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review 2017-03-21 04:45
Review: The Leaving by Tara Altebrando
The Leaving - Tara Altebrando

Quick review for quite a strenuous read. I think "The Leaving" had good ideas and intentions, but in the end, none of it worked for me. I'll admit I really had to push myself in a marathon just to get through this book. It was very sluggishly paced (for little to no reason at all), the characters were lacking (you have three perspectives: two of the abducted kids and one who's the sister, and there seems to be a mismatch with the gravity of the emotional events with the voices of the characters, who seemed very removed from it all despite having gaping holes in their memory and a potential missing kid that they don't even remember who might still be out there somewhere), and the mystery had little to no buildup. Matter in point, the story ends with such a telegraphed ending with very little expansion that I just felt underwhelmed at the whole deal despite this being in a genre I usually like. I spent more than 3 hours in spurts just to get that ending? *sighs*

The variant font stylistics also added nothing to the story, so don't think you're missing much if you don't get the inclusion or why it was done that way.

In the end, not my cuppa and not really worth the time I spent on it. A shame since the premise and certain reveals in the book had potential, but the cast of characters, pacing and narrative focus just weren't there.

Overall score: 1.5/5 stars.

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review 2017-03-18 16:35
Review: Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson
Allegedly - Tiffany D. Jackson

Initial reaction: Long review coming probably sometime tomorrow when I can meditate on my end thoughts on the novel, which are complex and conflicted. This...may not be a book for everyone to read.

This book had me emotionally shaken and vexed on so many levels, that I don't even know where to begin. *sighs* I will say - to the narrative's credit - that it's well written, emotionally raw, and Mary's experiences come across as very true to life experiences for incarcerated minority youth for much of the book (not all of it, but a good portion). Tiffany Jackson gets the emotional intimacy and connection of characterizations for this book spot on. The tension in this book is so palpable that I found myself caught between putting the book down and picking it back up eager to read what happens in Mary's overarching case. It's a dark read and thought provoking in many places. At first I thought that this narrative would be something akin to reading the narrative "Push" by Sapphire, because the tone of the narrative felt like that to start (and interestingly enough, the narrative mentions Mary reading it at one point.) The aforementioned book was a rough read for me on its own but I appreciated it because of the real horrors and story told in that vein. This book doesn't go in that direction, but the emotional/physical abuse and fear that Mary endures in places is rage inducing and makes you feel for the character.

If you're sensing a lingering "but" to those notations, you would be hitting the needlepoint spot on. I sincerely want to pretend that ending (and certain events close to the ending) doesn't exist. While I don't mind having the rug pulled out from under me in an apt mystery/thriller, this didn't feel like that kind of story for much of the narrative. At the very least, one would think at this ending "Wait...there's an emotional mismatch here - that really didn't fit the rest of the tone of the story. Even if there were multiple unreliable characters here (and there are: fair warning without delving into too many spoilers), it doesn't make sense to go that direction because the story already had a compelling story in one tone. It reveals a pretty gruesome but notable reality for an underrepresented population."

At worst? This book does need a TW on several counts: several notations of homophobia (though one could argue that its influenced by the prejudices of the observed characters), body/sexual shaming (see previous notation), rape/complicit accessory rape/statutory rape (oh, I have a soapbox coming on this very subject matter on so. many. levels.), animal cruelty and dismemberment (I had to stop reading for a bit after that scene because I wasn't expecting it), among other things.

So, yeah, complex emotions. :(

Full review:

My initial rating upon finishing this book was 4 stars, and looks like I'm going to take it down to 3.5 because...MASSIVE caveats. There are brilliant moments in the narrative that really tugged at my heartstrings. I think the essence of Mary's story is true to the brutality that many young people of color experience in incarceration, juvenile pregnancy, power and abuse in the correctional system, power and abuse in personal relationships, gaslighting, among other things. It's true to life on some things, but ultimately not in others, and particularly with the progression up through the ending, this is a mature YA (I question it being YA, but I think teens could still read this and get something out of it) dark horror/thriller.

At first I thought that this was something that abruptly changed for the tone in the ending and I thought "Wait a minute, I wish that the book hadn't gone in that direction, because it was so good establishing what Mary's experiences were and illuminating some tough realities in characters who are like her." But the more I looked back through the story, the more I realized that it actually had foreshadowed this dark and foreboding tone; every single character in this narrative is one you can't trust on the surface because of the ultimate truths that are revealed about them as the narrative presses forward. It's one big nightmare that while I don't always agree with how it used elements to its execution, it also provides a space where I'm thinking about the narrative complexities and points long after I put the book down.

The baseline for this story has Mary as a 15/16 year old young black woman convicted in a juvenile home for troubled youth up until the age of 19. She's accused of killing a white infant which has a ton of media coverage and accounts close to Mary's case (which are brilliantly provided in snippets throughout the text, and it gives the narrative an authentic and complex feel). She's struggling to try to make a better life for herself, trying to get the opportunity to take the SAT, getting an education, confronting what seems to be PTSD surrounding details of the case that she's shut out because she doesn't feel like she has a voice or that people will believe her about what *actually* happened. Things become more complicated when Mary realizes that she's pregnant and the system will take away her unborn child if she doesn't say/do something. Hence begins the ball rolling as Mary struggles through hostile and demeaning/neglectful oversight, stern judgment from superiors and peers, a complete lack of support from her mother (her mother's blind religious hypocrisy and self-indulgence had me seeing red through the entire narrative, I thought in my mind "I've read/known about people who have done this to their children, and I can't deal because they are freaking horrible.") among other things to essentially get out of this entire ordeal. It creates sympathy for Mary's situation while holding back pieces of the actual case, revealing them in snippets as the story progresses.

Mary's baby father, Ted, is 18/19, at first appears supportive of Mary's efforts to get out of the system and be with her for the sake of being with her. Note I emphasize "appears", because once the truth about Ted's past actions comes across, it's...messed up. It's messed up enough that his relationship with her was statutory rape to begin with, but I was legit raging and had to put the book down for a time because of what's revealed about him in further spells. MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD.

No one can tell me to have sympathy for a guy incarcerated because he was complicit in holding down a young woman by her arms to be raped several times. Regardless if he was scared, regardless whether he "let her go", even if he didn't rape her himself, it's clear he was in denial about doing anything wrong and making the excuse he was "young" when it happened. Mary sees the hypocrisy in this and is sickened by it in spells, but exhibits denial about it in others - which angered me. Further reveals of Ted's character showcase him getting extra money by pocketing part of the money that a woman named Letitcia gets from her relationships and him bumming off from others relationships - which Mary uncovers going to visit him. I'm legit horrified by this (as is Mary). Mary attempts to get away from him even on that measure, but then goes back to being in denial about his actions/demeanor in spells. One could probably argue that Mary's demeanor was in constant denial about many, many things because the emotional weight of all that she endures, but this was something that messed me up reading this story.

(spoiler show)



So ultimately speaking, Ted can screw right off as far as I'm concerned. The horrifying part of this book in many notations is that it feels so vivid and realistic that I could actually see it happening from Mary's viewpoint, particularly with the way she wrestles with her reality and relationships more often times than not. I can see it even it there are details which aren't as ironed out as smoothly as they could've been. I think that's one of the things that sucked me into the story: that I believed it was Mary's experience and her voice is attuned to all the people she's surrounded by, fatal flaws and all. She's a compelling narrator, and I definitely felt for her and for many of the characters in the narrative. Hence when I finished "Allegedly", I felt like I could give it credit for the strong assertions, strong protagonist, and illumination of many different measures in a realistic way.

But at the same time, I feel like that even with knowing the narrative foreshadowed these revelations with the characters and case in itself, the transition and translation of that wasn't as strong as it should've been. So I've asked myself "Is this a 4 star read, is this a 3 star read? I'm going back and forth about it because as much as I liked the emotional resonance in it, I didn't like elements within it and how they were used."

So in the end, it's a strong 3.5 star read for me, and I'd encourage others to read this for the strong themes and character resonance, but be warned that the subject matters are mature and triggering.

Overall score: 3.5/5 stars.

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review 2017-03-02 03:30
Review: Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
Everything, Everything - Nicola Yoon

Quick review for a quick read. So I have complicated feelings about this book. I liked it, but that's not to say that I didn't feel like there were issues that needed addressing more thoroughly (and the fact it has quite more than enough problematic points to articulate in the mix of things). This book skirts the issues of mental illness as well as having an all consuming rare sickness far too lightly for my liking. I think it needed much more depth to really sell the story and could've potentially done so in a much better way than it did, even considering this is written for a teen audience. For a while, despite some cheesiness and some significant plot holes, I was enjoying this novel, enough to rate it at a 3.5 to 4 stars. It's a story with cute romantic chemistry, easy to read banter, and beautiful illustrations. But then the ending...eh. I'll get to that in a bit.

Maddy is a young woman who's been sick all of her life. She's allergic to the world around her, as diagnosed by her mother, a doctor who hires a nurse (Carla) to tend to Maddie when she's away. Maddy doesn't question her mother's dedication or words to her, hence she's in a bubble. I don't blame her for not knowing any better about the situation she's in, and I like the fact she's a bookish girl who has a natural curiosity about the world around her. When Olly moves into the house next to Maddy's, the two of them hit it off relatively quickly. ("Ba-da-da-da, I'm an instalove machine, and I won't work for nobody but yooou...") I thought I'd be annoyed with this, but surprisingly, I was flying through this novel - the chemistry between the leads does feel real (if a bit fragmented). I liked Carla's character too, she seemed a really compassionate character and I liked Maddy's interactions with her.

I flew through the narrative admittedly because of the narrative style and the illustrations within the book - it was a cool way to present the story. Yet, as the story went towards the ending, my suspension of disbelief only extended so far. The revelation about Maddy's situation didn't make the twist in the story all that strong to me, because I was left wanting more and feeling like the center of that twist was relatively unaddressed and skirted over. While I was relieved for Maddy herself, I still felt this story dropped a hard ball, missing developing the characters and situations in order to make it work and just feel like it used its very serious issues just as convenient plot points.

It's a story I liked for some experiences, but I feel it left me wanting much more from it than what it told. It wasn't "everything" to me.

Overall score: 3/5 stars.

Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley from the publisher.

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review 2017-02-24 05:54
Review: As I Descended by Robin Talley
As I Descended - Robin Talley

Quick review for a prolonged read (I had to recheck this book from the library several times because it kept getting holds placed on it, but I finally found a stretch to read it the whole way through). This is my second narrative experience from Robin Talley. "As I Descended" is touted as a retelling/reimaging of Macbeth, centered on two girls (Maria and Lily) at an elite school who enact upon a dastardly scheme to take a scholarship opportunity from a popular queen bee (Delilah), but their plan goes several steps too far and unleashes a downward spiral involving a haunted campus, vengeful spirits, revenge games, and overarching obsession with power. Added bonus: a diverse cast of characters including characters of color and prominent GLBT relationships at the forefront. By the summary/plot promise itself, I was definitely going to pick this up, even excited to have the opportunity to do so.

My thoughts in the aftermath of reading this are more mixed, however. I loved how darkly textured this novel was, some of the scenes are downright creepy not just in the visual aspects of the spirits and conflict involved, but actually have some well placed scenes of internal conflict among the characters, especially Maria - who starts off the novel rather naive and good at heart, but takes this downwards spiral as more events in the novel transpire and she gets more obsessed with the power in her grasp. She gets to the point where she denies reality, denies opportunities for herself to lose given what she's lost, and ultimately it's a consuming process that doesn't flinch on showing the burn. The tone and the intention of the novel were well noted.

The execution of this novel, on so many levels, was not good however. The problematic pacing stood out in my mind on one hand. I had to read this book in stretches and those stretches seemed more drawn out - taking me a while to get "in medias res". Part of the reason might've been the rambling musings of the characters within, many times with self-deprecating anecdotes (because, let's be real, this cast of characters is complicated and very, very flawed). The narrative moves in and out of the action, in and out of the creepiness, and that's an issue in itself. The characters also feel like they're missing an extra layer of depth. I get on some levels they're players on a stage (*cough* pun *cough*), but I kept wanting to have more than just a surface level of connection with them.

Which lends me to discuss my next point of contention in this book: while I love the fact this book FEATURES a wide range of representation (characters of color, bisexual characters, gay characters, character with a disability, etc.), the ACTUAL representation of these characters in the context of the story gives me pause, even to the point where I was really uncomfortable reading and had to put the book down in spaces. I didn't expect some of the rampant homophobic/biphobic slurs and commentaries that some of the characters in here spout. Granted, there are FEW opportunities where the characters shut this kind of language down, but it's still so prevalent that you can't separate that from the experience of the novel. I thought some characters really didn't have good representation at all, if by absence of said representation (i.e. Lily's disability in many places was masked) or representation where it was marred by very notable cliches (i.e. Maria and Mateo were very distinct caricatures of their race in places, and the fact that a group of Latino guys were essentially labeled as criminals just because of Maria's story to try to throw blame away from her...nah, dude. That didn't sit right with me at all).

It's hard to reconcile the good of this novel when there's so much of it that just didn't work well with the material it had. It's not the fact that this is a retelling/reimaging of MacBeth that's the issue, it's the way the narrative chose its focus. The focus could've been inclusive and thrilling without necessarily ceding to these cliches and problematic portrayals.

In the end, I'm willing to give credit to it having thrilling images and power plays for the horror novel it chooses to be, but at the same time I think so much of the narrative aim and presentation could've been better to make it more enthralling as well as inclusive. While it's difficult to say - with how darkly toned this novel is based on its source material - the inclusions could've been completely positive, it could've had more impact if the characters had more solid foundations and the focus was maintained on how they manipulated each other for their own goals and ends rather than using their identities in negative portrayals. Even if the intention was dark humor, dark humor does better when punctuated with characters fleshed out and situations developed enough to support it.

Overall score: 2.5/5 stars.

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review 2017-02-18 08:25
Review: The Joy of Less by Francine Jay
The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide: How to Declutter, Organize, and Simplify Your Life - Francine Jay

Quick review for a somewhat quick read. I'd probably give this read 2.5 stars overall. I read this over the course of a few days in audiobook form, and I'll admit that I didn't care for it despite having some practically useful ideas. I decided to read this for exploring methods of minimalist living and retention, since that seems to be a pervading topic when it comes to productivity and organization. The text itself has useful ideas if you haven't read very many delcuttering/minimalism guides, but the narrative itself is cumbersome in its narration. Simple and key to remember ideas often get lost in explanations that go on much longer than necessary. I found it too superfluous in its communications. As the narrative went on, I honestly didn't like many of the suggestions the book gives to approach a minimalist lifestyle (a.k.a. "Participate in sports that require less stuff." Yes, this was an actual suggestion in this book among other methodologies.) It's interesting that a key idea of this narrative communicated learning to control your stuff, not allowing your stuff to control you and what you want to do, but yet ideas like that give the opposite impression.

I would take this guide with a grain of salt, and it may be better just to use this for what is useful to the person reading it and to supplement other guides on organization and minimalist living. The figuring out what to keep sections were good, but its overarching useful mantras are taken over by redundancy and counter-intuitive suggestions.

Overall score: 2.5/5 stars.

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