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review 2015-05-18 22:44
Review: Dumplin' - Julie Murphy

Release Date: September 15, 2015
Source: Edelweiss
Published by: Balzer + Bray

Dumplin' - Julie Murphy

Dumplin' - Julie Murphy | Goodreads

Self-proclaimed fat girl Willowdean Dickson (dubbed “Dumplin’” by her former beauty queen mom) has always been at home in her own skin. Her thoughts on having the ultimate bikini body? Put a bikini on your body. With her all-American beauty best friend, Ellen, by her side, things have always worked . . . until Will takes a job at Harpy’s, the local fast-food joint. There she meets Private School Bo, a hot former jock. Will isn’t surprised to find herself attracted to Bo. But she is surprised when he seems to like her back.

Instead of finding new heights of self-assurance in her relationship with Bo, Will starts to doubt herself. So she sets out to take back her confidence by doing the most horrifying thing she can imagine: entering the Miss Clover City beauty pageant—along with several other unlikely candidates—to show the world that she deserves to be up there as much as any twiggy girl does. Along the way, she’ll shock the hell out of Clover City—and maybe herself most of all.

With starry Texas nights, red candy suckers, Dolly Parton songs, and a wildly unforgettable heroine— Dumplin’ is guaranteed to steal your heart.

I probably shouldn't be posting this review so early, but I thought about summer/September, and I figured that I'm going to be busy with graduate school applications and research and might forget and a review is better than no review, regardless of the timing. Also, there will be no spoilers.

So, when I was in high school and saw the title "The Designated Ugly Fat Friend" while browsing my local Borders, I was reluctantly curious. I didn't know what the book was about precisely and yet I had a feeling that I would just click with it. When I read The DUFF, I had the sense that Kody Keplinger had seen into all my insecurities and I had read a book that put a name to something I hadn't always realized that I was feeling. Yes, I had felt like the DUFF multiple times. That sort of realization -- a book making you more aware of societal norms/constrictions -- is exactly the sort of feeling I got from Dumplin'. Julie Murphy not only understands female friendship particularly well but she also excels at portraying how we treat female bodies and socialize females to look at their own bodies. If you're a fan of the DUFF, definitely check out Dumplin' this fall.

First off, major, major props for the kind of female friendships portrayed in this book. That's not to say that there aren't ugly moments between friends - jealousy, petty words, stupid fights. No, some of that might be there, and in my opinion makes everything more realistic, but at the core is the long-lasting love and identity that comes from deep rooted friendship. It felt like I was sinking back into the slumber parties of Dominoes and maltballs, tussling, watching Miyazaki films, blowing bubbles; or right outside my college creative writing class, my head in my friend's lap as she stroked my hair during our break and we talked; or preparing for a party all together, dancing, pre-gaming, dressing, applying makeup, etc.. The very first lines are about how Willowdean and her best friend, Ellen, met and became such great friends. Ellen has become a part of Willow and remains integral to who Will is at the start of the novel and who she becomes by the end. The romance does not, at all, overshadow the friendship, even if boyfriends are sometimes barriers to honesty and intimacy.

But the real props for this book is for exactly what you would expect: Dumplin' is all body types positive. You know, maybe this won't hit as home for other readers as it did for me, but the personal moments that came? I kept bookmarking so many pages. The fad diets, the strain between Willow and her mother and her aunt - that entire dynamic on body weight, the bikini body, the judgment on relationships, the "expected" effect of a romantic interest, romance and intimacy and body weight (No, a boy will not make you feel better about your insecurities; he cannot magically help you feel beautiful. You have to get there first, and deal with how you feel before you can get intimate, etc.). A Facebook friend recently posted a link to an interview from a previous Biggest Loser winner, and how she was saying that show was so dehumanizing and being on it was the greatest mistake of her life. I'll be honest: because reality shows have become so ingrained into our life, and because you literally can't pass a single day without some judgment of a woman's body, and because I'm not being discriminated against for this, I've not really thought a whole lot about fat shaming in a broader societal context so much as the perception of females. This book got me thinking about fat shaming. Thinking, thinking, thinking; and I'm very glad that this is going to be published. I remember, too, when I was in ninth grade - the only author we ever had come to talk to us was a lady who'd talked about how fat is not a feeling, and yet we're always saying we feel fat. Nine years ago, and that's about all I remember except that so many people made fun of that lecture after she had left, and I never understood why because I thought that she had made such great points. So, yeah, even in high school, we couldn't have someone constructively criticize the way we use the word fat in social contexts without turning the conversation into something lesser.

Anyway, back to the book itself: yes, this book is all body types positive, and Willow's self-confident attitude -- conquering her insecurities and learning to shine as much as she does on that cover -- was such a pleasure to read! I loved every minute of her character growth, and as I've said before, bookmarked so many pages with beautiful quotes about life and friendship, not just our perception of female bodies. I would also like to point out that Dumplin' is not just about a self-proclaimed fat girl entering the beauty pageant. In fact, I think that this would also appeal to fans of North of Beautiful. Dumplin' is about girls who have felt ridiculed, who have been bullied because they look different or who are shoved into boxes, people expecting very particular things about them -- and how these girls reclaim and empower themselves. The romance is indeed a side plot and used to help fuel character realizations and character growth arcs, but it's definitely still hot and sweet.

So is the setting. I grew up in California. I don't know much about the south or Texan culture aside from what some people have told or I've read in books, but I did really love the sense of setting that we got here. It fit so perfectly with the small town vibe, beauty pageant, and sports focus that rounded out the arcs of side characters. In fact all the mention of the iced tea and sometimes the bikinis and hot weather made me think gosh, this would make for a perfect summer read.

If you've got an ARC of Dumplin', don't hesitate to read this one. Especially if you were a fan of The Duff and North of Beautiful, and books of similar ilk that I can't seem to think of right at this moment. Hell, forget that. if you're a fan of romantic contemporary novels with a focus on female friendships and positive messages about female appearances, read Dumplin'.

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review 2015-04-07 18:39
Review: Crimson Bound by Rosamund Hodge

Release Date: May 5, 2015
Source: Edelweiss
Published by: Balzer + Bray

Crimson Bound - Rosamund Hodge | Goodreads

When Rachelle was fifteen she was good—apprenticed to her aunt and in training to protect her village from dark magic. But she was also reckless— straying from the forest path in search of a way to free her world from the threat of eternal darkness. After an illicit meeting goes dreadfully wrong, Rachelle is forced to make a terrible choice that binds her to the very evil she had hoped to defeat.

Three years later, Rachelle has given her life to serving the realm, fighting deadly creatures in an effort to atone. When the king orders her to guard his son Armand—the man she hates most—Rachelle forces Armand to help her find the legendary sword that might save their world. As the two become unexpected allies, they uncover far-reaching conspiracies, hidden magic, and a love that may be their undoing. In a palace built on unbelievable wealth and dangerous secrets, can Rachelle discover the truth and stop the fall of endless night?

Inspired by the classic fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood, Crimson Bound is an exhilarating tale of darkness, love, and redemption.

(This is a standalone novel, not part of the Cruel Beauty Universe.)

You can see my original thoughts on this book in this post.

Since this novel is not set in the Cruel Beauty universe but is similar in feel to Cruel Beauty, I figured that I would expand on the similarities and differences between the two novels so that if you have tried and disliked Rosamund Hodge's debut, you might give her work another chance; and if you haven't read Cruel Beauty, or have and loved it, you'll be intrigued by the promise of Crimson Bound.

Similarities to Cruel Beauty:

A.) Both protagonists have severe destinies and not so optimistic looks on life. Both have grown up believing that they've been doomed to death, and both of their character growths involve redemption of some sort: whether for themselves or the fate they have been dealt and now must accept.

B.) Both have similar love triangles, where there is obviously a good romantic interest who sees her as she is and challenges her, and a bad romantic interest who highlights the good in the other because he sees the MC for how he wants her to be. The ideal vs. the reality; one a well-realized, well-developed character who's a foil to the real romantic interest.

C.) Both have other stories, fairy tales, woven into their plotlines. In Cruel Beauty, we were told all about the demons and the great kings like Claudius who came before the Gentle Lord assumed responsibility. In Crimson Bound, we are told of a brother and sister fighting the forestborn, a story which, as in Cruel Beauty, may prove to hold the key for how the MC should proceed.

D.) Both have fairy tale like elements. Both are inspired by popular fairy tales and thus have elements like enchanted castles that hide secrets. A choice or event that lead the heroine down her main dark path - one she has never particularly liked nor understood. In Crimson Bound, Arthurian elements like swords and enchanted forests.

E.) Both are not true fairy tale retellings. Both books are inspired by fairy tales, but definitely do not follow the same plot events of their inspiration.

Differences from Cruel Beauty:

A.) Less Romance -- or the romance seems to get less focus. Maybe this one is just my perception, but Crimson Bound seems to have more focus on Rachelle's character development and more cinematic action scenes than Cruel Beauty despite a large portion of the plot, in both, occurring in castles. Perhaps this is because Cruel Beauty had Nyx married and in the same place, at all times, as her romantic interests... and in Crimson Bound, Rachelle is more focused on her duty and wondering whether she can trust anyone at all with her task besides herself.

B.) Point of view -- Crimson Bound is a departure from Cruel Beauty because it is no longer told in first person but becomes more distanced with third person past. This will probably work better for the people who did not, unlike me, like Nyx as a character. The distance might then allow them to connect better to Rachelle as a character.

C.) Magic System vs. Magic Creatures -- In Cruel Beauty, Nyx is taught the Hermetic arts, a magic system. In Crimson Bound, Rachelle must understand the inner workings of the Forestborn, immortal magical creatures with fierce strength and speed. For people who did not like the magic system in Cruel Beauty, perhaps this is a better alternative for them.

D.) Villains -- Crimson Bound seems to have a lot more direct villains than Cruel Beauty did. These villains factor directly into the climax and other action in the novel whereas the evil forces at be in Cruel Beauty seemed more like distant antagonists who weren't characters so much as forces.

E.) Comparisons -- Cruel Beauty was marketed as Graceling or Greek Mythology meets Beauty and the Beast. Crimson Bound, per the author's description in the acknowledgements, is something like a 17th (?) century France meets Little Red Riding Hood meets the Maiden with No Hands.

Regardless, Rosamund Hodge astounds me with her talent at creating complex characters and character relationships alongside some seriously cool plot twists. If you like the religious/saint/Apparat element in the Grisha trilogy; the romance dynamic in Cruel Beauty; the discussion of what makes a monster in Graceling or the half-dragon worries in Seraphina; the bodyguard-angel dynamic of damphirs-Moroi from Richelle Mead; or the Arthurian like quest in the Raven Boys, you'll find that and more in Hodge's intricate mythology. Just as I did with Cruel Beauty, I have made a lot of comparisons here because both books have struck me with that sense of universal appeal, where I do in fact think that they will generate a huge readership among already existing fanbases. And why not, with the layered feel of Rosamund's writing and world. I admire her talent greatly, and I hope that you'll give her books a shot.


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url 2014-11-20 14:23

Check the link for reviews of A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray, Clariel by Garth Nix, and Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch, fall science fiction and fantasy titles that seem quite popular with a lot of my fellow bloggers. My thoughts on them are a tad more complicated than usual. Also, you can read about the books I'm currently reading, books that I've read and won't review, and book reviews still to come.

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review 2014-05-27 16:34
Review: Guy in Real Life - Steve Brezenoff

Your experience with Guy in Real Life, in my opinion, will depend on how you react to Lesh, one of the narrator but essentially the main character. Before you even read my review, I'd suggest reading an excerpt to see whether you like his PoV.

Ten Likes/Dislikes:

1. (+) Lesh, the protagonist - The thing I liked about Lesh is that he's shy and quiet and rather socially awkward. In a book that's playing around with gender roles and stereotypes, I found it interesting to see the male main character and potential romantic interest to be depicted this way and have the female start up most of their interactions. Lesh doesn't quite fit in with school and even some of his friends, so he spends a lot of time with his headphones in, blasting metal music to avoid the crowd. He's not a very good student because he's not motivated... but when he's playing the MMO, he's quite motivated to level up his characters. He's in short a very realistic version of a guy his age, I'd imagine, especially given some of his actions towards Lana. Lana helps Lesh question his position at home and elsewhere, and it's a treat to see him open up and realize what's most important.

2. (+) Svetlana, the other narrator - I hesitate to call Svetlana the other protagonist/main character if only because it seemed like Lesh had more character growth and the book revolved around him (e.g. the title). Lana gets plenty of page time, but even the other PoV from the MMO character has more to do with Lesh. Anyway, Lana is an interesting character. She's got an activity wheel to signal to her family what she's doing so that they don't bother her. She embroiders her skirts and has sketchbooks full of lifelike monsters for her next dungeons and dragons quest. She lives in the attic of her large house, loves Bjork and hates soccer. She's a wonderfully realized version of an artsy gamer girl with plenty of quirks to make her her own character.

3. (+) Setting - When you read the acknowledgments section, Steve Brezenoff thanks the school for being shown around... And it's clear that he's got a clear picture of how things are arranged there and also in Saint Paul. The culture there - the enthusiasm for soccer from Lana's parents; the park that Lana shows Lesh; the way class distinctions are easily marked along the houses and neighborhoods.

4. (+) Romance - In my small description of the book, I wrote that this was a YA contemporary romance, but it prioritizes self-discovery over the romance. Lana starts off to Lesh as this sort of manicpixiedreamgirl, her hair an ethereal color and everything about her stunning him. She transitions into idol, friend, and more as the book goes on and Lesh begins to learn more of Lana and not the girl he's projected into his gaming world. What I particularly liked about the romance was how it took time to develop. He's a sophomore, she's a senior. They didn't meet under the best circumstances but through a bunch of awkward, yet strangely intimate lunches together, they begin to get to know each other... and from there things grow.

5. (+) Discussion - Probably one of my favorite parts of this book was how much of it lends itself for discussion. Not just on how so many art forms like video and computer games can take on a similar form to that of a novel, but also on gender politics, roles, stereotypes and sexism.... and the different ways the games themselves were compared and contrasted. The most interesting to me was the discussion on gender and role-playing and how that interacted with the computer games and their school space.

6. (+) Gaming culture - The nostalgia I had while reading this book! Something most of you probably don't know about me: I played a lot of computer games, including MMOs, when I was younger because of my brothers. I grew up with Dark Ages of Camelot and Everquest. While reading this novel, particularly Lesh's sections, I was strongly, strongly reminded of those days. Brezenoff does an excellent job with the lingo (camping bodies, grouping, the guild raids, etc.) and establishing the cultures of the individual races in the game and the setting of the game itself, especially since he uses the PoVs of the MMO characters. The little comments he added were authentic to the gaming culture that I knew (though incidentally, I created male characters all the time and it was never a controversy)... and I've never played Dungeons and Dragons, but now I'd really like to at least try D&D one day.

7. (+) Characters - One of the most awesome aspects of this book is how well done the characters are. And probably the most consistent aspect of the comparison to "Rowell meets Green" is the quirky characters. Brezenoff allows all of his characters enough page time to let them shine in a both good and bad way - I don't particularly like Lesh's friends, but I can't deny that they read true to the character Brezenoff had established. He didn't skimp on the character flaws either.

8. (+) Writing - Brezenoff had to manage multiple PoVs: Svetlana's, Lesh's, and those of the two online characters Lesh chooses. Each one sounds unique to that character's personality and this book was simply a delight to read because the writing was smooth and humorous and well done.

9. (+/-) Pacing - Probably the only thing I disliked about this book was getting bored while reading because it was kind of slow, especially at the start.

10. (+) The Cover - A perfect way to describe the romance + gaming culture aspects + the Sara Zarr quote to emphasize self-discovery? Definitely one of the better contemporary covers I've seen.

It's cliche to say, but the Goodreads description & marketing was probably correct: this book is a lot like Rainbow Rowell meets John Green. Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl in particular - substitute the way Rowell inserted fanfiction into her narrative with sections on an MMO character - and blend that with the dual perspective from Eleanor and Park. John Green and Rowell for the quirky characters and self-realization. If you have ever enjoyed gaming culture or are curious about it, you will want to check out this novel. If you're looking for your next unique contemporary read, look no further than one that blends gaming culture narratives with teenage school and romance story lines. Quirky and interesting.

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review 2014-01-22 00:55
Her Dark Curiosity by Megan Shepherd

Her Dark Curiosity

Author: Megan Shepherd
Publisher: Balzer + Bray

Publication Date: January 28, 2014
Goodreads ♥ Amazon

The Madman’s Daughter was the creepiest debut I read in 2013. I mean, the opening scene is the vivisection of a rabbit. It doesn’t get much creepier then that! I had high hopes for the sequel especially when I heard that it would be loosely based on The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll & Mr. Hyde.

Her Dark Curiosity begins a year or so after Juliet returned from the island her father was living and experimenting on. The events changed her in a lot of ways and I loved seeing how her character handled all of the things she saw now and how that has affected her returned to London. I really liked Juliet in The Madman’s Daughter and I came to like her even more in Her Dark Curiosity. In this novel she must come to terms with both sides of her personality her animal side and her human logical mind. It was a fun dichotomy.

One thing I wasn’t too keen on was the resurrection of the love triangle from book one. I thought with the death of Edward, then Montgomery pushing her off in a boat, that Juliet would get some time to herself. Unfortunately, that isn’t how things pan out and I think the back and forth took away from the interesting bits of the story.

I did love the Jekyll and Hyde aspect to the story though. Any problems I had with the love triangle were completely overshadowed by how much I enjoyed this exploration of character. It wasn’t just Edward either Juliet also has a huge Jekyll and Hyde complex.

Overall, I enjoyed Her Dark Curiosity. I thought it was a great continuation of The Madman’s Daughter and the ending set the story up for an epic finale which will deal with Frankenstein!
Source: www.fallingforya.com/2014/01/her-dark-curiosity-by-megan-shepherd.html
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