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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 2017-03-15 01:16
Review: American Street by Ibi Zoboi
American Street - Ibi Zoboi

Initial reaction: I enjoyed every moment of this novel because it was an emotional and realistic journey with a strong protagonist whose narrative voice stayed with me long after I finished the story. It's a difficult read to swallow in places because of the actions of some of the characters, but in the end, I was rooting for Fabiola to find her footing.

Full review:

I have so many emotions upon finishing "American Street" - and that's a very good thing.

It's a story with many layers to its narrative, brought to life by the vivid narration and characterization throughout. "American Street" tells the story of Fabiola, a Haitian immigrant arriving in the United States, but separated from her mother along the way when she's detained by authorities at the airport. Fabiola ends up in Detroit, living with her aunt and three cousins as she tries to adjust to life in America between waiting for efforts to get her mother back and pursuing her own ends to make it happen. This is only part of the story, as Fabiola reflects on her experiences in Haiti, struggles to fit in alongside her cousins at school, discovers some tough truths involving the people around her, both friends and enemies alike.

I think Fabiola is one of the most well rounded and voiced protagonists I've read in a YA work in a long time. She's fiercely loyal to her family, faith (she practices Voudou, which is probably one of the few times it's actually portrayed in a non-stereotypical way that I've seen in many works, including YA), and goals. She's not without flaws, and the way she recounts her experiences in Haiti alongside her difficult adjustment to life in Detroit is vibrant and vivid. The relationship between her and her cousins (Primadonna, Chantal, and Pri) is wonderfully done. I liked the rolling banter between them in places, allowing the reader to get to know them in the way that is close to Fabiola, but also for their own motivations. The narrative allows a deeper eye into some of the side-characters through monologue snippets delivered between chapters in a seamless way. I was even taken by the scenes of romance and relationship building that I saw through the narrative. The diversity of the characterization feels natural, well established, and refreshing to read in many respects.

I'll admit "American Street" hit me hard on a number of emotional levels because of the way the story unfolds and the turns of conflict. The narrative takes an honest look at relationship abuse, drug dealing and abuse, inner-city life, cultural clashes, among a number of other subjects. One could say that in some ways, there quite a few threads that aren't completely tied, but its Fabiola's resilience and transformation that carries the momentum of the story despite places where the story could've had better closure. The weight of Fabiola's decisions also factor into the story and give some raw moments of grief and coming to terms that really stood out for me. In the end, I really appreciated the narrative journey that "American Street" took me on, and it's one I'd definitely read again.

Overall score: 4/5 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 2017-02-25 06:33
Review: Only Ever You by Rebecca Drake
Only Ever You: A Novel - Rebecca Drake

Quick review for a quick read. "Only Ever You" by Rebecca Drake is the first novel I've read in this author's bibliography. It was definitely a page turner. I found it difficult to tear myself away from this book wanting to know what happened next in the overarching mystery. The story centers around the disappearance of a girl named Sophia, causing a downward spiral on an already testy household for her parents Jill and David.

Jill is one of the narrators in this novel, and one can tell how flawed her character is from the beginning of the book. She has a hectic time as a mother and trying to make ends meet in the career she's set for herself while her husband's job keeps him away for long stretches of time and social engagements. She's at her wits end in some respects. A near miss kidnapping involving Sophia has Jill and David on high alert, but there are other secrets that keep their tentative relationship on its ends.

It's when Sophia disappears that everything falls apart. The second perspective in the novel is Bea, a woman whose identity isn't clear from the beginning, but the reader can tell she's the one who abducted Sophia. The question remains as to why. Combine that with confessional letters that are interspersed through the narrative from an unknown source, and you have the three perspectives that compose this novel. It flows very smoothly, and the tension between the characters is very palpable. There were quite a few times when I found it hard to suspend my disbelief in the way certain things happened (not so much in that they might occur as it was the WAY they occurred in succession). I suspected that someone close to Jill's family had something to do with Sophia's disappearance, but the narrative threw a number of curveball revelations, some of which did quite well in the context of the novel. But I think the number curveballs were one too many in the end, to the point where the story somewhat suffered under the weight/mass of them.

I did like the novel on the whole though, and it makes me curious to read more of Rebecca Drake's work.

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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