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review 2017-11-10 00:33
ARC Review: Birthday Presents by Dianne Hartsock
Birthday Presents - Dianne Hartsock

This is NOT a romance. This is a horror story. I knew this going in, and I was still pretty horrified while reading. 

Birthday Presents is dark. It contains rape, torture, and death. The villain is seriously disturbed. There are explicit scenes that are difficult to read. This book is not for the faint-hearted. 

The plot is fairly straight-forward, and we know from the get-go who the villain is. Spending time in Crimson's mind made me want to bleach my brain to get the disturbing images gone - he's vile and insane. He's a hunter, he is a murderer, and he has no conscience. He lives for the hunt, for the kill, for the depravity of his actions.

There's an attempt at making the reader sympathize with the villain, though that didn't work with me - I am firmly in the camp of not believing that a rough and abusive upbringing excuses the actions of our villain. 

I appreciated that the author gave the victims strength and allowed them to be more than just simpering damsels in distress. They fight for their survival, they do what they must to live. 

There's a bit of a mystery as to who's helping the villain, though I wasn't completely shocked to find out who the mystery person was - there were sufficient hints along the way. Still, that was a well-done plot point that kept me at the edge of my seat.

I hope that Tracey and Kyle get the psychological help they both need after living through these horrors, but I felt confident that they will both get through this. As for the little bit of romance we get toward the end, between Gene and his co-worker - that development came a little out of left field for me, and I didn't quite buy the long-time pining that's insinuated here. 

The writing was inconsistent in some instances, and I had to reread a few passages to understand what the author was trying to tell me. I also thought that the characterizations were uneven, and in some moments, the characters' actions didn't make sense to me. YMMV.

 

 

** I received a free copy of this book from its publisher via Netgalley. A positive review was not promised in return. **

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text 2017-11-09 14:51
Reading progress update: I've read 40 out of 376 pages.
The Hate U Give - Angie Thomas

“I’ve seen it happen over and over again: a black person gets killed just for being black, and all hell breaks loose. I’ve Tweeted RIP hashtags, reblogged pictures on Tumblr, and signed every petition out there. I always said that if I saw it happen to somebody, I would have the loudest voice, making sure the world knew what went down.

 

Now I am that person, and I’m too afraid to speak.”

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text 2017-11-08 21:21
Reading progress update: I've read 20 out of 376 pages.
The Hate U Give - Angie Thomas

20 pages in and I'm already in love with this one. I also missed reading physical books, I love my kindle but going to a library and buying stuff is so much fun!

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review 2017-11-08 02:42
ARC Review: The Hideaway by Rosalind Abel
The Hideaway (Lavender Shores Book 5) - Rosalind Abel

4.5 stars!

In this 5th book in this fantastic series we finally get the story of Connor and Micah, the two Bryant brothers. Well, they're not actually blood-related brothers, because that would be super icky, but Connor Clark was sort of adopted into the Bryant family when he was merely 13, escaping from his super-religious and abusive family, and Micah has been in love with him ever since. 

Micah even tried seducing Connor when he was just 16 and Connor was 20 and home from college. 

The book starts really slow - all the reader knows is that Micah and Connor love each other desperately but can't find a way to come clean to their family and their friends about being in love and soulmates and wanting to be a couple - I mean, how would you tell your family that you're in love with who they consider to be your brother, amirite? 

But they're gonna do it - they're gonna come out. And then Connor's nephew Moses, 17 and in dire need of rescue himself, comes to live with Connor, and all thoughts of coming out as lovers fly out the window.

There's a lot of heartache and pain within, and the author did a fabulous job pulling me into the story, wanting these two men to have their happy ending. The characters are fully fleshed out, and it is clear that they love each other very much. And yet, Connor worries that he might be holding Micah back from pursuing his violin virtuoso career in NYC if he allows himself to grab onto the younger man with both hands, never thinking that Micah is perfectly happy being in Lavender Shores and actually doesn't want to live in NYC. I mean, it's not like he asked - he just assumed. 

And Micah is so patient. He keeps waiting for Connor to find the courage to come clean, while pretending to be happy with stolen moments in their hideaway - a underground cove near Micah's house - where they are free to be open and affectionate. 

For a lot of the book, their relationship is fraught with tension, for obvious reasons, and Micah actually has a boyfriend of sorts for a while in Seth (who needs his own book, stat), but it's a casual and open relationship which ends amicably. 

It's possibly that a reader might find a sexual and romantic relationship between two brothers objectionable, but it's important to remember that they're not blood-related, and that Connor was never officially adopted by the Bryants, so there are no legal ties either. Additionally, it is very clear from the start that Micah never thought of Connor as his brother - for him, Connor is always the man he loves; Connor is his soulmate. 

This book is full of heartache and pain, but also much love, and it is that love which carries the day and makes it worth all the tears. 

Highly recommended. 

While the books in this series can be read as stand-alones, I wouldn't recommend you read them out of order, as all of them build upon their predecessors to some extent. 

I also hope that the author has more books planned. While The Hideaway provides us with a natural stopping point, there are plenty of other characters in this fictional town who deserve their own chance at lasting love.


** I received a free copy of this book from its author. A review was not promised in return. **

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review 2017-11-06 18:39
The Hate U Give - Angie Thomas

Another tough review, mostly because this has been written about by so many at this point that I doubt I have anything much to add. This generation's "The Outsiders", The Hate U Give starts with the murder of an unarmed black teen by a jumpy white cop and tells the story of his friend, a teen girl living in a black city neighbourhood but attending prep school an hour away.
 
As a 30yo white Canadian in the urban west coast, it portrays a very different world from what I experienced in school or encounter in my day to day life. Great literature for all ages, but particularly for YA and kids, can teach us empathy by bringing us into the experience of those who are different from us, and this book does that effectively, making the choices, feelings, and responses of the characters clear and relatable whether or not you agree with them. I appreciated the level of insight this story gives since a lot of the reactions I see to the real world shootings and racism are media sound bites or Twitter hot takes that tend toward the outraged or the defensive, and generally lack context or depth. What I appreciated most was the level of complexity the author brings to her portrayals of the neighbourhood, the situations, relationships, personalities etc. Since we're firmly grounded in the MCs story, some ideas aren't developed as fully or in as balanced a way as they might be, but it's a story not an academic paper so that's as it should be. 
 
There's quality writing here, with current events and ideas explored through an immersive story framework, but to step away from the intellectual for a moment, this story was basically a continuous gut punch. I'm not sure if there was a chapter I wasn't crying in. So much heartbreak, which is what helps make the reactions and the anger feel like the natural conclusion. So much tragedy. One of the things, oddly, that really got to me was they way they reference "black Jesus" all the time - not because I have a problem with Jesus being portrayed as black, but because it felt like a snapshot of the multi-generational effects of racism and how that's informed identities. Like, Jesus of all people, ethnically Middle-Eastern and known for validating all human life and brotherly love, should not be seen as belonging to white people by default. Which is a theme that comes up again and again: white people vs. black people. Or white people vs. minorities, as comes up with the MCs Chinese-American friend. So much separation, enmity and rivalry, fear and violence . . . and in the end, so much of that violence turns back on the community that's suffered. So this book was a really thorough exploration of many dimensions of the modern teen's life, of life as a black person in America, of navigating identities between the different spheres of your world (again: teen life), of racism and police brutality, of poverty and gangs and drugs and family. Because this was also one of the most beautiful portrayals of a loving, connected family I've come across in YA. The parents had fully developed personalities, motivations, pasts, with messy but thoughtful approaches. I particularly liked the way the parents talked their kids through stuff. I think if more parents dialogued their kids through critical thinking, problem solving, and understanding the world around them, we'd be in a much better place as a society now. Very cool to see that played out in a YA book.
 
Highly recommend for older teens, maybe 15 through adult. Caution/parental guidance for younger kids based mostly on language, obviously on violence, and just a smidge on sexual content. I could see this book being taught in high school English classes for sure.

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