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review 2017-10-17 22:35
Trial by Fire - Josephine Angelini

I first reviewed this book a year or so ago, and dismissed it as a badly-written load of shit with unlikeable characters and a generic plot. Now, here I am, re-reading it properly all the way to the end – and you know what? It’s not that bad. I might just be saying that because I just suffered through something much worse, but it was alright.

 

I’m a sucker for fantasy settings. I enjoyed the world-building in this book, the way magic worked, the conflict between magic and science, the concept of witches and crucibles, and I thought that the author did a good job of setting everything up.

 

 

Here, magic is used more for giving power to others, although it can also be used to control them. No one goes around throwing fireballs or anything. It’s very different from what I usually read in fantasy, and that was quite interesting to me.

 

Our main protagonist could be written a lot better, though.

 

Lily Proctor is a teenage girl with more allergies than hairs on her head. Everything sets her off, and I mean everything. Perfume, alcohol, cleaning fluid, the air, the temperature, the atmosphere…it’s ridiculous. Her doctors can’t do much for her and she spends a lot of time being very ill. I don’t know why she still goes to school. It seems like she’s either feverish, vomiting, going into a spasmodic fit, or just being dead on her feet.

 

I guess it makes you feel sorry for her, or at least it would if she didn’t spend the first few chapters being so unbelievably stupid so as to force herself to go to a highschool party, despite her many allergies to everything that moves, just because she thinks this boy is into her.

 

If you can get past that, then you’ll be rewarded by seeing that Lily is warped into another parallel world, where all of her allergies amazingly vanish!

 

 

Yes, that’s right. We switch from a modern day setting to some kind of magic-fantasy hybrid (yet they do still have electricity, somehow). In this new world, Lily’s alternate self, “Lillian”, is a powerful tyrannical witch who hangs people for practicing scientist and rules the land with an iron fist.

 

They both exist in the same world, by the way. Lily and Lillian. It gets a bit confusing, but apparently Lillian was the one who pulled Lily into her world, and tries to…uh…actually, I’m not quite sure.

 

You see, the next chain of events results in Lily joining all the rebels that are against Lillian (Outlanders, as they’re called) and gradually training her own powers…except that Lillian wants this to happen, and I’m still not exactly sure why because this is the first of the trilogy and I’m still a little confused myself.

 

Anyway. Ready for more confusion? Okay, apparently the people of this world all have a “willstone” with which they use magic. A witch can “claim” a person’s willstone, allowing herself to give power and energy to the person, but also having complete control over them should she wish to take over.

 

 

I know, it just gets really hard to understand here, because then you have people who serve as a witch’s mechanics and serve their every need…and somehow Lily ends up with three of them. Three guys. She ends up claiming them all.

 

Actually, she ends up claiming a lot of people by the end and giving all of them power, because there might be a great big fight or rebellion involved. Also, there’s a bunch of monsters called Woven that are the result of experimentation and try to kill people. I couldn’t begin to explain all this shit, or we’d be here all day.

 

Let’s look at the main characters.

 

 

Aside from Lily, you also have the three guys that end up being her mechanics: Tristan, Rowan and Caleb. Oh, sure, they’re all hot young men not much older than she is. I’m sure this won’t lead to anything.

 

Rowan is our main love interest. He used to be Lillian’s mechanic, and feels betrayed that she turned evil years ago. As a result, he distrusts Lily a lot at the beginning and is very mean to her. Lily (not Lillian) claims him, early on in the book, and they start drawing close and sharing memories and shit.

 

 

You know, I’m not feeling the romance here and I don’t really like him. Rowan’s a total control freak because he knows everything about Lillian’s body (being her mechanic), and also Lily. Even though she hasn’t met him before.

 

 

This guy’s a jerk and although he apologises to Lily for treating her badly, he’s still very controlling. He improves a little as time goes on, but he’s still a jerk. This is our main love interest, ladies and gentlemen, and he sucks.

 

Let’s move onto Tristan. Tristan is the alternate version of the Tristan from Lily’s old world – who, in her world, was a bit of a womanizer at their school and almost had a thing with her. But only in her world. I swear it’s not as confusing as it sounds.

 

 

She only shows a bit of attraction to him, however, so I guess that’s a failed love triangle right there because he only shows up sometimes. It’s a shame, because I kinda liked him. Even though he goes around sleeping with everyone and cheats on girls. I don’t know HOW, but he seems much more agreeable than Rowan. Fucking hell, man.

 

Caleb is the other guy with them. He has a gay lover who is tragically killed during the book, and is so tormented about it that he asks Lily to claim him and fill the gap in his heart.

 

Seriously what the fuck.

 

This is the first of many flaws in this book. We barely get to know Caleb’s gay lover at all, and within a few pages they’re dead? I think his boyfriend gets a BIT of dialogue, and we know their name, but that’s about it…

 

Also, doesn’t this seem a bit weird? He loses his boyfriend and asks Lily to claim instead? Imagine if he was dating a girl instead, and she died, and he immediately goes to Lily. It sounds so superficial. If you don’t know how to handle gay characters, don’t put them in at all!

 

As for Lily, I didn’t even like her that much. Actually, she’s easily one of the worst characters. She has all these “NO NUKES” T-shirts, talks about how she is hardcore vegan, and has a “SAVE THE WALES” shirt. (No, not whales. Wales. I assume that’s a typo.) She just sounded like a bit of a loony to me, being judgemental and constantly lording it over everyone else. I’m just glad she didn’t go on about it for very long.

 

I sure hope she isn’t a self-insert author designed to shove her opinionated views down our throats. Writers, take note – NEVER do that with a main character. It will make your audience hate you. Lily is the only character who acts like this. I don’t know why we’re supposed to root for her.

 

The plot and action of the book, overall, isn’t bad. We’ve got some decent character development…but mainly just for Lily and Rowan. Or just Rowan. Nothing for Tristan, and forget about anything for Caleb. “My boyfriend died” is about as much development as he gets.

 

And then there’s a questionable scene where Lily does this really weird ritual with Rowan and Tristan. She takes off all her clothes, at their request – ALL of them – and they paint runes on her.

 

The fuck, man. I couldn’t believe I read that. She seems alright with it, too, and teases them later about how they’ve both seen her naked. In fact, she even kisses Rowan whilst he’s busy painting her boobs.

 

Shortly after this, they all go to this bar where loads of girls are fawning over Rowan and kissing him and feeling him up (possibly to extract energy from his body, but really it does NOT look like that) whilst Lily watches. Many of them are dressed in skimpy clothing.

 

Did the author forget that the protagonist is a 17-year old girl? Did she just get horny whilst writing this bit? The fuck? How on earth was this allowed into the damn book?

 

Thankfully, that part doesn’t go on too long and we soon return to the plot and our generic villains, and oh boy they are very generic. One of them tortures Lily in non-physical ways later on, and the other one does all these evil scheming…which goes nowhere. I was so disappointed in their lack of activity, really. But I guess Lillian is the real villain here.

 

So, yeah. I liked the book, but the nude stuff felt so out of place, especially in a YA book. The world-building was great. The writing was average at best, especially during the first few chapters where Lily forces herself to go to a highschool party despite her many, many allergies. She’s not the best protagonist ever and she’s mind-numbingly stupid at times, but I guess she’s got Special Chosen Heroine plastered all over her forehead.

 

This is a trilogy, by the way, and just as well because we end on a cliffhanger. Do I care what happens next? Uh, yeah, I guess. Am I going to read the next book? I guess I might as well, so maybe this book succeeded in some way.

 

 

A lot of it is mindless drivel with characters I don’t like, but some of it has some nicely-done scenes with nice action scenes, so it did keep me reading. However, there are just so many flaws and weird things going on that I can’t rate it very highly. Or recommend it, in fact.

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review 2017-09-28 22:13
The Upside of Unrequited - Becky Albertalli

Do you like cliche teenage romance with a ton of LGBT thrown in, almost none of which affects the relations of the heterosexual, boy-crazy female protagonist? Do you like reading about a shy, inexperienced, single protag with low self-esteem who is constantly annoyed that everyone around them won't stop talking about sex and boys - but then proceeds to get herself a boyfriend anyway? Do you want predictability and a lousy love triangle which ends up lasting less than two chapters? A character who challenges the inevitable by actually losing character development as the book goes on? Girls swearing at the top of their voices, getting drunk at parties, and talking about piss? A host of characters where only one of them is actually homophobic at all, just like real life doesn't work?

 

Then look no further! From the author of Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda, we have a new book full of The Gay, only not quite as stereotypical and slightly less cringy, whilst managing to somehow reference characters from her previous book for reasons that I can only guess at.

 

I was quite intrigued by this book at first. There's a lot of LGBT issues going on in this book - and it starts when you find out that our protagonist, Molly, has two mums. Yep. That's pretty cool. I've never actually seen that in a YA book before, but maybe I'm just missing some hidden cache of teenage fiction where lesbian mums come together.

 

Molly has a twin sister called Cassie. Cassie is into girls, and at the beginning of the book, I really liked her. She is always flirting with girls, talking about them with Molly (and her parents) and seemed a really fun character. Really likeable.

 

There are a few other characters, including a couple of hipster boys which make up the various guys that Molly ends up crushing on. Yeah, Molly isn't into girls, as it turns out. We've got all these LGBT characters, two mums, all that stuff...but never mind, the book is just about whether our boy-crazy Molly finds a boyfriend or not. Kind of a waste, really.

 

I did like the romance in this book. It was cute, it was quirky, and it's been done before. Nothing special, really. Apparently Molly is a girl with 20+ crushes on various guys but is too shy to instigate anything with them. She's never been in a relationship, never kissed, never...

 

...yeah, I think I can see where this is going.

 

Now, this book was going fine until a certain chapter - and that's when Cassie gets a girlfriend of her own called Mina. At this point, her character starts changing. She doesn't tell her own sister that she now has a girlfriend. Molly has to find out from a Facebook update. Seriously.

 

It doesn't end there, either. Oh no. Don't ask me why, but Cassie starts acting all high-and-mighty, arrogant, talks back to her parents, gets pretty rebellious, gets in a fight with Molly (they're usually on really good terms), starts being really inconsiderate, and IMO becomes a pretty shitty character. She pushes her to date this guy that she's not really into, mainly because the guy is best friends with her own girlfriend. 

 

I've never really experienced seeing my favourite character in a book turn into the character I most dislike. I mean, come on. What the hell? 

 

She started acting like such a drama queen and apparently almost none of the characters have a problem with this at all. Not even our protagonist. Molly gets annoyed with her a bit, a little bit hurt, especially when Cassie starts bringing up things like "maybe I'm being a dickhead here, but this is something you only understand if you have a boyfriend".

 

Oh yes, Cassie, you are most certainly being a dickhead here. Molly has spent most of the book languishing over her single status and worrying about her own weight because boys don't seem to want to date her and...seriously??

 

Everytime Cassie spoke, I felt like she might snap at any moment. Like I was stepping on eggshells just by reading about her. 

 

Anyway, what happens? Oh yeah, Molly meets guys and can't work out whether to go for this one or that one. The cute hipster guy or the cute nerd she works with in the store? That's pretty much the second half of the book. It's obvious which way it will go, since she's certainly more comfortable with one of them.

 

But for god's sake, Cassie constantly trying to pressurise her into dating the other guy...man, it's just cringey.

 

An interesting thing that happens is that halfway through the book, gay marriage becomes legal. Meaning that her mothers can now get married to each other, so bam, gay wedding! That was a nice touch. The only thing with all of this LGBT stuff is that absolutely everyone seems to be okay with it. No one gives Cassie funny looks for being with her girlfriend. It's never touched upon, ever. You'd think she was dating a guy from the way it goes on.

 

Oh, except for their homophobic auntie who makes one appearance in the last chapter to show her appreciation, but that's about it. Literally nothing else. 

 

Now, the main storyline here is that Molly is going to all these parties and social occasions with her friends, meeting people there, getting a bit drunk, and everyone around her keeps talking about sex and boys and relationships. Unsurprisingly, she feels a bit out of place. She's a virgin and is painfully aware of that, and quite a bit insecure. She doesn't like all of this sex talk at all and feels really uncomfortable.

 

At which point I'm thinking, "Great! We could have a character who wants to stay single and doesn't want to get involved in love or sex. Just platonic. It would be a really refreshing change from the same old stereotypical formula. She can stay single and show everyone that she doesn't need a boyfriend to "fit in" with everyone else..."

 

Oh, boy. What was I thinking? Of course she ends up with a boyfriend. And you know what, as soon as she does, Cassie is all over her again just like she used to be, and start apologising for being a total shitbag throughout the entire book (except not really).

 

So...now it's not about showing us that she can be single and independent? It's about the importance of her needing to get a boyfriend? You know what, fuck that. It turned out to be trashy predictably romance with a dose of LGBT sprinkled on top. I'm not impressed by the result.

 

You know what else happens? Two characters, Simon and Abby, make an appearance. They don't actually do anything. They're just there.

 

...wait, wasn't Simon the protagonist of this author's first book? And his best friend was called...Abby. Okay. So our dear author has decided to reference her other book. That doesn't make a lot of sense. Even J. K. Rowling doesn't go around doing that...

 

The author's note at the end is about 7 pages long, detailing a list of 50-60 people that she's thanking for helping her make this book possible. Look here, lady, you're not making a movie here. It was mediocre and I'm not reading it again.

 

Overall, I liked the book. I hated what Cassie turned into, and Molly was a great character. Most of her friends were cool, if painfully generic. But at the end of the day, it just seems like a standard romance with a bit of LGBT thrown in to mix it about. As a result, I can't give it a very high rating.

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review 2017-09-27 00:40
Damage - Eve Ainsworth Damage - Eve Ainsworth

Trigger warning: Self-harm. Uh, a lot of self-harm. Almost every chapter has some explicit scene about self-harm, I'm not even kidding here.

 

This book was terrible. I've read Eve Ainworth's Seven Days, and that was bad too, but this one manages to be worse. I mean, when I saw that the book would be talking about self-harm and stuff, I was really excited to see how it would handle it. I thought it might actually turn out to be interesting to read.

 

Which it was, yes - the self-harm itself is dealt with appropriately and I can appreciate that. The author certainly did her research in that regards. However, most of the book is unreadable due to one fatal oversight, and it is this.

 

The main character has an atrocious personality, bitches at everyone, is judgmental, a complete hypocrite, treats her entire family like shit, is selfish to no end, and is overall a really shitty person and I really didn't care about her life.

 

I mean come on. To start off with, the book was just depressing. Really depressing, even before any mention of self-harm came into it. I could not STAND Gabi and started skim-reading parts where she started doing her internal monologuing (which she did a LOT) because she was just moping about and whining about her grandpa.

 

Everytime her mum turned up, I would tense up, because Gabi spends most of the book screaming at her mum or fighting with her, even though it's obvious that her mum is actually trying to help or repair the rift between them. Does Gabi notice this? Oh, no. She just continues to be this really shitty daughter and I cannot believe that the author would expect us to root for her.

 

The blurb on the back of the book says something like "Confident, popular Gabi has a a secret, a secret so terrible she can't her family, or her best friend" - okay let me just stop you there. I never got the feeling that Gabi confident or popular. She's constantly depressed all the time and I never got the impression that she was a "popular girl" or anything...but whatever.

 

The actual self-harm scenes were done well and conveyed a lot of emotion. Gabi started cutting herself every other chapter and going on similar self-harm websites, and then she remembers that there was this other girl she used to know who was always cutting herself. What does she do? Oh, she goes up to her and calls her "a stupid bitch"...yeah, thanks Gabi, you're really increasing my respect for you here.

 

At the end of every chapter, you get a flashback of Gabi's memories with her grandfather. Actually, I started to warm to him. I enjoyed reading about him. He was a character that seemed well-thought out and didn't make me want to throw up everytime he spoke. Unfortunately, he starts to become pretty shitty towards the end of the book, so that's that part gone and wasted.

 

I really didn't like any of the characters. Gabi's friends didn't appeal to me. There's a guy who she ends up with and he made no impact on me whatsoever. Oh, and there's a fucking love triangle between two guys, neither of whom I care about. I cared a little about her best friend, with whom she almost never opens up at all.

 

Oh, and near the end, one of Gabi's friends mentions to her that yes, we knows you've been self-harming, we can SEE the marks on your skin whilst you're skating. So she's completely failed in covering it up, too.

 

If I was a bit younger, I might have said that Gabi acts like a total shithead because she's a "typical teenager" - well, that's not quite true. She's a bit TOO stereotypical. I know that not all teenagers act like this, but she just whines and bitches at her mum and is just so negative all the time! It was intolerable.

 

Now, the book actually improves in the last couple of chapters or so. We learn that the real reason why Gabi is like this is because she feels responsible for the death of a loved one. Okay, thanks for clearing that up, because before then it literally felt like she was just really really sad about her grandpa.

 

It was actually readable in that last chapter because her mother opens up to her, and for once Gabi isn't screaming her head off at her and they're actually having a proper conversation. No idea if that will last. It almost felt out of character because she'd spent the entire book hating her mother. Her mum would notice her scars and be concerned about her but no, our protag just throws it back in her face and even does her physical arm in one chapter.

 

Although it did improve at the last second, it's really not enough to save this book. Yes, it told us quite a bit about self-harm, but our protag was such an awful person that I honestly felt dissuaded from reading this at all. There are better ways to do this. Focus on the tragedy as well as the mentality of the individual. The love triangle was half-assed too.

 

All in all, I can't give this more than a 2/5. God, this was a trainwreck.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-09-07 23:52
Missing - Kelley Armstrong

Trigger warnings: Domestic abuse, allusions to rape

 

I thought this was a decent book, but it took a while to get started. We have our female protagonist, Winter Crane...yeah, she's called Winter. Sorry. It's that kind of book. I guess the author thought they had to be really unique or something, even though every other character has a perfectly normal name.

 

Anyway, she lives in a place called Reeve's End which she describes as a shithole that everyone wants to escape from and move out. Really, I wasn't convinced that the place was as bad as she thought it was. It felt like a bit of a dump. It was just filled with really shitty characters.

 

She lives in a trailer, knows how to hunt and forage, can shoot a bow and arrows because she knows her way around the bush...Well, this character seems pretty decent, doesn't she? Let's say how this goes.

 

Winter finds a body in the woods. It belongs to a guy her age, called Lennon. He's still alive and it turns out he was attacked by someone. She rescues him, and at this point I can already feel a romance taking place, but actually that's not all that happens at all.

 

She gives him medical treatment at her cabin and that's when someone starts STALKING her and leaving disemboweled animal corpses on her door (before suddenly removing them the next day) and doing creepy laughter whenever she tries to come out. This becomes a recurring theme, really.

 

It turns out that teenagers have started to go missing in Reeve's End. Lennon disappears soon after, but his brother Jude comes looking for him and bumps into Winter. Now THIS is where it starts turning into a love relationship - because Jude has a very dominant personality, keeps a lot of secrets, very smart, very clever, makes jokes...I mean hell, I would go for this guy myself. I was quite drawn to him. No wonder Winter wants to get with him later.

 

The plot gets a little weird at this point because Jude has this complicated backstory with his family, and then that stalker is apparently murdering teenagers and nobody knows who it is. We meet a few more characters and most of them are shitheads. There's several people where you think, "Oh, I bet HE'S the stalker!" but then it isn't, and then there's someone else, and so on and so forth...

 

You can kinda guess how it goes, really. It gets pretty intense towards the end. However, I have quite a few issues with the book in general.

 

Shortly after Jude turns up, Winter goes home and her dad beats her up. Yep, domestic abuse. No mention of it before. Now bam, it comes out of almost nowhere. Jude saves her from any further violence (because I guess he was following her home?...) and gets her dad to lay off her.

 

Fast forward to a few more chapters later, Winter is going home and almost gets raped by these three drunk guys. Jude turns up (because I guess he was following her home?...again?!) and beats up the three guys with loads of karate moves and military training shit that he's learnt.

 

Y'know, Winter was doing fine on her own before now? Now she's got abuse and rape threats and shit? And she needs Jude to help her twice in a row? I'm just glad this wasn't a recurring theme.

 

I'm also not very impressed with the actual murderer, the villain in the book. He acted like some cliche serial killer right out of Saw or something. Creepy laughter, stalking teenage girls, leaving notes for their boyfriend to find...I mean, come on, do you REALLY expect us to buy that? The author was just trying too hard here.

 

There are themes like suicide, family break-up and of course the domestic abuse. I mean all of those are real issues which sound a LOT more realistic than this farce of a serial killer.

 

And yeah, it's a running joke about the "Hey, Jude" song. I predicted quite a few characters who turned out to be villains, but it wasn't completely cliche. Sometimes I wondered why the characters were acting so stupid, or why Winter hadn't cottoned onto the fact that the creepy guy who talked to her and knew about her missing sister just MIGHT be the stalker. I mean seriously.

 

If you're going to make your protagonist smart and clever, which is great, how about keeping that consistent? They can't be really resourceful one second and then get a case of the dumbs the next. 

 

There were a few twists, I guess. I was convinced that one particular girl was dead, in short because Winter wouldn't shut up about her. Turned out I was wrong, and a different girl was dead instead. So I guess it kept me guessing.

 

Jude also felt a little TOO perfect. He had flaws, yes, but the more he talked about himself, the more Winter gets attracted to him. (And me, too, by implication.)

 

I enjoyed the book, and it gets really good during the end. I just feel it could have used a bit of improvement.

 

 

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review 2017-08-26 20:44
Post series one-shot
Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures #6 - Matthew K. Manning,Jon Sommariva

And it's a lot of fun, especially as Robin has changed: it's a new Robin to the Turtles, and they can't seem to get over that fact!   I laughed out loud a couple times, but overall, this is the same as the rest of the series: the art isn't good enough to warren the last of the five stars, and it's fun, but not a favorite of mine.  

 

It was nice catching up with the Gotham crew later and seeing how they evolved, and how the newbie reacted to the giant turtle-men.   So I'd give it a reread, but probably not in the next couple of years. 

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