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review 2018-02-19 02:57
Gemina (The Illuminae Files) - Jay Kristoff,Amie Kaufman
So ... this series has me screaming, but internally because my family is around.

I was honestly surprised by how much I'm enjoying this series. I haven't read anything like this before but maybe this is because I just haven't ventured into this genre before or something. Either way, this is new for me.

One of my favourite things about this is the way that it's told. It's set up as a dossier with files and collections of messages sent between people and reports and video footage. The authors even went so far as to provide actual faces for almost all of the characters which is just great. There's all this pretty artwork on top of it too to keep things interesting.

And I admire how diverse the characters are, you have characters from every race and ethnicity out there and they're not background characters either, they're important. 

I need to talk about AIDAN for a second, the artificial intelligence system, because I've never been so infuriated in such a long time over an artificial intelligence system. It barely even has a personality and yet ... you wanna punch a computer in the screen just from reading this book. AIDAN is fucking crazy, like watching it develop a consciousness in the first book was honestly terrifying. This shit followed me into my dreams like I'm not joking, I was S C A R E D. But then you grow to enjoy AIDAN and it takes a lot to turn you around from hating an AI system to being like oh okay I guess you're not that bad.

I know that a few people have a problem with the romance line in the series but I honestly don't see why as it doesn't take away from the story. Like it's pretty background music type of stuff you know, it doesn't take away focus from the main story and what's really happening or what the reader is meant to be focusing on. If anything, I think it adds to the story, I feel as if I understand the characters a little better because of the underlying romance. You understand their motives more and why they do what they have to do.

I also really appreciate that the text messages they send each other are readable. Pretty much all of the time that adults attempt to write teenage talk through text it's literally unreadable. As a teenager, I can't read shit whenever I see an author's attempt to write teenage text. It takes me a good 5-10 minutes to figure out what the fuck the author is talking about BECAUSE YOU CAN'T READ THE TEXT. 

"But they're adults, they haven't been teenagers in a while." I hear you, but also just talk to a 17-year-old, text them, see how they respond. Mimic it. It's not that hard.

So yeah, I appreciate that the text talk was readable and accurate.

Also hey, let's appreciate Ella, who's disabled but still has spunk to her and is still hella smart and a force to be reckoned with. 

And the plot was really good, it kept moving at a good pace and new things kept popping up to keep you moving so things never got dull. I was honestly tense and anxious while reading this just waiting to hear what else was going to pop up. And I didn't see any of the plot twists that came up in the book, like the signs were there I just didn't think anything of it until the end and then it hit me like a brick.

So yeah, I recommend the series, I thought everything about it was great and I'm pumped for the last book to come out to see how this ends.

 

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review 2017-12-24 23:38
Revenge, Ice-cream, and Other Things Best Served Cold
Revenge, Ice Cream, and Other Things Best Served Cold (A Broken Hearts & Revenge Novel) - Katie Finn

Okay, we need to talk about this book.

Because what in the fuck.

To clarify I haven't read the first book but I think the events that happened in the first book were referred to relatively frequently to the point that I basically got the gist of what happened in the end without the nasty details of everything that this bitch Hallie did.

I didn't think I'd end up liking this as much as I would like I was at a solid three stars mostly because the beginning, while not boring, did take some time to build up and get to the good stuff but when it did get to the good stuff HOLY SHIT. This was teenage girl drama but to the extreme, should anything along this line ever happen in real life I would be sincerely concerned for the mental stability of the individuals involved.

I'm going to start off with Gemma because I don't have much to say about her and while I didn't hate her, I did get just a tad bit irritated with her.

Because this girl is fucking stupid. As shit. So stupid. I literally cannot even comprehend the level of cluelessness she expresses throughout this book.

For the first half of this book I couldn't go more than a few pages without Gemma saying, "I didn't understand half of what she said," over the most basic, easy to understand concepts. Like you didn't even have to be especially gifted to understand all of the things that she didn't understand, you just have to have graduated from the 12th grade. And I was like there is just no way, there has to be some sort of exaggeration on her part, there is no way that this girl knows this little.

But as you keep reading you realize, oh but she is this clueless.

And this is what made the plot twists less shocking than they actually were, like half of the things that she realizes near the end of the book, you have figured out before you hit the halfway mark. And she out here acting all shocked

And I'm just here like .... girl are you actually stupid. And maybe you're thinking oh but you're just good at figuring things out, I'm here to tell you no. nonononononono. I'm terrible at figuring things out which is why mysteries are always such a wild ride for me because I literally never put two and two together.

But when your hints are blunt enough that even I figured it out then you either did a really bad job of hiding the hints or your main character is stupid.

Gemma is just stupid.

But total obliviousness aside, I didn't hate her. I actually really liked her, she had really changed by the end of the novel and I appreciate that character growth that she went through and realized that hey maybe it's a good idea to stop acting like I'm 12. Although to be fair it was because Hallie was fucking crazy and it was kill or be killed so she really didn't have much of a choice.

But one more thing that I want to touch upon before we get into the mess that is Hallie.

The biggest thing that I liked about Gemma's growth was her realization that TEDDY AIN'T SHIT BITCH. Like the little details her friends brought up about the way she used to be with Teddy and the increasing level of "ew what the fuck why was I like that" that she experienced throughout the book as she realized how incapable of thinking for herself and being on her own she was when she had been with Teddy. So yeah, I think Gemma came out a better person at the end of this book and I'm really excited to see what happens in the third one.

But moving on to Hallie. This bitch is crazy, this is like the third time that I've said this but for real this bitch is fucking crazy. Like I seriously think she needs to go in for psychiatric evaluation because she is just ... really unstable. And creepy.

This girl is literally so hung up over some ruined birthday party from when she was eleven that this bitch spent like 4 fucking years building up to the destruction of Gemma.

Over a birthday party.

Just let that sink in. 

Gemma like changed the date of the party so that no one showed up on the day that it actually was and this bitch Hallie held a vendetta for like 4 fucking years and spent all that time plotting to get back at Hallie over a birthday party.

As somebody who has had this happen to them in like elementary (not the having the date changed thing, people just didn't work out because I didn't realize how invitations worked in Canada but anyway moving on that's a different story), it's literally not that big of a deal like let it go and move on. What kind of eleven year old has the time and energy to spend doing this shit like last I remember when I was eleven everyone was like losing their shit over tamagatchi's or those little pooh bears in the different outfits.

And it's not like Gemma wasn't sorry like she tried to make things right and from what I understand, not in the best way possible but she did try and this girl Hallie was just determined to spit in her face over it damn.

And Gemma is like maybe I should get a restraining order LIKE NO DUH SHE PUT FUCKING SPYWARE ON YOUR BEST FRIEND'S PHONE A RESTRAINING ORDER IS LONG OVER DO THIS IS LIKE A FUCKING CRIME.

She almost gets Gemma arrested, she gets Gemma fired, she ruins all of Gemma's relationships and for what? A birthday party.

I'm just ... I have no words, there are no words to describe my level of shock as this dumbassery.

But I will say this, it was pretty creative like you never really think about how important a birthday can be until you read this book.

And to end off, if Ford and Gemma do not get together in the third book I'm going to riot, I'm going to set fire to ... idk maybe a napkin I don't wanna burn my books or anything. But they better get together, my boy Ford is so kind and lovely and insanely smart and so sweet I want him to be happy and I want someone to adore him as much as he adores Gemma. He is too good for this world and a true hoe, not even asking any questions before he goes hacking to find evidence for Gemma.

I think I'll end there, my adrenaline has finally stopped pumping.

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review 2017-05-27 00:17
Review: Gem and Dixie by Sara Zarr
Gem & Dixie - Sara Zarr

Quick review for a quick read. Another emotional and engaging read from Sara Zarr. "Gem and Dixie" is a story of sisters as well as knowing when to let go and grow. I enjoyed the journey, though the story had more compelling points in certain turns than others. It got a little muddled in the middle trying to march itself towards the ending, but still pulled at my heartstrings for showcasing the relationship between the characters.

Gem is four years older than Dixie and has been tasked as the responsible figure in a complicated household. Gem and Dixie's father is often absent from their lives, and usually when he returns, it's never for good reasons. Their mother can barely keep food on the table and while she's present in their lives keeps her own distance from taking on responsibility due to a number of vices. Gem has always tried to help and protect her younger sister, but even as they've grown older, their relationship has become more distant, with Dixie wanting to hold on to memories they used to have while Gem is ready for something more, something better.

The two have a rather unique opportunity to get away when their father returns to their lives, leaving a questionable amount of money of undetermined source under the bed. Gem asks Dixie to get away for a short time - just to "let loose". But their journey from that point is a series of encounters that have the girls meeting mishaps and discovering each other in a way they hadn't had opportunities to do before. I think the first half of the novel had me in its compelling portrait of the girls' broken home, while the latter part had some moments of emotional connectivity, but the pacing and grip loosened a bit up until closer to the end when the girls have to face the reality of their situation and Gem has to make a decision for herself rather than for the inclusion of her and her sister. In the end, it's a solid read - probably not my personal favorite from the author, but well included among her potent stories in contemporary YA and dealing with difficult issues. Wonderful audio narration by Julia Whelan as well.

Overall score: 4/5 stars.

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review 2017-05-26 06:02
Review: The Whole Thing Together by Ann Brashares
The Whole Thing Together - Ann Brashares

Quick review for a somewhat quick read for me, though it felt like I had to push myself through this novel several times. "The Whole Thing Together" has many issues, but I would echo concerns that much of this novel suffers from rampant cliches, insensitive references in the measure of racial attribution (considering it uses a racial slur casually and struggles constantly to accurately and sensitively portray the multiracial character who struggles with her identity) and sexism (slut shaming and odd fixations on physical details of the characters). In addition to those issues, I think the biggest downfall of this novel really came in that I just couldn't find a space to connect with the characters. Not as much as I wanted to, because there were parts of the narrative that had the potential to go interesting places, but never quite reached that point and abruptly halted in places where the development could've provided more intimacy than the narration allowed.

At its heart, "The Whole Thing Together" is a family drama, showcasing teens as well as young adults in a separate sections of the same family struggling through multiple phases and revelations in their lives. Think "Parenthood" or "Brothers and Sisters" in terms of TV dramas, only I think the characters in this novel were far less fleshed out. As ambitious as this narrative sought to be, it tried to take on far too much in a narrow scope, to the point where nothing really worked well. The narrative voices blended far too much for me to truly connect to them (I don't mind third-person omniscient POV, I read it quite often in many genres). I would hesitate to call this YA, it feels more like it straddles the line between YA and New Adult (at least if you think about certain themes tackled in this book).

The surprise revelation towards the ending was emotional, but I honestly think that it could've had more impact if the character constructions were stronger. In the end, it's a narrative with strong intentions, but the execution leaves an unmemorable and sometimes offputting portrayal that doesn't showcase the best of what Brashares can do, and as someone who liked the Sisterhood series, this left me greatly disappointed.

Overall score: 1.5/5 stars.

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

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review 2017-05-16 03:58
Review: The Black Witch by Laurie Forest
The Black Witch - Laurie Forest

Initial reaction: I think my end thoughts after going through this whole novel are much more complex than I can summarize in a quick bit review, but I'll leave you with this food for thought:

No matter what culture you come from: no individual or group wants to be labeled an "a", an "an" or a "the." That is just one of the many problems this book has when approaching the issue of identification and tolerance when it comes to relations with groups of many different backgrounds, and it reveals a much deeper issue when the narrative itself is so out of sync with the matter at hand that it can't even recognize why it's flawed down to its very execution and presentation.

I think this could've easily been a 250-300 page book and have gotten a better story across than 608 pages of beating a point home...which ended up being contradicted constantly by harmful reiterations.

It's not a good fantasy novel either. :(

Full review:

In all honesty, I think "The Black Witch" could've been a much better novel than it was. Don't get me wrong, long before the ending of the novel, I knew what it what its intention was, and I'm not going to say that there weren't bit pieces of this novel that I ended up liking. But the bad parts of this novel far outweighed the good. I'm not even going to touch the diversity issues yet, because while that's the chief issue of controversy in this novel, the other elements of bad in this novel make it that much worse.

First, this book felt like a smorgasbord of overwrought (harmful) YA cliches, especially from the very beginning of the novel. Instalove, rampant girl-girl hate, sexual shaming and jealousy, overwrought drama that kept repeating itself over and over again (to the point it was redundant), poor portrayals of rape attribution and presentation, abusive love interests, and one dimensional characters. I don't even think Diana's humored oblivious, IDGAF attitude could've saved this novel from being a poor portrayal of so many different aspects. The worldbuilding might've been the most mediocre among many YA fantasy novels that I've read because it really doesn't make a lot of effort here, as the portrayal of different otherworldly beings not only relies on the prejudices of the main character to differentiate them (Male Lupines are RAPISTS! Female Lupines walk around naked and are automatically SLUTS! Fae creatures are FORBIDDEN! Mixed Breeds are EVIL!), but also on established folklore that's only scantly thrown in where its convenient to justify the character encounters with the main character, Elloren.

This book is like if the plotline of "Redeeming Eden: Save the Pearls" or "Out" were (scantly) mixed with Harry Potter (but with very little battles or magic - bummer) and Gossip Girl (nearly every character in this book hates each other on account of their racial backgrounds and histories, and they do some pretty horrible things to each other in the measure of power struggles and jealousy over relationships - namely boy lust). It's just horribly out of touch with the issue it portrays and wants the reader to take it seriously when it's really difficult to do so.

The second major issue in this book is that the pacing and editing in this novel is terrible. It took forever to get to some of the major plot turns and coming to terms that Elloren does in this novel. That's unacceptable, especially since some of the drama and expansions felt like they were repeated in several scenes - it didn't need all of that padding when really it didn't add much to the story. When I wasn't being overtly offended by some of the toxic insults that Elloren spewed in her internal and external thoughts towards the other characters in this novel (even in consideration of what some of the other characters do to bully and harass her, it was overkill), I spent the novel continuing to wait to the point where I'd get to the significance of The Black Witch, feeling like some descriptions were beautiful while others were overkill on the purple prose. Even then, the world is still really only scant in establishment, and it's hard to be immersed or repelled in this world when everything is just so...one-note.

"The Black Witch" feels like it's one big ad-hoc fallacy because every conflict is either all or nothing, "my way" and nothing else, or so over the top that it doesn't feel real or genuine. And that's the biggest disservice and means to educate anyone on systemic prejudices that I've ever encountered in a work, in fiction or otherwise. The narrative seems to be looking for reasons for Elloren's prejudices rather than rationales on why she shouldn't be predisposed to hate or label the other characters she's around, and that's absurd! The fact that the other characters are just as single-minded and predisposed to isolate themselves and think themselves superior and actively condescend others around them is also absurd. Keep in mind that the bulk of this story takes place at a university, and that even some of the professors are predisposed to ignore, hate, and be prejudiced against some of their mixed breed and otherworldly students. And that runs counter to the inclusive environments that colleges universities actually have and strive to create for their students (I should know - I live/work around a few.)

This book is in a line of books I've read within the past year that have really problematic roots and execution (see "Carve the Mark" by Veronica Roth and "The Glittering Court" by Richelle Mead), but I think this might be the worst one among those that I've read. The story centers around a young woman named Elloren who is a part of the Gardenian tribe. Fair-skinned, very focused on their women becoming wandfasted (marrying at a young age for life via a magic bond). Elloren is told by her sternly prejudiced aunt that she needs to hurry up and wandfast, while her uncle says that she should wait and go to university, get an education and enhance her trade. Elloren decides to follow through and do her education first, because of promising him.

It's not enough that we have to hear Elloren's aunt go on for paragraphs about how superior the Gardenian race is: *cough*

“This is unheard of!” my aunt exclaims. Her voice turns tight and angry. “You’ve raised these children like they’re Keltic peasants,” she snipes, “and frankly, Edwin, it’s disgraceful. You’ve forgotten who we are. I have never heard of a Gardnerian girl, especially one of Elloren’s standing, from such a distinguished family, laboring in a kitchen. That’s work for Urisk, for Kelts, not for a girl such as Elloren. Her peers at University will be shocked.” (Chapter 1)

“Do not let Sage’s unfortunate situation color your view of wandfasting,” my aunt cautions. “Wandfasting is a beautiful sacrament, meant to keep us pure and chaste. The lure of the Evil Ones is strong, Elloren. Wandfasting helps young people such as yourself to stay on the path of virtue. It’s one of the many things that sets us apart from the heretic races all around us.” (Chapter 5)

And the fact that even one of the former Gardenian runaways, Sage, gave birth to the AntiChrist (or this book's version of it), and was "Banished" from the tribe, but we have to hear Elloren and the other Gardenians talk about how vile or inferior all the other races are. *cough* Sexism included:

I gape at her. “A female? With that much power?” That high level of power is almost exclusively held by males, with the notable exception of my grandmother. (Chapter 5)

Fallon leans in toward me with obvious relish, her voice a scratchy whisper. “Lupines don’t ever marry, did you know that? They simply grab whomever they like and mate with them in the woods.”
“Like animals,” Echo chimes in, with great indignation.
“Really?” It’s all so scandalous. And troubling.
“I’ve heard,” continues Fallon, “that sometimes they grab young women, pull them into the woods and mate with them...as wolves!”
(Chapter 7 - and this isn't the only rape/non consensual reference in this book.)

I struggle to keep my expression neutral, greatly put off by her intrusive behavior. “Of course not. I’m unfasted.” And not in the habit of throwing myself at young men, unlike you. (Chapter 7)

Elloren starts off on rocky terms with Fallon, a powerful Gardenian and university mean girl. - That's part of the girl-girl hate that this book promotes. It's really petty stuff, over a potential wandfast (Lukas, whom Elloren's aunt blackmails her by holding her university money and lodging because she won't wandfast with him after knowing him for only a day or two) but other things like *gasp* CLOTHING!

I glance up at her. “Do you think you could use this?”
“Of course, Mage Gardner,” she replies, obviously thrilled by my choice.
Fallon’s hand comes down on the fabric. “You can’t use this,” she says, her tone hard.
I blink up at her in resentful surprise. “Why?”
“Because,” she replies, her voice syrupy with condescension, “this is what my dress is being made of.”
(Chapter 8)

TL, DR Translation: Bee-otch don't steal my man, don't steal my clothes! (I'm wondering at this point what I have gotten myself into.)

Elloren's university experience becomes a power struggle that involves her being relentlessly bullied by those of other races, playing into stereotypes that Elloren has overheard and/or internalizes. The unrealistic part of it is that every other race/being is distinctly hostile or does something to warrant/justify her attitude, which lends her to use her power as a Gardenian to make their lives miserable in turn. Some measures include her running to her instalove Lukas (who is also Gardenian) to threaten several different races (AND A CHILD!) and even includes the brutal killing of her roommate's pet chicken. It's the equivalent of using her power and prominence to punch down.

I think the first turning point of the novel has Elloren questioning the killing of the chicken, but it doesn't make any of her ruminations and derogatory blanket statements about those of the race her comrades belong to any better. Nor does it justify her inviting violence so that she (at least at first, she doesn't follow through with the plan, thankfully) can get her roommate kicked out of university and banished.

Elloren does eventually "befriend" people at the university, but honestly looking at the supporting characters of other races in this book, they're either used as props to support Elloren's ordeals or as teaching pieces to assimilate with the norms of HER culture. Case in point, someone who might be close to my favorite character of the novel: Diana.

Diana is a Lupine and quite oblivious to social norms of the university. She sleeps and walks around the university naked without a care in the world, and won't hesitate to say that none of the guys she's around are worthy enough to mate with her. Her introduction actually had me laughing because her brother had to call her out in the middle of class to say she was interrupting (and the professor was none too pleased). But even looking back at Diana's role in this book - she's a prop. There's a section of the book (too long if you ask me) where not only does Elloren and her brother convince her to put on clothes but also where Elloren shames her as not being good enough to be in a romantic relationship with a guy of another race because her nakedness makes her a "slut."

Like, what?

And I don't think I'd ever forgive Elloren for what she does to Trystan, who struggles because he finds his roommate Yvan attractive.

Elloren observes this:

Yvan cuts a nice figure, I reluctantly admit. He’s long and lean, and when his piercing green eyes aren’t tense, they’re stunning. My eyes are increasingly drawn to him in the kitchens, his strength and lithe grace tangling my thoughts and setting my heart thudding harder. I can’t help but remember how he looked when he smiled at Fern on my first day in the kitchens—how dazzling that smile was, how devastatingly handsome I found him to be.
I bite the inside of my cheek in annoyance.
Why does he have to be so distractingly good-looking? And why do I have to find him so attractive when he clearly doesn’t like me at all? And besides—he’s a Kelt!
(Chapter 25)

He eventually admits to finding Yvan "beautiful" and confessing to Elloren that he's gay.

Elloren's answer was this:

“Oh, Trystan,” I breathe, panic clamoring at the edges of my thoughts, “this is really bad.”
“I know,” he admits tightly.
“The Mage Council...they throw people in prison who...”
“I know, Ren.”
“You can’t be this way. You just can’t. You have to change.”
Trystan continues to stare rigidly at the book. “I don’t think I can,” he says softly.
“Then you can’t tell anyone,” I insist, shaking my head for emphasis. “No one can know.”

.."Trystan, I’m really worried about you now. I can’t...” Tears prick at my eyes as an unbidden image forms of Trystan being taken away, thrown into prison somewhere. A fierce urgency wells up inside me, accompanied by a very justified fear for my brother’s safety. “You’ve got to keep this secret.”
(Chapter 25)

Trystan is her brother, guys. I just...doesn't even matter that she says she doesn't think he's "evil" but she definitely doesn't support him. I would never recommend this book to a GLBT teen, in addition to mixed race teens or POCs because it directly condemns their existence on several occasions, even considering this is a fantasy world with supernatural beings. You can't separate the reality parallels to cultural diversity in this book, especially in places where it directly evokes the groups that exist in real life.

A good portion of this book really doesn't start picking up momentum as a fantasy title until around 85% of the book when the actual battles, magic and personal stakes begin, with Elloren making alliances with some of the races and individuals she once railed against, but they have prejudices that still linger throughout the book and Elloren even shuns some of the relationships actively because their races are just "too different", which infuriated me. It's also a hard bargain because Elloren only deals with some aspects of discovering the root of the prejudices she's held, such as asking the history professor for the Kelt version of historical events and not wearing the clothing she owned that was made by child slaves of another race. This also feels like a paint by numbers TCO fantasy, with Elloren attempting to follow in her mother's legacy as the purported Black Witch. This is established early on, but more strongly leaned upon in the latter part of the book.

I feel like this book tested my patience and painted some horribly inaccurate portraits in turn to lend into a fantasy stake filled battle that I don't care enough to follow, and so my journey with the series ends here.

Not recommended.

Overall score: 1/5 stars.

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