she disappeared.

This book had compelling characters and I enjoyed the style of writing and description, but it did feel a bit short in terms of developing the relationship between Finn and his brother, the atmosphere of the town, and in other aspects. I enjoyed it, but didn’t love it.

Everything Beautiful is Not Ruined by Danielle Younge-Ullman

Everything Beautiful is Not Ruined

This is a contemporary drama about Ingrid, whose mother sends her off to a remote summer camp for at-risk youth, her condition for Ingrid to be able to attend a prestigious arts school.

This book wasn’t short, but it felt that way in some ways because it didn’t cover all of its bases really? It had a lot of characters that it didn’t really flesh out and it had some fairly awkward subplots that didn’t really seem justified. It was…fine, but it didn’t give me a lot of reasons to invest and have big feelings.

Want by Cindy Pon

Want

This is a futuristic dystopian sci-fi about a polluted Taiwan with a distinct class divide between the rich and poor. The rich wear advanced suits to avoid the polluted air and prolong their lives; the poor have drastically shortened lifespans. Zhou, the protagonist, decides to do something about it.

I felt like this book was a little too much about the romance and not so much about the worldbuilding, which I would have preferred. I also didn’t feel like it spent much time fleshing out Zhou’s friends and team, and that made it difficult to get engaged in their struggles. Again, this was one of those short books where it felt like the emotional beats didn’t land as they could have. Broken record 2017.

Renegades by Marissa Meyer

Renegades

This book is kind of a heroes/villains X-Men situation in a made-up city world, where we follow a hero with a secret identity and a “villain” looking for retribution for the wrongs the heroes have committed.

This book was a bit overly long, somewhat predictable (a very X-Men vs. Magneto kind of idea), not that compelling romance, and the characters are not all that fleshed out? This was a second chance read, but I kind of think maybe I liked Cinder better, despite its problems? So that kind of washed out.

 

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

A Court of Thorns and Roses

I don’t know that I need to explain what this is since it’s super popular, but: this is the first book of a fantasy series that’s a sort of fairy tale retelling that takes place in a world where fae and humans both exist (segregated by a magic wall).

I decided to re-read this series because, honestly, I didn’t love the first book of it, I really liked the second book, then the third book really fell flat for me, and that’s such a strange arc I just really wanted to figure out what happened.

So I wasn’t really into this book originally, because it’s really pretty slow up until the last hundred pages or so, when it gets pretty exciting (almost crammed in too quickly). The first book is mostly the main character going to the fae world and falling in love and really pretty slow up until the ending? Anyway, rereading that was fine since I knew what was coming.

 

A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

A Court of Mist and Fury

…so I really enjoyed this the first time around, because it took a turn I didn’t expect and made me feel as if the main character had self-respect and was going to kick butt on her own and that we were getting a Statement about healthy relationships.

But this time around, I pinpointed the issue that I have with the book and what continues to be a real problem through the next one: the super annoying plot trope of “mates.” Remember imprints from New Moon? Like that, along with lots of justifications for extra gross behaviour on the part of dudes. Sigh. The tension and interest in a romance is just way better if people getting together isn’t a foregone conclusion. (Also, I had the impression before that revelation that this book would be anti-gross behaviour.)

 

A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas

A Court of Wings and Ruin

This was meh to me the first time around, but it took me a while to realize why. It did have some good moments? But I really wanted there to be some key confrontations and real interactions between the protagonist and the person who really betrays her, and that just never really happens. There are also a lot of actions in this one motivated and framed around soulmatery, which is kind of…meh. There are also a lot of characters who swoop in to do important stuff who I feel like we barely know, and I just don’t care enough about them to be invested in them doing the stuff? This is maybe a much more epic series than it came out as (aka, we need more time to get to know the world and everyone in it to get involved in its main conflicts), or maybe it just needed to pull out some (quite cheesy) sex scenes to give us more time with that.


Did you get in any holiday re-reading? What were your bests and disappointments this month? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll speak to you again in the new year!

The Best YA Books I’ve Read This Year: 2017 Edition

Hello everyone, and welcome back!

This is it: the best YA books I’ve read this year. In some cases, the race was close between some books I was similarly into (or on similar topics), so I went with what stuck with me the most.

Let’s get to it!

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

The Hate U GiveYou don’t need me to tell you to read this book, because everyone has said to read this book. It’s one of those few situations where a book lives up to its hype.

This contemporary drama is about a young woman, Starr, and the worlds that come crashing down (in her poor Black neighbourhood and at her mostly-white prep school) when she witnesses one of her friends getting shot by a cop. It’s obviously currently relevant but also is generally refreshing: it’s nice to spend time with a YA protagonist who actually has and gets along with their family.

The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock

The Smell of Other People's HousesThis young adult historical drama-ish takes place in Alaska in the 1970s, following the lives of four perspective characters and dealing with the subject of family (blood families and found families) and friendship.

This is a short book, but it’s very strong in its use of setting, symbolism, and description. It was also super refreshing to spend time with a contemporary-like book with not very much romance.

Scythe by Neal Shusterman

ScytheNo dystopians on this list, but here’s a utopian book for you. (Okay, that’s how it’s described, but there are clearly insidious aspects to this society.) This speculative future exists in a world where medicine has advanced to a point where no one ever has to die—so to prevent overpopulation, some are “reaped” at random by a group of people called Scythes. The two protagonists are chosen to be new apprentices.

I didn’t really review this one as I read it during a reading marathon, but it definitely has stuck with me. I’ve already pre-ordered the sequel to this one for early next year; it was a fun and interesting setting with likeable characters, if a slightly over-the-top villain.

Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick

MidwinterbloodAnother reading marathon read, and a really unique one. It’s hard to classify this book: it’s kind of a series of vignettes that take place on the same secluded island over many years between different characters. It’s a little bit horror, a little bit mystery, a little bit romance, and pretty unique.

It’s also not very long (this was the year of short books), so I would definitely recommend giving it a look if you want to read something a bit different. (I read a lot of YA, so sometimes I’m looking for the best of a genre, and sometimes, it’s nice to find something else entirely.)

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

The Sun is Also a StarHere’s the contemporary romance of our list (and a second chance read), a story about Natasha, whose family is soon to be deported, and Daniel, headed to a college interview he really doesn’t want. The two meet in New York and travel the city together while fate changes their lives and the lives of others around them.

This one might grate on you if you’re not much of a romantic (Daniel is; Natasha isn’t, but the book itself definitely is written with a butterfly effect in mind). It also sometimes wanders into the minds of the characters around the protagonists and unravels some of their stories, which I found touching but might not be for everyone (it’s not the most usual form of storytelling, for sure). But as a fairly romantic person who also loves setting stuff, I enjoyed this a lot.

Geekerella by Ashley Poston

GeekerellaMy favourite fairy tale retelling and fan culture read of the year, and I read quite a few of them. This contemporary romance/fairy tale retelling is about a young woman who longs to reconnect with her lost parents by attending the fan convention they helped to run, and the young actor who’s been cast in the new adaptation of her favourite old show. (Obviously, hijinks ensue.)

The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis

The Female of the SpeciesAnother contemporary drama because apparently, it’s that kind of year. This one is about rape culture, largely, so it’s not one to wade into without feeling ready for the material. One of the protagonists, Alex, murdered the man who assaulted and killed her sister; the story follows her later on, as she slowly forms friendships with a coworker at the animal shelter and a young man who starts to notice her.

This is a heavy book that’ll definitely have an impact; it’s dark, but it has humour to balance it.

Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray

Defy the StarsI wasn’t 100% sure at first if this belonged on my list or if it just surprised me how much I actually had fun with it, but let’s give every genre a chance: this was my favourite sci-fi of the year. It follows two characters, a young woman and an artificial intelligence, from two different worlds, and their quest to do something about the conflict that’s coming.

This was a pretty fun romp from futuristic setting to futuristic setting, and it didn’t contain a rushed, canned romance, so I had a good time with it. (This was also a second chance after A Thousand Pieces of You.)

When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore

When the Moon Was OursI also wasn’t 100% sure if this belonged at first; I liked it quite a bit, but I wasn’t sure about “favourite” status? But this book got me into reading more magical realism, and I’ve been really enjoying that, and I came to love Sam and Miel (the protagonists of this magical realism/romance), so I think it’ll be the one that sticks out most in months to come.

(Also it’s fun to have a span of genres, obviously.)

Six of Crows/Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

Six of Crows duologySo this is yet another testament to why it’s good that I retry authors, because I was definitely in the minority of people who just really didn’t get into the Grisha trilogy and I was hesitant to try this duology. But then I did, and it was a lot of fun.

This is a medium-fantasy heist duology about a group of not-really-villains who team up to pull off some major crimes and have a lot of interpersonal drama. The characters are vivid, the setting is fun, and it’s probably pretty accessible to read even if you don’t know anything about the Grisha world.


What were your favourite reads of the year? What new releases are you looking forward to in 2018? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll speak to you again soon!

Best & Worst: My Fall Reads

Hello everyone, and welcome back!

We are officially rolling into the winter season, and I’m here to wrap this one up.

I read a lot of books this season thanks to a many-book November, although I’m not sure I read a lot of super strong ones or super bad ones? There was a lot of middle of the road, so this post is a little indecisive compared to previous months.

In any case, the disclaimer: the best are the books (generally YA, because I prefer to stick to reviewing that for now) that stand out to me as the season wraps up; the worst are the one that disappointed me somehow. And we’ll roll these out in no particular order, because that’s just the way we live around here.

Best

When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore

When the Moon Was Ours

This is a magical realism romance about Miel, a girl who grows roses from her wrist, and Sam, a boy who hangs moons from the trees to help people sleep. Miel struggles with the secrets of her lost family; Sam struggles with his gender identity.

This book really isn’t for everyone, because it’s definitely low on plot and high on description, atmosphere, and very internal character moments. But if you do like really character-driven books with hints of magic and diversity in your romantic leads, then this book is for you.

We Are Okay by Nina Lacour

We Are OkayThis is a contemporary grief-driven book: Marin lost her only parent, her grandfather, last summer; this winter, she’s thousands of miles from home and hosting her former best friend, who she abandoned in the wake of her grief. She’s struggling to explain why it was that she left.

This book, again, isn’t for everyone; it’s pretty slow and ponderous, with a lot of quiet dish-washing and other stalling. But there’s also some beauty to its style, and although it was too short to build all of the character relationships to the level I wanted, it was emotionally affecting.

All the Rage by Courtney Summers

All the RageThis is a book about rape, sexual assault, and rape culture, told through the perspective of Romy, who was raped and is very angry. She puts on her makeup as armour and faces every day as best she can after her unjust “fall from grace” at school, up until things go too far.

In terms of contemporaries about this subject, I read another this season, What We Saw, that was also pretty well-written. However, I appreciate that this book is from the perspective of the victim and doesn’t resort to being too ham-handed in making its case. There’s also something really powerful about the process of Romy’s makeup application that stuck with me.

Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King

Please Ignore Vera DietzThis is another book about grief, although definitely different from We Are Okay: Vera’s former best friend Charlie recently died, but only Vera knows the whole story, and she’s having trouble coping with it.

I didn’t always love the plot of this book; the twists with Charlie are…okay. But Vera has a great voice as a character, and the form of this book is often a lot of fun: sometimes, there are point-of-view pieces from the pagoda. This isn’t my favourite book ever (none of those in this season are, to be honest), but it does make me feel like I’d happily pick up this author again.

Worst

What Light by Jay Asher

What LightThis book was about a female protagonist who leaves town every year to go sell Christmas trees in another state with her family, and while she’s there she meets a boy with a rough reputation. You may be able to tell how the rest of this will go.

I’m not sure if this was better or worse than Thirteen Reasons Why. It was a fairly shallow, melodramatic contemporary Christmas romance, but it didn’t trouble me with its ethics the way the other book did. It mostly kinda bored me.

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. SÁNCHEZ

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican DaughterJulia’s sister Olga recently died, and ever since, her mother is putting more and more pressure on her to be perfect. She’s also juggling dreams of college, dating, her friendships, and trying to figure out her dead sister’s secrets.

I wanted to love this book, but there was just too much happening in it and the style was really…unpolished. There are time jumps that feel really abrupt, long sequences that drag in Julia’s head, and characters who seem only momentarily important. I so wish I could’ve liked this book.

Where Futures End by Parker Peevyhouse

Where Futures EndThis is a sci-fi/fantasy book that takes place in five different times and deals with two different worlds: one like ours, and a fantasy-like world it’s connected to. The first protagonist slips into the other world in a time like ours; the rest of the short stories deal with the connection between worlds and its consequences as time progresses.

This was a really cool book in terms of worldbuilding and form (most books aren’t five vignettes), but the premise doesn’t spend too much time trying to make sense, and characters we get interested in drop out of the rest of the book, and it just generally disappointed me how cool some of the worldbuilding could be when the rest of the book just kind of fell flat for me.


Well, winter is here, and with it will hopefully come great books, tea, and cozy armchair reading. Here’s hoping I have nothing but bests to list next season! (But we all know that won’t happen.) What are some of your favourites of the past few months? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll speak to you again soon!

Second Chances: December 2017 Edition

Hello everyone, and welcome back to another second chances post! For the idea behind this, check out the first post. Or, the quick run-down: this is the post series where I try authors out another time when I wasn’t sold on the first (or last) book I read from them. And that might seem like a silly idea, but it actually works out well sometimes, which is why I keep doing it!

In any case: here are the authors I gave another shot over the past couple of months (and the books I read). Let’s get to it!

Warcross by Marie Lu

WarcrossWarcross is a semi-futuristic sci-fi where everyone plays a game that’s kind of a cross between an MMORPG and Pokémon Go, and the protagonist of the book gets recruited for her ability to hack it.

I actually wrote a full review of it, so you can check that out if you’re interested. More or less, though, I really enjoyed the worldbuilding and setting aspects and was less sold on the rest of the book. I wanted to spend more time getting to know the mechanics of the game and seeing why the protagonist, Emika, was so special in what she could do with it.

Emika kind of comes off as a wish fulfillment, cool-and-good-at-everything-relevant kind of character (especially since we get told and not shown, at points, how she does what she does), and the plot was fairly predictable. Still, I had a lot more fun with this than Legend,  which I kind of slogged through and thought was a very typical-to-form dystopian without much standing out to cling to. I could see myself reading the sequel to this book.

(I might also not, depending on what’s coming out over the next year, but it’s likely I will if the reviews are good. And in any case, Marie Lu’s stock has risen with me.)

What Light by Jay Asher

What LightIt took a deep breath and a lot of self-convincing to take this second chance on Jay Asher, because I really don’t like Thirteen Reasons Why and I’ve had awkward luck with Christmas-themed books and stories, so.

Anyway: What Light is about a girl whose family moves south to sell Christmas trees every December, and while she’s down there working, she meets a mysterious cute boy with a bad reputation. Can you guess what happens? Yes, probably. That’s not what makes this book bad; a lot of contemporary romance is like that, of course.

But…this is more or less a not-great romance that is cheesy, kind of boring, and builds up conflict that’s not really conflict. The friend character is just there to provide relationship advice; parents are just there to provide ineffectual relationship impediments, etc. Even the Christmas tree lot setting kind of loses its romance, and people in this book don’t seem to understand what a mocha is. (They keep making hot chocolate and stirring it with a candy cane and calling it a cheap peppermint mocha. Dude, that’s a peppermint hot chocolate. Know your beverage.)

I honestly just stuck with it because I had already started reading it and I wanted to be able to write about it for second chances, but I feel especially confident in saying that this book is not worth your time. Although yeah, stir your hot chocolate with a candy cane. That is tasty. (Still not a mocha.)

Renegades by Marissa Meyer

RenegadesI didn’t hate the Lunar Chronicles series, but I didn’t really dig it, either? The cultural appropriation aspects in the Cinder parts of the story were awkward, and I feel like it suffered from a kind of character bloat, where more and more people were introduced and it felt like the narrative lost sight of the people who were originally at its centre. (Also, as it introduced more and more people, we still just had all straight people pairing off, which can get pretty tiresome.)

I figured I might get along better with Renegades, because it just takes place in a comic-book-like city, some people in it are not straight (hurray!), and I was hoping it’d be a more focused story. It’s also a different genre outing, generally: it’s more of a comic-type “prodigy” (mutant) heroes and villains story.

Honestly, though, I was more interested reading Cinder than I was reading this. First of all, this book is too long. (Is this a first?) For what happens in it, it kind of drags and feels a lot like a long set-up. Second of all, it very much cleaves to a plot we already know, a sort of Magneto vs. the X-Men conundrum, with the somewhat-twist that the X-Men here can be a little drunk on power and the Magneto-team wants regular people to do stuff for themselves rather than rely on superheroes. The powers some of the characters had were pretty fun and imaginative, but I was also bored by the characters because we got to know them to such a tiny extent in such a long book. (Basically just their key tragic backstories.)

Like I don’t really know what actually took so long in this book: it’s kind of a typical two-character perspectives, not-that-interesting romance plot with one person infiltrating the enemy and another keeping a secret from all of their friends, plus three villain-hero encounters and a lot of characters introduced with very little fanfare.

Anyway, not really for me, which is a shame, because I wanted to like this author; she started as a fanfic author and…didn’t just publish her fanfiction, which I admire. But yeah. This book is not really for me.


Welp, I had pretty good luck with this in my last round, but not so much here. Still, I enjoy doing this series, so I’ll find my way back to some more authors I had bad luck with in 2018, I’m sure. (I’m not actually sure who they’ll be yet, but I am looking forward to putting together that list.)

Have you retried any authors lately? How was your luck? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll speak to you again soon!

Review: Want by Cindy Pon

Hello everyone, and welcome back!

I actually pre-ordered this book intending to read it right when it came out, but…best intentions. In any case, it’s not quite as sci-fi as I thought it would be, so I guess I’m not totally regretting my life decisions? (This was more of a dystopian situation, and I’ve had quite a few more of those.)

In any case, let’s talk about it, shall we?

Want by Cindy Pon

This cover art is pretty sweet, and the author remarks inside on how glad she was that her Taiwanese main character could so prominently be on the cover of it. It is nice to see some different representation on book covers, for sure!

Want

Anyway: the book. Want is about a dystopian Taiwan in which the air is barely breathable, and the population is split into mei and you people: the have-nots and the haves. The have-nots have brief lifespans, eating tainted food and breathing polluted air; the haves wear expensive suits to filter their air and regulate their temperatures.

Zhou is a have-not who decides to change the status quo: he wants to show the yous how important it is to help to mend the polluted world. But before he can do that, he needs to become one of them. It’s a pretty classic fish-out-of-water, infiltrate the system to get revenge but also care too much for someone there kind of scenario that you may remember from such recent books as Red Rising, and you might recognize the disgust Zhou has for the excess of the you lifestyle from such books as The Hunger Games.

In other words, the plot here is really nothing new. Which is fine, most plots aren’t, but it didn’t give me anything to be excited about, so I had to look elsewhere.

Otherwise, a lot of this book is Zhou falling for his love interest, which was kind of boring since he does a bunch of it from afar without interacting with her? We don’t get loads of character development for her other than near the end, so it’s kind of not the most awesome romance to read about.

So what else is going on in this book to hang on to? The worldbuilding in this book is interesting, but not enough of the substance of the book, I felt. There are a lot of character moments where people are fighting for the Taiwan they care about, but I wanted to know and understand that Taiwan in general and through their perspectives a lot more.

Speaking of those perspectives: the other characters, Zhou’s friends, are a pretty interesting group, but we don’t get a lot of time to get to know each of them individually. It is, after all (I know, you’re going to murder me)…a short book. And because it’s a short book where we don’t get a lot of moments for these characters to show us who they are rather than having Zhou tell us, I find that, wait for it…a lot of the emotional beats don’t land as I’d like them to.

I am a broken record, 2017. In 2018, I am resolving to read far fewer short books, I promise.

(…but seriously, I was kind of hoping for Zhou’s team to be a little bit Six of Crows-esque, in terms of having some time to get to know each of them and their stories, but we really just don’t.)

In any case: I wanted to like this book, but it didn’t really happen for me? It was a quick enough read, and I was interested in the world it presented (brown skies, polluted air, sky motorcycles and all), but I didn’t have enough to dig into in that worldbuilding, and the plot ended up following somewhat repetitive patterns, and the characters weren’t really enough to latch on to.

I want to get behind Cindy Pon (she’s an amazing advocate for diverse books and I totally respect that), but this isn’t the book that can get me there. Maybe the next one?

Overall:


Do you find you’re missing something from the short books you read? Or are you more into them because of how quickly they go by? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll speak to you again soon!