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review 2017-03-19 16:39
Review: Maestra by L.S. Hilton
Maestra - Hilton L. Root

Quick review for a truly abhorrent reading experience (for me). This was a random library read I picked up, and suffice to say I won't be reading the sequel to this.

*sighs* I'll put it like this: it's a bad sign when you have nothing good to say about a book upon finishing it, but it's even worse when the experience is so bad that you have little to nothing to say about it. Usually when I'm writing reviews about a book that I dislike, I have a plethora of things to say that was wrong with the experience and I'll spell it all out. In this case? Everything with this just didn't work for me. I spent most of the book either bored or just shaking my head at Judith. This book wasn't well written, the sex scenes lacked connectivity (mostly they were for shock value, but I wasn't shocked or impressed at all), the so called crime aspects were fleeting and disconnected. The constant weight shaming, brand dropping, among other things just threw me even further off the plight. I saw where the book was going with Judith's character, but again I couldn't care enough to be able to connect and follow her experience with true investment. I think if there were one thing about the novel that stood out to me on a "good" note was the establishment of the scenic art world and there were tendrils of high society life that could've developed into something interesting, but it didn't immerse me as the book went onward.

If L.S. Hilton writes another series, I might see if I can give her writing another go just to see if it connects better with me, but my journey with this series ends here. I just can't bring myself to care and I'm coming out of this novel more frustrated that I wasted my time with it than taking it for the experience of the story itself.

Overall score: 1/5 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 2016-11-24 02:57
Great Start to Shifter Series
Damnation: Reckless Desires - Anna Lowe
Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why? 

I would recommend to any friend that loved shifters. Would also recommend to those that are willing to try something different.


What did you like best about this story?

I loved the whole story but my love affair started when Jessica walks into a bar. Also love how a shifter lets you know where their territory is.


Have you listened to any of Kelsey Osborne’s other performances before? How does this one compare? 

I have not listened to other performances but that will change when I listen to the second book in this series. 


Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

The moment that moved me was the point where Jessica and her sister started to insert themselves into the everyday workings of the bar. Simon didn't know what hit him. It's a story that shows how two people with diverse backgrounds can love each other. Just like in real life, we have to stop judging a person by what they are or what they look like. Jessica has such a kind heart that you don't want to see her get hurt.


Any additional comments?

I loved listening to this book. Having Ms. Osborne read the story allowed me to really concentrate on what she was saying as I went about cleaning my yard. She also made me realize that I was missing something. This story picks up where the prequel leaves off. Once I read the prequel and find out how Jessica and Simon come to meet, I'll listen to this one again. And I can't wait to listen to the next book in the Blue Moon Saloon series. At this point, I can see myself listening to this series more than once.

I voluntarily reviewed an audio version of this book.

 

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review 2016-11-20 04:15
Review: The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian
The Guest Room: A Novel - Chris Bohjalian

Quick review for a somewhat quick read. "The Guest Room" is only the third book by Chris Bohjalian that I've read, and for the most part, it's an emotional, thrilling read about some very difficult stories and experiences. The book trades between four perspectives: Richard, the work-invested, practical husband who hosts a bachelor party that goes horribly arwy; Richard's wife Kirstin, who struggles with the aftermath of events that happen in their home, their daughter, and finally Alexandra, a young woman sold into sex slavery who struggles to stay alive and crosses paths with Richard and his family that fateful night.

It takes a bit for the book to find its momentum, but once it does, it takes off running to showcase the very intimate experiences and emotional upheavals of the characters involved. The mystery itself is compelling and keeps you on your toes as to what happened the night of the murders of the two bodyguards and showcasing not only Alexandra's horrifying experiences as a sex slave, but also explores the difficulties Richard faces with his wife and daughter in betraying their trust, as well as fending for himself socially and legally. There were definitely times when I was frustrated at the characters for their actions/reactions to things, but the narrative explores their motivations and interactions so well, it's hard not to feel compelled by it even in the measure of controversial and difficult subject matters. I especially found myself shaken by turns in Alexandra's experiences for how horrifying they were and the losses that were noted in her life.

I somewhat guessed the path of the ending after a certain point, but that didn't deter me making the march of the book to its conclusion. I thought the book did a decent job of tying those threads together, if a bit quick in progression. I wouldn't say it was my favorite work from Bohjalian, but I appreciated the experience.

Overall score: 3/5 stars.

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

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review 2016-07-19 03:43
Review: Those Girls by Chevy Stevens
Those Girls - Chevy Stevens

Initial reaction: I'll admit that as I'm sitting down to write the review on "Those Girls" by Chevy Stevens - I'm a bit at a loss for words. This book was so visceral, intense, and I couldn't help but feel right in the heart of the anger and hurt for the characters in every step of the horrific abuse they suffered. There were many moments that my hands were shaking as I listened to the audiobook, anticipating what the characters would do and hoping they found some sort of piece of mind as the narrative went on. (Alas, that was far and few between.)

Even with this, the narrative definitely had its slower moments and some threads of the plot that were either convenient in placing, or weren't really tied up that well. For that, it gets a high 3.5 star rating from me.

Full review:

I was completely taken by surprise by how gut wrenching Chevy Stevens' "Those Girls" turned out to be. It keeps you on the edge of your seat and doesn't let go for a while. Three young women raised by an abusive father escape (following horrific turns of events) to find themselves in captivity for a number of days, from which they barely escape with their lives and try to start over with new identities, only to get sucked back into their past.

The first part of this book was intense. I couldn't help but be drawn into the girls' situation as it descended from bad to worse. Stevens' prose and pacing is so spot on, the emotion of each of the ladies fully in the forefront. The first part is told through the POV of the youngest sister, and it broke my heart in terms of what she (and her sisters) endure as they end up having to take on entirely new identities in a march towards living in Vancouver. Fast forward several years later - the younger sister's daughter - Skylar - learns bits and pieces in her mother's and aunts' ordeals and ends up going on a journey pursuing the road they once took in order to find her missing aunt, only to end up in a nightmare of her own. I didn't like Skylar's convenient naivete, but I followed her journey nonetheless and felt for her in some of the more horrifying realizations that she comes to know about her own true history and the ordeal she faces. The latter part of the book trades between the younger sister, her daughter, and the elder sister. I felt that the latter part of the book really slowed down in terms of the momentum, and the utter idiocy of the police made me cringe in the light of such glaringly obvious points of investigation and threats. Nonetheless, it held my attention and I couldn't look away from the turns of events even up to the horrifying conclusions of the conflict. It's a read that hits home in so many ways about the horrors of abuse (physical, sexual, emotional) and yet it's also the story of a struggling family who tries to cope through all of these different hardships - even to the point where their decisions are clouded by the grief and desperation they feel to protect each other.

I liked the read immensely, even with qualms about its pacing among other issues. I'd certainly read more from Stevens' bibliography from just the strength of this narrative alone, as it gave me so much takeaway even in the aftermath of reading it.

Overall score: 3.5/5 stars.

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