Review: I Hate Everyone But You by Gaby Dunn and Allison Raskin

ihateeveryonebutyouI Hate Everyone But You by Gaby Dunn and Allison Raskin

My Rating: 1/5 TARDISes

Series: Standalone

Date Published: September 5th, 2017

Publisher: Wednesday Books

Pages: 352 pages

Source: Netgalley

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: Dear Best Friend,

I can already tell that I will hate everyone but you.

Sincerely,

Ava Helmer

(that brunette who won’t leave you alone)

We’re still in the same room, you weirdo.

Stop crying.

G

So begins a series of texts and emails sent between two best friends, Ava and Gen, as they head off to their first semesters of college on opposite sides of the country. From first loves to weird roommates, heartbreak, self-discovery, coming out and mental health, the two best friends will document every moment to each other. But as each changes and grows into her new life, will their friendship be able to survive the distance?

I Hate Everyone But You, the debut novel by two emerging major talents in YA, Allison Raskin and Gaby Dunn, is a story about new beginnings, love and heartbreak, and ultimately about the power of friendship.

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*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

This is a spoiler-free review.

I have put off writing my review of this novel for quite a while now for a few reasons. First of all, it has been a long time since I disliked a book as much as I disliked this one, therefore, I have a lot to say. So many aspects annoyed, frustrated, and completely enraged me due to how close to home they hit. However, I absolutely despise writing rant-filled reviews—I like to be as fair as possible—and immediately after I finished reading, I didn’t think I was capable of being calm.

Another aspect that is still causing me to be hesitant is my lack of real-life, firsthand knowledge of the situation that one of the girls was experiencing. Even though I was not able to fully connect to what she was dealing with, I still found that I had a lot of opinions on the way it was handled and presented from a bit of an “outsider’s” point-of-view. It’s about time that I gave this a try though, so I will do my best to explain my feelings as well as I can. Please remember, this is all just my personal opinion and interpretation of the novel.

In this novel, we follow two best friends—Ava and Gen—as they navigate their first year of college on opposite sides of the country. This is the first time they have had to deal with a separation this huge, and understandably, the new experiences ahead feel incredibly daunting without the other by their side. In lieu of seeing each other in person, they keep up a correspondence every day, discussing all the aspects of their new lives and trying to maintain their strong friendship.

Admittedly, this is not something that I would have normally been interested in reading. However, the format that the story is told in is originally what caught my eye, and my attention. The entire novel is told through texts and emails sent between Ava and Gen as they support each other while trying to bridge the distance between them. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved stories told through messages—I’m not sure why, but they have always been so much fun for me. Unfortunately, that was not the case this time around.

Let me begin by talking about Ava, as the themes used in her storyline are ones that I have the most personal experience with. These main themes are anxiety/social anxiety and OCD, and the obstacles mental illness can throw in your way—or at least that is what it is trying to portray. Instead, it ends up coming across as a very stereotypical and downright inaccurate caricature of serious mental illnesses, used many times for comedic purposes.

So, I may be overreacting to this as I do on occasion when it comes to the depiction of mental illness. And I completely understand that all mental illnesses manifest in unique ways for every single person dealing with them. But, as someone who has dealt with severe anxiety/social anxiety and OCD all their life, I am incredibly upset by the way it is shown here. Believe me, I am someone who truly values the medicinal effects of humor, and I do enjoy poking fun at the strangeness of my anxiety plenty of the time. However, here, every aspect is treated as a complete joke.

The absolute biggest problem I have with it is that a huge part of the time, her actions show the exact opposite of the severe social anxiety she claims to have—no, joining a sorority and throwing yourself at men is not a good example. As I said before, her anxiety only pops up when it can make a situation into a joke, and it is written in that clichéd “oh, I’m so ‘hashtag relatable’” kind of way. I apologize for the way I’m coming across here. I’m just absolutely fed up with the way people belittle the incredible amount of pain that this type of mental illness inflicts on those of us who have to deal with it on a daily basis.

Then we have our other main character, Gen. The main themes in her storyline are exploring one’s sexuality, experimenting and discovering what is right for you, and how one’s sexuality does not need to conform to a strict label. However, this is not the message that I feel her actions conveyed. It comes across more like she is very sure of herself and is just using people, manipulating their emotions, and putting herself at risk.

Granted, maybe this is my interpretation because of my own personal experiences, or lack of experience. I connect with her on what it’s like to learn about one’s sexuality and that desire to break away from society’s habit of labeling it. I am unable to connect with her actions though, as my journey, purely due to my personality, has been much less active. All in all, I am fairly irritated because I do not feel like her plotline positively or realistically portrays the queer community, particularly what it is like for those of us who find that we attracted to both genders.

Now, on to Ava and Gen’s friendship in general. Things started out well at the beginning of the novel—they are shown to have a rather sweet relationship and are incredibly close to each other. It’s very easy to relate to the sadness of having to be separated from your best friend whom you’ve always had by your side to face the challenges of life—I have been going through the exact same thing in the last few years. They are faithfully there to support each other through the changes that come with college living. However, somewhat quickly, things begin to take a turn for the worse, and by the halfway point of the novel, their friendship has proven itself to be horrendously toxic.

First of all, Ava is constantly acting relatively homophobic in many of her conversations with Gen when Gen shares things about her sexuality. And again, this is used as another tactic to create humor in the plot, which I think is atrocious. But the most major issue with their friendship is how they support and strongly encourage each other to make terrible, dangerous, and damaging decisions. It is so over-the-top, it’s extremely hard to believe that either of these girls actually cares about the other. Their relationship feels manipulative and destructive more than anything.

Suffice it to say, I think we can conclude that I Hate Everyone But You was clearly not for me. I of course applaud any authors committing themselves to helping diversify literature. Diversity is something we need so much more of, and sexuality, gender labels, and mental illness are all wonderful topics to choose. And I did love the format of the book—it made for a very fast read, and was the only really enjoyable part. The overall story itself just did not come across in the right way at all. Personally, I cannot, in good conscious, recommend giving this a read.

1.0 TARDIS

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Review: Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

illuminaeIlluminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

My Rating: 5/5 TARDISes

Series: The Illuminae Files #1

Date Published: October 20th, 2015

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers

Pages: 602 pages

Source: Purchased

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: This morning, Kady thought breaking up with Ezra was the hardest thing she’d have to do. This afternoon, her planet was invaded.

The year is 2575, and two rival megacorporations are at war over a planet that’s little more than an ice-covered speck at the edge of the universe. Too bad nobody thought to warn the people living on it. With enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra—who are barely even talking to each other—are forced to fight their way onto an evacuating fleet, with an enemy warship in hot pursuit.

But their problems are just getting started. A deadly plague has broken out and is mutating, with terrifying results; the fleet’s AI, which should be protecting them, may actually be their enemy; and nobody in charge will say what’s really going on. As Kady hacks into a tangled web of data to find the truth, it’s clear only one person can help her bring it all to light: the ex-boyfriend she swore she’d never speak to again.

BRIEFING NOTE: Told through a fascinating dossier of hacked documents—including emails, schematics, military files, IMs, medical reports, interviews, and more—Illuminae is the first book in a heart-stopping, high-octane trilogy about lives interrupted, the price of truth, and the courage of everyday heroes.

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This is a spoiler-free review.

Illuminae is a masterpiece—an absolute work of art in so many ways. It is one of the most captivating and utterly addictive books I’ve read in a long time. I’m always wary when it comes to books that have extreme amounts of hype surrounding them, but now, I can’t believe it took me so long to pick it up. I feel like I have so much I want to talk about, so many thoughts, and yet I have absolutely no idea where to even begin. Suffice it to say, this book absolutely blew my mind and has easily become one of my all-time favorites. It was everything I love in a science fiction novel and so much more—it completely exceeded my expectations.

We are thrown into the action right from page one. At the start of the novel, a small, ice-covered planet called Kerenza is attacked by a corporation named Beitech. The planet is completely destroyed, resulting in the deaths of many of its citizens. However, three ships are able to evacuate those lucky enough to reach them in time. The refugees begin a long journey to safety, pursued by the only surviving Beitech ship, which is intent on wiping out all witnesses of the Kerenza attack.

But the danger is not limited to their attackers—there are darker forces at work among the survivors as well. Internal conflict, a mutating virus, and a massive amount of deceit are at play. Not to mention a rogue and potentially deadly AI system controlling one of the main ships. The principal characters, Kady and Ezra, are thrust into the middle of the conflict, and must reconcile in order to work together to separate truth from lies and ensure the safety of their people.

The novel is told entirely through documents such as transcripts, emails, instant messages, and official files, all compiled together into one dossier. I’ve always had a huge issue when it comes to concentrating on things like textbooks that are set up with a bunch of extra boxes of information scattered all over the pages, and I was worried that this would be structured in the same way. Thankfully, this is absolutely nothing like that—it is incredibly easy to follow and maintains a very smooth reading experience throughout.

The style and art of the files is wonderful, and this was definitely the most unique book I’ve ever read. Everything is meticulously put together and highly detailed, adding to the realism of the format. This pulled me so deeply in and completely absorbed me into the world, making every moment even more heart-pounding and tense—it suits the narrative perfectly and truly enhances the reading experience.

Character creation and portrayal is a bit unconventional compared to the most common presentation in many novels. Here, we follow a huge cast of characters, but since the entire story is told through documents, the reader doesn’t get a chance to connect with them on a first-hand or very personal level. I’ll admit I was pretty wary about this going in, thinking there would be too much of a disconnect to actually feel for and become attached to any of the characters. However, I was extremely pleasantly surprised by the way it ended up coming across.

For me personally, I had absolutely no trouble feeling the intense emotions prevalent throughout the narrative. This is a testament to the incredibly strong writing of Kaufman and Kristoff. No matter how well or for how long I knew a character, their struggle and their emotions touched me deeply.

Knowing every little detail about their lives and who they are isn’t important—the focus is on connecting with them and the situation on a basic and relatable level. The universal and instinctual human reaction to the profound suffering, pain, and fear of others is relied upon to create the powerful story that is found within these pages.

In terms of primary characters, Kady, Ezra, and AIDAN are the main focus of the narrative. Kady is an extremely strong, intelligent, and badass heroine. She demonstrates such bravery through all her actions and commitment to saving the lives of others. Overall, I felt as though I connected with her pretty well, especially toward the end, and I really loved her. And AIDAN—AIDAN is utterly brilliant. AIDAN definitely ended up being the most intriguing and three-dimensional character, in my opinion.

I had the most trouble connecting with Ezra, though he also does not have as much of a part in the novel as the others do. He honestly doesn’t do a whole lot, though I was actually really glad that there was more of a focus on Kady anyway. Some of Ezra’s humor was a bit off-putting to me at times, but he did grow on me the further I got into the story. He is a very kind and caring person, and obviously loves Kady very much. I wasn’t thrilled with the romance—it didn’t really stand out to me and the way it’s presented is a bit awkward. However, I got enough of a sense of their feelings for each other that I still rooted for the pair.

Returning to the writing itself, it is absolutely fantastic and enthralling. At no point in the novel do you get any sense that it has been written by more than one author—the entire story is one fluid piece. I loved the combined storytelling style of Kaufman and Kristoff—they are clearly both incredibly talented authors and they work wonderfully together as a pair. Every aspect of the plot is spectacularly vivid. I was able to visualize everything so well, and I distinctly felt all the emotions the events of the story evoked.

So basically, I’m sort of completely obsessed with this novel—I already want to go back and read it again. It was action-packed and riveting from start to finish, and I found that I could barely put it down. I have been thinking about it non-stop since I began reading, and I am still so excited by every aspect. I am currently trying my hardest to be responsible and avoid picking up Gemina until after I’ve caught up on some review books, but the temptation is intense. Just in case it’s not obvious enough already, I very highly recommend reading Illuminae.

5.0 TARDISes

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Review: The Elizas by Sara Shepard

theelizasThe Elizas by Sara Shepard

My Rating: 3.5/5 TARDISes

Series: Standalone

Date Published: April 17th, 2018

Publisher: Atria Books

Pages: 352 pages

Source: Netgalley

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: When debut novelist Eliza Fontaine is found at the bottom of a hotel pool, her family at first assumes that it’s just another failed suicide attempt. But Eliza swears she was pushed, and her rescuer is the only witness. 

Desperate to find out who attacked her, Eliza takes it upon herself to investigate. But as the publication date for her novel draws closer, Eliza finds more questions than answers. Like why are her editor, agent, and family mixing up events from her novel with events from her life? Her novel is completely fictional, isn’t it? 

The deeper Eliza goes into her investigation while struggling with memory loss, the closer her life starts to resemble her novel until the line between reality and fiction starts to blur and she can no longer tell where her protagonist’s life ends and hers begins.

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*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

This is a spoiler-free review.

Though I’ve known about her work for years, this is the first novel by Sara Shepard that I’ve ever read—and I ended up being pleasantly surprised by this particular story. It is a pretty solid young adult thriller. Being quite a huge fan of suspenseful mysteries—particularly any type with unreliable or biased narrators—this caught my attention immediately. I am much more used to reading adult psychological thrillers, and this is not quite on par with the plot structure and intensity of many of those. As it is a young adult novel, it is a bit less complex and much lighter, so it’s important to note that going in. However, The Elizas is an entertaining and heart-pounding story that is sure to hook its intended audience.

In this novel, we follow a young woman named Eliza Fontaine, a debut novelist whose book release date is rapidly approaching. But life takes a strange turn when she is pulled from the bottom of a hotel pool. Her family believes it to be just another suicide attempt—she insists it was an attempted murder. With only one person on her side, and what seems like the whole world trying to convince her she’s just insane, Eliza must investigate the attack herself.

However, as she struggles to regain lost memories, every avenue she explores only ends up raising even more questions. And suddenly, her novel is starting to sound less like a story and more like her life. Told in chapters that alternate between Eliza’s point of view and excerpts from her book, The Dots, the parallels become undeniable, and the line between reality and fiction becomes increasingly blurry.

I’ll admit, it took me quite some time to fully immerse myself in this novel. The first half of Eliza’s story plays out very slowly, and is often times extremely repetitive. This makes sense in the grand scheme of things, since we are primarily dealing with her attempting to regain memories she cannot seem to unlock. But I still feel that her plotline is in need of more events—however small—to help us become more invested in her as a character. For awhile, I found myself being much more interested in the excerpts from The Dots instead of the main storyline, though both are equally important.

The narrative came across as a bit choppy to me in the beginning—it feels like things are repeating and going nowhere, there is a sudden heightening of the tension, and then we are back to the same circumstances. This is obviously congruent with the situation of someone dealing with memory loss, so I completely understand the effect that Shepard is going for. However, I do wish there had been a tiny bit more added to Eliza’s experiences, just to gradually pull the reader deeper into her life throughout the novel as a whole.

Unreliable narrators are, by nature, inconsistent, and always add a good amount of confusion into the process of getting to know who they are, as well as what is truly going on. Eliza is especially unpredictable all the way through—but at the start, her personality comes across like Shepard can’t decide what to do with her instead of what might be naturally erratic for her mental state. In general, though, I do think Shepard really captures and deals with all the physical and mental health aspects of this novel clearly and believably.

Even with the initial lagging of the main plotline, Shepard manages to build quite a lot of suspense in both stories. She sprinkles just enough intrigue into most of the early chapters, and I was always at least a little curious to find out what would happen next. The switching between Eliza’s point of view and the excerpts from The Dots added a great deal to the tension building up as things progressed. And, despite it being a little rocky at first, I did consistently become more and more hooked.

That second half though—oh boy. I was absolutely riveted to every page. Every aspect of the story escalates so quickly, and even though I had predicted some of the ending, it still had me on the edge of my seat. For me, Shepard ended in the strongest way possible—she made every last bit pack a punch, and threw in a few surprisingly powerful twists. Though it is not hard to guess most of what is going on and roughly how things will shake out, there are plenty of details that you most likely will not see coming. That, coupled with the strength of the overall reveal, truly enriches the novel as a whole.

Shepard also does a relatively good job with her character creation. They are all very clearly described and, aside from Eliza, have static personalities the whole way through. This means that not all of the characters are very multi-dimensional, but they are still depicted well and fit very nicely into the plot. Eliza is definitely a dynamic character—our view of her is constantly changing and building until everything is fully revealed in the end. And the majority of the relationships between Eliza and the others are highly realistic and comprehensible.

The one element that I never got fully on board with was the romance. In the first place, it was a severe case of insta-love. When they first meet, Eliza goes from describing him like he is sort of gross and creepy to abruptly feeling incredibly turned on basically by her sudden thought of them having sex. Over the short time they initially spend together, she goes back to showing little interest in him, while he is awkwardly proclaiming his undying love for her. And voila, they are now a couple. Though their relationship was sweeter toward the end, I spent most of it trying to comprehend how it happened, while occasionally feeling mildly disturbed.

I found Shepard’s writing style to be fairly strong. It didn’t particularly stand out or completely captivate me, but it flows well for the narrative she weaves and is very easy to read. She crafts a good mystery, following up on all the various threads to the point were I couldn’t personally think of anything left completely unexplained. Shepard also writes very cinematically—her descriptions are vivid, and the interactions between characters were stellar. We are able to clearly visualize everything playing out, and distinctly feel the clarity that Eliza is slowly experiencing.

Overall, if this sounds good to you—or if you’re looking for a quick thriller—I would highly recommend giving this novel a try, especially if you are a young adult reader. While, like I said, it’s not going to have the intensity and depth of an adult psychological thriller, and it isn’t entirely unpredictable, it really does have a lot going for it. It is gripping enough to pull a mystery fan in, and just chilling enough to make for an entertaining read. As for me, I ended up enjoying this story more than I thought I would, and I am definitely interested in reading some more of Shepard’s work.

3.5 TARDISes

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Review: The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary by NoNieqa Ramos

thedisturbedgirlsdictionaryThe Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary by NoNieqa Ramos

My Rating: 3.5/5 TARDISes

Series: Standalone

Date Published: February 1st, 2018

Publisher: Carolrhoda Books

Pages: 344 pages

Source: Netgalley

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: Macy’s school officially classifies her as “disturbed,” but Macy isn’t interested in how others define her. She’s got more pressing problems: her mom can’t move off the couch, her dad’s in prison, her brother’s been kidnapped by Child Protective Services, and now her best friend isn’t speaking to her. Writing in a dictionary format, Macy explains the world in her own terms—complete with gritty characters and outrageous endeavors. With an honesty that’s both hilarious and fearsome, slowly Macy reveals why she acts out, why she can’t tell her incarcerated father that her mom’s cheating on him, and why her best friend needs protection . . . the kind of protection that involves Macy’s machete.

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*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

I have so many feelings about this book—some that are conflicting—but let me start out by saying that this is a wonderfully diverse novel. It focuses on many topics that I personally have not seen much, particularly in the world of young adult fiction. I found it very hard to collect my thoughts both during and after reading this story because of the quantity of thought-provoking material that is present. While my overall opinions on and experience with this novel were somewhat mixed, that in no way means that I did not truly enjoy reading it.

In this novel, we follow a fifteen-year-old girl named Macy, who is chronicling her life through entries in her own personal dictionary. Macy has been classified as “disturbed” by everyone—including herself—but really, she is just a teenager trying to survive in a horrible situation. Her father’s in prison, her mother treats her terribly and is too busy having multiple affairs to think about the welfare of her children. Macy has little to no food to eat and only a couch to sleep on, and on top of everything, she has just lost her little brother to Child Protective Services. However, Macy is not going down without a fight, and she will do everything she can to prove that she can beat the odds, as well as protect the people she loves the most.

The plot was not at all what I had been expecting going into the novel. Personally, I thought this sounded as if it would be sort of a dark mystery/thriller type story. It is definitely on the dark side, given the nature of the subjects it addresses, but that’s about all that it has in common with what I predicted—it is more of a heartbreakingly realistic, fictional recounting of a person’s life and hardships. This came as a huge surprise, though a good one, as I thoroughly enjoyed the powerful and impactful story that I found within these pages. It took me quite a while to wrap my head around everything that occurred—in a good way.

My absolute favorite part of this novel are the characters—they are beautifully crafted. Whether lovable or despicable, there is absolutely no denying that each and every one is multi-dimensional and highly memorable. Macy is such a wonderful main character and narrator. Her personality is so distinctive and vibrant, and she is someone who is very easy to care about and root for—she is strong, badass, and just plain awesome. Also, out of all the other characters, George is the one that I adored the most.

Ramos uses a writing style that is both very unique and not commonly seen in literature. The uniqueness comes from Macy herself and her personal way of voicing her thoughts. She relates her story using very choppy sentences filled with grammatical errors. This fits her absolutely perfectly, and truly adds a great deal to the way Ramos depicts her. Macy’s views on life have a distinct peculiarity of their own, which also contributes to both the realism and charm of her character.

On a technical level, the style used is most like a stream-of-consciousness narrative, as we follow the events of Macy’s life as they happen. Since Macy is narrating through entries in her dictionary, she is essentially writing out her train of thought. There is a very diary-esque feel to it, and her internal monologue is all over the place, another factor I found added depth and relatability to her as a character.

I will acknowledge, the format in which this novel is presented—stream-of-consciousness coupled with grammatical inaccuracies—may not be the easiest to read. However, Ramos does a fantastic job with it, and the more you read, the better it flows. I thought this stylistic choice suited the novel extremely well—I loved it, and I cannot see any other type of narration relaying Macy’s story as perfectly as this does.

I’m still trying to collect all of my thoughts, partially due to the fact that some of the issues I had with the novel conflict with aspects that a loved. I believe that many of my complaints stem from the style of narration that is used. However, as I said before, that style was absolutely perfect and really brought Macy’s story to life in a way no other type of narrative could have. As you can imagine, this is causing me a lot of difficulty when it comes to reviewing the novel—but I will try my best to explain things as clearly as I can.

Let me preface this by saying that I have absolutely no personal experience with the types of trials and horrors that the characters in this novel have to face on a daily basis. And while I feel as though I learned a lot from reading this, I will never say that I can even begin to understand the pain of being in these situations. The fact that any person, especially a child, should have to deal with these struggles upsets me to no end, and I have the utmost respect for the strength and bravery people have even during the of darkest times.

There were a few times where I struggled to understand certain events in the narrative. Admittedly there were some occasions where it was extremely obvious that the problem was simply my lack of knowledge on certain topics and not at all the actual writing itself. But there were also a number of instances where I felt as though more detail needed to be used in order to clarify what had taken place. This could be explained by the narration style, since a person writing entries in a journalistic way is bound to be less descriptive. Nevertheless, there were times when I wasn’t able to explain what had just happened.

On the other hand, even when I felt unsure of what exactly was happening in a scene, Ramos did such a wonderful job of crafting her characters that it never fully detached me from the narrative. She conveys the emotions so clearly, I could always relate and comprehend on that level, thus allowing me to remain closely connected to everyone. So, while I wish I could have some clarity about those particular events, it was less of a detriment to the plot as a whole than it would have been in most situations.

I also understand that this narrative can be a bit hard to follow and therefore might be a slow read. That is due to both the stream-of-consciousness format—which can make everything feel jumbled and random—and the obvious grammatical errors in Macy’s writing. The main plotline can be a bit tough to find because, having that diary style, the plot is not going to be as linear. Personally, while I did read through this a bit slower that I normally might, I found all of these qualities to be incredibly fitting to the story and Macy’s voice.

One very minor detail—and by minor, I mean I’m just putting far too much thought into things like always—that confused me a bit was the timeline of the novel. It comes across as though Macy is writing each entry in alphabetical order as it happens, since we do follow somewhat of a connected storyline. However, she frequently references other entries in the dictionary, many of which haven’t happened yet. Like I said, this isn’t a huge issue by any means, it just made it a bit unclear to me how exactly events were progressing.

The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary is a book that I know is going to stick with me for quite a long time. It is an extremely eye-opening and powerful read that addresses many dark but incredibly important topics—ones that are hard to hear about but desperately need to be discussed. The realistic characters and vivid emotions really brought the events to life, and make this story an even more educational experience. I am so glad that I picked this up, and I very highly recommend giving this novel a read.

3.5 TARDISes

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Review: Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire

downamongthesticksandbonesDown Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire

My Rating: 5/5 TARDISes

Series: Wayward Children #2

Date Published: June 13th, 2017

Publisher: Tor

Pages: 189 pages

Source: Purchased

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: Twin sisters Jack and Jill were seventeen when they found their way home and were packed off to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children.

This is the story of what happened first…

Jacqueline was her mother’s perfect daughter—polite and quiet, always dressed as a princess. If her mother was sometimes a little strict, it’s because crafting the perfect daughter takes discipline.

Jillian was her father’s perfect daughter—adventurous, thrill-seeking, and a bit of a tom-boy. He really would have preferred a son, but you work with what you’ve got.

They were five when they learned that grown-ups can’t be trusted. 

They were twelve when they walked down the impossible staircase and discovered that the pretense of love can never be enough to prepare you a life filled with magic in a land filled with mad scientists and death and choices.

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This is a spoiler-free review.

I absolutely adored this novel, which is why it has taken me so long to write up this review—I’m having so much trouble trying to find the right words to express how much I loved it. The first novel in this series, Every Heart a Doorway, was an already amazing start, but this sequel completely surpassed it in my opinion. Once again, McGuire brings us another captivating modern fairytale that is very dark in tone, and has a very beautiful yet bittersweet plot line. She has a gift for mixing together the perfect amount of relatable reality with the peculiar, the sinister, and the bizarre.

Much like the previous installment, McGuire focuses in on the stark contrast between fantasy and reality—how easy and freeing it can be to escape into fantasy, and the pains of suddenly being forced back into the real world. It tackles the subject of self-discovery and breaking away from the labels that society and even the people who are supposed to have our best interests at heart put on us. Even with the fantastical elements, at its core, this story is a highly relatable depiction of what every single one of us has gone through or will go through in our lives—the universal idea of finding oneself and being accepted.

Unlike the first novel, we get a chance to fully dive into one of those fantasy worlds from which the wayward children come back, making this an incredibly unique and utterly captivating story. It honestly could work perfectly as a standalone, but is definitely most interesting in the context of the rest of the series. I didn’t think I could love these books or Seanan McGuire’s writing any more than I did already, but this novel completely proved me wrong.

In this novel, we jump back in time to explore the experiences of two previous side characters—twins Jacqueline and Jillian—in their formative years, both with their family and during their time in the Moors, their alternate world. The two girls are brought up in the strictly regimented lives of their parents, who wish to mold them into what they perceive as the perfect children. Jacqueline is placed in the role of her mother’s perfect daughter—always wearing dresses, never getting her clothes soiled, and faultlessly polite. On the other side, Jillian becomes her father’s idea of the perfect daughter—an adventurous tom-boy who plays sports with the boys and is never afraid to get dirty.

In their youngest years, they play along in their assigned roles without question. But as they grow and experience life, the twins begin to wonder why—why their personalities are being dictated for them and why they can’t break away. Just as they are beginning to figure out what they truly want in life, the door to their other world appears. Soon, they are walking separate paths and coming into their own—learning that there are no set rules for how to be a girl. But in this eerie and twisted world, the sisters veer away from each other in more ways than they ever could have predicted.

The main aspect of this novel that I adored was getting the chance to see the background of these two characters—whom we’ve already come to care about—and actually delving deeply into the intriguing and frightening world of the Moors, in which they find themselves living for a time. Unlike the first novel, this one deals primarily with Jack and Jill’s time in their alternate world, rather than with the result of spending so long living there. It was wonderful to really explore the details of one of these fantasies that is only hinted at previously. McGuire has already proved her immense talent for the creative and unique, but she is able to take it to a whole new level with this particular story.

McGuire does another spectacular job creating vivid and multi-dimensional characters in this novel, despite the limitations of its length. Jack and Jill evolve a great deal throughout the course of the narrative. Having this extra time to experience these two characters helped flesh out their personalities even more than the previous novel did. Though none of us have had lives quite like theirs’, the struggle to find oneself in a society that is obsessed with labeling is a common theme that any reader can connect with.

Jack and Jill’s parents are horribly selfish, yet a hugely important element of the novel. Their parts in forcing the two girls into the lives and personalities that they would like them to have is an essential trigger for Jack and Jill finally realizing and becoming who they are truly meant to be. It is their strictness that sends them looking for answers and toward the door that has just opened for them. All of their efforts to mold the perfect daughters only drives the twins more toward independence and the ability to discover themselves.

The writing, as in the first novel, is once again pure magic. Seanan McGuire’s talent at crafting these beautiful and unique little vignettes is boundless. Her writing is fluid and simple, but her words contain a great amount of depth. This novel is slightly slower-paced than its predecessor, but that does not make it any less compulsively readable. For me, I loved the fact that I could take my time and really get wrapped up in the world. Even though I am always left dying for more, the narrative as a whole is a solid, complete, and fulfilling story.

The term that continuously returns to my mind when reading or thinking about these stories is “fractured fairytales”. They are enchanting and magical, as any fairytale is, yet also broken and sharp. They take you on a journey beyond the boundaries of the natural world, to the furthest reaches of your imagination, and then cut into you with their menacing undertones and unsettling twists. Instead of being sparkling and refreshing, they are murky and rough around the edges.

Everything about this novel is darkly beautiful, enchanting, heartbreaking, and bittersweet—there wasn’t a single moment that I didn’t love with all my heart. McGuire expertly unfolds another haunting, gritty, and whimsical modern day fairytale that is sure to captivate readers. It is such a short story, but it packs a huge punch in a small amount of time, and the length never inhibits the reader’s ability to become enveloped by this world. Though I don’t want it to be over just yet, I am still absolutely dying to get my hands on the final book in this trilogy.

5.0 TARDISes

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Review: Remember, Remember by Anna Elliott

rememberrememberRemember, Remember by Anna Elliot

My Rating: 3.5/5 TARDISes

Series: Sherlock Holmes and Lucy James Mysteries #3

Date Published: April 21st, 2017

Publisher: Wilton Press

Pages: 357 pages

Source: Netgalley

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: A lovely American actress awakens in London on a cold morning in 1897 – lying face down on the concrete pavement outside the British Museum. She has no memories. She does not even know who she is, although she has a vague recollection of the name Sherlock Holmes. What she believes is that she has may have just killed someone, and that someone is definitely trying to kill her. As she searches for clues to her true identity, she will learn that she is not the only target. Unless she can defeat her evil adversaries, the people most dear to her will die.

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*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

This is a spoiler-free review.

I’ll admit I went into this book a little bit hesitant. It’s no secret that I love retellings or novels that use classic characters in modern day literature—these are some of my favorite types of novels. However, the hesitation I experience comes from my love of the original stories and characters themselves. I’m always a stickler when it comes to keeping true to the most essential and definitive aspects, even while the author is forming his or her own unique story. And I am especially picky when it comes to my all-time favorites. This particular novel, I’m pleased to say, does a reasonably good job paying homage to the incredibly well-loved characters from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s timeless tales of the great Sherlock Holmes.

In this novel, we read from the perspective of the main character, Lucy James, a young woman who wakes up on the steps of the British Museum with amnesia. Once woken up, she realizes she has lost all of her memories, including her name. All she knows is that she was hit in the head and that someone is most likely out to kill her—and that she may in fact be a killer herself. This, along with the vague recollection of the name Sherlock Holmes, is all she has to go on as she attempts to remember who she is, where she’s from, and why she is running for her life. Her enemies are ruthless and willing to take down anyone who gets in their way. Navigating dangerous circumstances and forging new alliances, Lucy takes on her adversaries and works to prevent them from carrying out their nefarious scheme.

Despite my original wariness, I ended up enjoying this story quite a bit. I found the plot to be fast-paced and easy to get wrapped up in right from page one. Though this is actually the third book in the Sherlock Holmes and Lucy James Mysteries series, it functions extremely well as a standalone. The overall mystery of the story is not completely unpredictable or surprising, but it still made for a very fun and action-packed read.

The portrayal of the various characters, overall, is fairly well done, but also the area from which the majority of my issues with the novel stem. The characters that were original creations of Anna Elliot were by far the strongest. Lucy is a great protagonist—she is a strong, highly intelligent, and independent heroine. The only major issue with her characterization is that there isn’t much development over the course of the story or depiction of flaws. One of the reasons a character such as Sherlock Holmes is so interesting is the mixture of his tremendous intellect and cleverness with flaws that make him human. While Lucy is a likeable character that is still easy to connect with, she seems just a bit too perfect at times.

As for Elliot’s versions of Holmes and Watson, I had somewhat mixed feelings. While her portrayal of Watson, in my opinion, is quite accurate, I felt a little bit lukewarm about her portrayal of Holmes. We don’t really get to see all that much of him, and even though there are certain times that truly reflect the classic great detective, there are some moments and plot points that I felt strayed a little too far. Though it was a little hard for me to imagine at first, I believe she did a decent job of gauging the way Holmes would treat a daughter had he had one in the original stories. However, there were times—such as his offering Lucy dating advice—that just didn’t feel authentic.

I had one odd problem with one of the character’s names. I was reading from an advanced review copy, so this is probably the cause of my confusion, but I could not figure out Lucy’s love interest’s first name. It kept jumping back and forth between John and Jack every few pages, sometimes even within the same page. Again, I assume this was caused by the uncorrected proof, and it has absolutely no bearing on my rating of the novel. However, I’m still not certain what his name actually was meant to be.

Elliot’s writing style is solid and easy to become absorbed in. She gives Lucy a strong narrative voice, which caused the plot to both flow well and pack a punch. Her world building of 1897 London is vivid and skilled, making it a very high point of the novel. She unravels the mystery at a steady pace, showing her talent for creating a storyline that hooks her readers and keeps them wanting more.

In the first part of the novel, Elliot does a great job of presenting Lucy’s slow gathering of clues pertaining to her life. The transition between the two halves of the novel—where Lucy suddenly regains her memories—is a bit rough. We are thrown rather quickly into her rapid and high-stakes lifestyle. However, this still does not hurt the plot progression overall, and though it was a little bumpy, I found myself falling into this new twist fairly easily. In general, Elliot keeps the plot as a whole straightforward enough to follow, and just unpredictable enough to create a exciting mystery.

Overall, I found this novel to be a pretty enjoyable and fast-paced read that was quite easy to become swept up in. This wound up being a very fun story, and an inventive take on some very timeless classics. While I would have liked to see a bit more development in Lucy and the various other significant characters in the novel, they were still portrayed well in general. Despite its few flaws, this is a good addition to the ever-expanding world of Sherlock Holmes novels. I am definitely planning to go back and read the first two novels of this series, and will eagerly await and further installments.

3.5 TARDISes

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Review: Paper Wishes by Spencer Hoshino

paperwishesPaper Wishes by Spencer Hoshino

My Rating: 4/5 TARDISes

Series: The Magical Girl Series #1

Date Published: February 14th, 2017

Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing

Pages: 212 pages

Source: Author

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Author’s Website

Synopsis: There is a belief that with each origami star folded, a falling star is saved. After folding 365 stars while mourning the loss of her mother, Vilvian makes a wish that will change her life forever.

Enter Nox Bright, the handsome and mysterious guy who has been haunting Vilvian’s dreams. She can barely believe it when he walks into her homeroom near the end of the school year. Has she gone crazy or is it possible that wishes really do come true?

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*I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review*

This is a spoiler-free review.

The young adult contemporary romance genre is the genre I am pickiest about. Typically, I gravitate more toward fantasy, mystery, and science fiction novels. I sometimes get really in the mood to read them, but they are always starkly either a hit or a miss for me. They can be either weighed down by the same types of tropes or feel like the same story as all the others with little originality. Very rarely do I find novels in this category that really pull me in and are enjoyable to read—with a few exceptions, of course. I am happy to say that Paper Wishes, for me, is one of those very few exceptions.

In this novel, we follow a girl named Vilvian, who is trying to recover after the recent passing of her mother. She had been keeping to herself, drifting away from her friends, and living more in her dream world, where she has delightful dreams about falling in love with a handsome mystery man.

As the story begins, she is gradually coming out of hiding. Slowly, we begin to meet the most important people in her life as she allows them back into her world, which is finally stretching beyond the closed door of her bedroom. But she is still in mourning, and during the process of healing she folds three hundred and sixty-five origami stars and makes her wish, as the fable dictates. Little does she know this cultural tradition will end up changing her life in a seemingly impossible way.

Paper Wishes is an utterly sweet and charming novel. The tone of the novel has a good balance between serious depth and light warmth. The addition of Japanese culture references and the backstory of the paper stars made for an even more intriguing read. Addressing the topics of overcoming grief, finding a family and support system, and falling in love for the first time, this novel is incredibly easy to connect with. And with the hint of fantasy in the plot, it makes for quite a unique read. Who wouldn’t want to have their best dream come to life?

The characterization in this novel was excellent. Hoshino really brings each character to life, giving them three-dimensional personalities that both flesh out the plot itself and allow the reader to effortlessly relate to them. Each one felt highly realistic and were nicely woven into the plot. One could say that there is a bit of insta-love between Vilvian and Nox, but at the same time, their story is a quite exceptional one. To me, Ann felt a bit pushed into the story just to create some conflict, but I think that was due to her having a more minimal part and less portrayal compared to the main characters.

Vilvian’s grieving process feels true to life, and her dream world is a widely used form of escaping from the stresses of the world. Nox figuratively—and later literally—represents the strength she has deep inside her that causes her to push on from one day to the next. He is both a tangible and intangible source of love, protection, and encouragement—a sign to Vilvian that things can and will get better, despite how bleak the circumstance appears to be.

Hoshino’s writing style is absolutely wonderful to read and get lost in. It flows beautifully and makes it very easy to become swept up into the story. Her descriptions are spot on and build the world up right around the reader. The text is deceptively simple—it is a fairly straightforward story, but there is so much depth and meaning behind the words. The bittersweet tone of the novel shines through clearly as Hoshino demonstrates her perceptibly talented word-crafting.

Overall, this is a beautiful and adorable novel, and one that is a fantastic light summer read. Despite my feelings about contemporary romance novels in general, I ended up having quite an enjoyable time with this one. This is the perfect sort of quick pick-me-up type read if you are looking for a sweet and heart-warming tale. It is so much fun to fall in to, and is impossible to get through without a smile. Hoshino has used her great talent for words to create a lovely and truly magical story that will work its way into the hearts of readers of any age.

4.0 TARDISes

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