Category Archives: Book Reviews

The Everything Box – Richard Kadrey – Review

25989974In 2000 B.C. an angel is set to end the world. He reaches into his pocket only to find the device is gone. The world won’t be ending on that day.

Fast forward to 2015 and we meet Coop. He is a pretty decent thief, except for he has been caught. He is facing jail or working with special client to retrieve a mysterious box. In the process of trying to find the box he becomes entangled with the Department of Peculiar Science. They tell him the box is not just a trinket container, it is a doomsday box. It will destroy the world. Coop is set on finding it, and meets just about everyone else who is out to get the box as well. No one is qualified for this search and things start falling apart more and more as time goes on. It becomes pretty plain that starting the apocalypse is not an easy task.

What I liked:
This book was just plain fun. The humor was great, the running around in circles was entertaining. I love a book that is just pure fun. It felt like a sitcom to me. One person would get the box and then lose it to someone else. Each time we were introduced a new cast of characters that were more ridiculous then the last group. I laughed over and over again as I read this story.

The characters were also so much fun. Coop’s sarcasm was on point. I love a good sarcastic character. Coop had an attitude and it fit well with the story. It wasn’t out of place. It helped extend the humor of the book.

I enjoyed the “cults” as well. I loved how they were introduced as these groups who were demon worshippers but then held bake sales. This juxtaposition between the two ideas was great. It fit right in with the ridiculous feeling of the story. They were all bumbling idiots and you would never picture them being able to summon a demon or end the world.

Sometimes you need a book that is just ridiculous. It doesn’t teach you any lessons or make you rethink the world. It is just fun. You just read it to laugh and feel relaxed from the rest of the world.

What I just was okay with:
While I highly enjoyed the back and forth pace of the book I do wish there had been just a bit more to the plot. The entire point of the plot was to run around trying to get this box, lose it and meet another group that was after it. I think by the middle if somehow the groups had banded together or there had been another revelation it would have elevated the plot a bit more. I like things a bit more complicated.

This story literally made use of every type of magic you could imagine. Not only were there demons and angels, but you had wizards, werewolves and vampires. Then there were ghosts and magic spells on top of all of that. While this was fun, I felt like it was a lot at one time. It was like throwing everything in and seeing what happened. The story might have benefitted from picking only a handful of magical elements and focusing on those.

What I wished was different:

I can’t think of anything that was outright annoying or that I disliked. This wasn’t a complicated, life altering tale but it was fun and that is exactly what I wanted from it.

I gave this four stars on Goodreads. It is not going to change your life. It is going to provide an escape from life. It is fun and has great humor. Life won’t change but it will lighten the mood for a bit.

Link on Goodreads and Amazon.

Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda – Becky Albertalli – Review

914DeALdMcLSimon is a normal kid. He has good friends, a great family and he seems to enjoy school. There is just one thing, he has been keeping a big secret. He is gay. Only an email pen pal, one of the few people he feels like he can truly open up to, knows. Through twist and turns Simon not only comes out but learns  about himself, his friends and family. And in the end learns love is a beautiful thing.
What I loved:
I don’t even know where to start with this book. I have about four other books I should be writing a review for but I have decided this one has to come first. I want to write a review for this book because I have to talk about how much I loved it!

I have heard about this book for ages. I keep seeing recommendations on blogs and Twitter. Some of my favorite authors love this book and I have meant to read it. I just keep getting distracted (It is always like, “Oh yeah, I’ll read that one. OOooo look that new pretty one.” Its bad.). I finally picked it up at Target with a gift card and I am so glad I did. This book lives up to everything I have heard about it and it has become one of my all time favorites.

First up lets talk about how this book left me literally feeling high and giddy at the end. I have read books with great endings before. I have read books that leave me feeling drunk on them. I have not read a book that has made me as happy as this book did. I was grinning so hard my face hurt at the end.

This book felt like a fairytale to me. It wasn’t unbelievable, just that happy, perfect, loving feeling that fairytales leave behind. That feeling of hope and joy you feel when you finish a fairytale. I felt all of that with this book.

I jokingly said when I finished, that I felt in love because of how strong and real the emotions were in this book. I raced through it because I felt like I was on the rollercoaster ride with Simon. I was impressed with how spot on this book felt, with how real and alive it was. I am not emotional so for a book to pull out a strong emotion like, pure joy, from me is impressive.

Let’s move onto the characters. Simon was great. At first he felt one note, I felt like I knew his character but as the story progressed I saw his growth and change. I liked how his emails with Blue helped him learn aspects about himself. This was one of the strongest parts of this story. The way the two of them were able pull revelations out about themselves and each other was fantastic. Simon grew and he grew in exactly the way he needed to grow.

Simon’s reflections on his sexuality were great. I liked that he wasn’t ashamed. He was just trying to find a way to make a declaration when he didn’t understand why he had to. I loved his point about how it doesn’t make sense that not everyone has to come out. I agree with him that straight people should have to make a big deal about their sexuality and revealing it like the LGBTQIA+ community always has to do, or on the flip side  no one has to make a big deal about it (what I hope the future holds one day).  The reflections on that idea hit home for me. It made sense and they way he talked about it was perfect.

I also liked the progression of how he came out. It wasn’t ideal and it wasn’t the way it should have happened. We saw him go through a gambit of emotions about how it happened and come to a conclusion about how to handle it. It felt true to life. The one scene where he is yelling at someone was done perfectly. I was angry and upset and wanted to cry just like Simon. What he states is exactly right about the situation.

Simon’s family was great as well. I think I liked them because they reminded me so much of my own family. They are goofy and have inside jokes. His parents wanted to just know him and watch him grow and not miss anything. It made me smile because I could relate to everything they said and did.

The mystery about Blue was captivating. I read the book and raced through it because I had to know who Blue was. I thought I knew once or twice. I did end up guessing right but I liked that mystery element. I liked that we got subtle clues and if we paid attention we could see the revelation. I do want to reread it one day and see if I could pick on some things.

The end where we learn who Blue was, was exactly what I wanted. The connection that was formed was true and it came from the emails. We saw that their conversations mattered. Nothing was made up. Nothing was done on a sly manner. They bared their souls, and grew even if they didn’t meet face to face for a while. It showed that email and text conversations can form a true connection between people.

I have an issue with people who think that because of the internet and phones we have no ability to connect with other people anymore. This book shows how untrue that can be. If you open yourself up and write what you really think, you can build a bond. A bond is not only built face to face.  A bond is built through honesty and sharing who you truly are with someone. That is what ultimately matters.

We saw this in this book. Blue and Simon connected. They grew as a pair of friends and then more, all through email. When they met that spark was there, that connection was true and alive. They were able to move forward because the groundwork was already put down. It was heartwarming to read.

What I was just okay with:

I think the only thing I could think of that drew me up short was that some details weren’t mentioned right away. Like Simon has glasses and I didn’t realize that until about 3/4 of the way through the book. He has to put in contacts and I had to then reimagine him. I don’t like having to change how I see a character that I have been reading for pages.

It wasn’t enough to throw me out of the story but it did stop me short a few times. I just had to readjust and I wasn’t prepared for that.

What I wished was different:

Nothing. I can’t think of one thing I had a true problem with. As If you couldn’t tell by my gushing above.
I gave this 5 stars on Goodreads and it deserved everyone. If you want a sweet, coming of age, coming out and falling in love story, this is perfect. If you want a happy ending with pure giddy joy, this is perfect. I can’t wait until the Leah on the Offbeat comes out.

Links: Goodreads  & Amazon

Quotes:
“It’s like they have this idea of me, and whenever I step outside of that, it blows their minds.” (pg. 54)

“But I’m tired of coming out. All I ever do is come out. I try not to change, but I keep changing, in all these tiny ways. I get a girlfriend. I have a beer. And every freaking time, I have to reintroduce myself to the universe all over again. (pg. 56) (Has to be one of my favorite parts of this book.)

“Being secure in your masculinity isn’t the same as being straight.” (pg. 65)

“Why is straight the default?” (pg. 146)

“It is definitely annoying that straight (and white for that matter) is the default, and that the only people who have to think about their identity are the ones who don’t fit that mold.” (pg. 147). (This whole chapter of conversations is so important).

The Art of Racing in the Rain – Garth Stein – Review

51aqyzJkv1L._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_Denny’s dream has always been to be a champion racer. His dog Enzo has been by his side since he was a puppy. They have built a strong, unbreakable bond. A bond that is desperately needed as Denny’s life begins to unravel around him. Life is complicated but seems a bit more understandable and bearable when seen through the unique eyes of man’s best friend.

What I loved:
A book told from a dog’s POV; that had me hooked from the very start. This is actually a book I have been meaning to read for ages now. My aunt got it for Christmas from my cousin and I borrowed it from her.

I lovd Enzo. His insight into human behavior is interesting. He sees things we can’t see. He sense things we can’t sense and he understands the world around him much better than I initially imagined he would. I thought he would have a goofy sense of the world.

I always imagine a dog having a childish perspective of the world. Enzo had a much more mature voice. Enzo learned from his environment and he made observations based off what he learned. Enzo was smart.

I loved how we see the connection between man and dog from the dog. If you have had a pet you know the deep connection that can exist between a person and their furry friend. We have numerous stories about how a dog has helped someone make it through the toughest time in their lives. In this story we got to see how a dog manages to be that support system.

The look at the universe  and life was refreshing. Even with all the things that Denny had to go through, Enzo still held hope. He had Denny’s best interest at heart and he was not going to let anyone do anything to take that away from him. I loved some of the ways he had to help Denny see reason or make a decision. Seeing how he got his “voice” heard was great.

The end made me cry. I don’t cry easily and those last few pages hit home in a major way for me. It was uplifting and satisfying. It felt perfect. As someone who has a deep connection with a pet, I appreciated the sentiment at the end.

What I was just okay with:

While I loved Enzo and his voice I had a serious issue with the way the plot played out. It was just very aggravating to me. Everything that happened to Denny wasn’t his fault. He had no control, he was a victim of circumstance and crappy people.

Particularly the “Evil Twins,” made me want to hit someone. It wasn’t bad writing or anything it was just those circumstances and type of people infuriate me. I wanted the book to end because I just couldn’t read about their horrible way of behaving anymore. It was a sign of great writing that I emphasized with Denny so much and hated some of the other characters. I just get annoyed quick with that kind of storyline though.

What I wish was different:
There was one minor scene that really bugged me. When Enzo is taken to stay with Denny’s friend Mike, he introduced to Tony as well. When Enzo meets him he refers to Tony as Mike’s “wife.” From this description I understood as them being a couple.

This may just me being sensitive but I didn’t like Tony being referred to as a “wife.” Enzo is a smart dog. He understands racing in all its terms, he understands the legal system and can sense sickness. So I don’t understand why he would think of Tony as a “wife.” He could have easily observed him being close to Mike, think they are together, and say something like “He is acting like Eve does to Denny, as if he was his wife. But he is a man, so I guess that would make him his husband? Can a man be another man’s husband? I don’t know, I haven’t seen that before. But nevertheless this is where I find myself right now.”

Sometime simple like that. Observe that it is different than what he knows, apply language he already understands in a new sense and move on. It is only one scene but it still prickled me a bit. I have a brother who is gay and that may be why it annoyed me. I wouldn’t want him or his boyfriend be stereotyped that way. It wasn’t enough to make me stop reading but it did throw me off during that chapter.

 

All in all this was a sweet, heartwarming book. I enjoyed it. I liked seeing life from Enzo’s point of view. I had an issue with the harsh nature of the plot line but that did solidify the significance of Enzo and his role in Denny’s life. I gave it four stars on Goodreads and would definitely recommend it.

Quotes:

“Because memory is time folding back on itself. To remember is to disengage from the present.” (pg. 11)

“Be it through intention or ignorance, our success and our failures have been brought on by none other than ourselves.” (pg. 43)

“Learn to listen! I beg of you. Pretend you are a dog like me and listen to other people rather than steal their stories.” (pg. 102)

“The true test of a champion is not whether he can triumph, but whether he can overcome obstacles – preferable of his own makings – in order to triumph. (pg. 135)

 

Link to find it on:  GoodreadsAmazon

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe – Benjamin Alire Saenz- Review

51uZpbbhvmL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Aristotle (Ari) doesn’t have any idea of who he is or what he wants. He feels like he is drifting through his life. His parents keep him at a distance. His brother is in prison and no one will talk about it with him. He meets Dante at the pool one day and his life begins to change. He still struggle through life, trying to find his place and make sense of things but he has a companion now. His relationship with Dante expands and moves forward. In the end both boys grow, both find their place in the outer world and inside their own worlds.

What I loved:

I loved Dante and Ari’s characters. Both of them were very relatable. I felt a connection to both of them. Ari was our main protagonist and I understood him from the very beginning. He is angry, he is scared and he is lost. Ari is real. He isn’t written as overdramatic. He is written as someone who wants answers, who wants someone to trust him with information, as someone who wants to matter.

Dante is fun, he is smart. The way he talks with Ari feels beyond his age but I liked the introspective nature he brought to the story. I felt like he opened up not only Ari but me as a reader as well. He allowed the book to be brought to a higher level. Dante allowed himself and Ari to grow.

I liked the way that sexuality as handled in this book. Dante comes to terms with being gay quite quickly. He figures out who is attracted to and he accepts it. There is a hint of what he wants from Ari but he doesn’t force anything. One moment comes and goes but he doesn’t resent Ari for his choice or his apprehension. He lets Ari determine who he is and lets him have the time to do that, which is exactly what Ari needs. Dante knows Ari and that is made plain throughout the story.

I think that is what I liked best about this book was that this felt real and tangible. Nothing felt like it didn’t belong. This story was about two boys growing up and coming to terms with how they were as people. It was a true and strong journey. It was a journey we all can relate to. Sometimes these stories can take a turn that feels too neat and easy. Nothing for these two was neat and easy. I liked that aspect. Growing up is not easy and it was nice to see that portrayed in a true way.

What I was just okay with:

I didn’t have any real issues with this book. I did feel like the storyline with Ari’s brother could have been more solid at times. I felt like it was dragged out, revealed and kind of left hanging afterward. Then again this book was told over a short time period, we wouldn’t see the full effect of learning about his brother’s crime and its forever effect on Ari in this span of time.

What I wish was different:

I can’t think of anything that stood out as needing to be changed. The pacing was great, the character development was perfect and the story overall was engaging and made me want to read more about these two.

I gave this book a full five stars on Goodreads. I raced through it, wanting to learn more about these two boys. I wanted to see them grow and develop. It was one of those books I found anytime to read. If you enjoy coming of age stories this one is one of the best I have read.

Quotes:

“The problem with my life was that it was someone else’s idea.” (pg. 8)

“Words were different when they lived inside of you.” (pg. 31)

“He looked so happy and I wondered about that, his capacity for happiness. Where did that come from? Did I have that kind of happiness inside me? Was I just afraid of it?” (pg. 241)

“To be careful with people and with words was a rare and beautiful thing.” ( pg. 324)

The Cemetery of Forgotten Books Series – Carlos Ruiz Zafon- Review

51gU0eNxl+L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_There is a place where forgotten books find a home. It is a secret bestowed on a select few. Once you are brought into the cemetery you are given a chance to chose one book. This becomes your book, you are charged with protecting it.

This series tells the story of one particular family, the Sempre family. They are booksellers, a family that understands the intrigue and power of books. A family that understands the importance of books and keeping them safe. The series is a tale of this family keeping not only their business alive but also finding ways to make connections with others around them. It is a tale of a family who gets intertwined in mysteries that change their lives forever.

What I loved:

I actually started this series backwards. I started with The Angel’s Game, not realizing it was part of a larger series. The Angle’s Game and the subsequent books had this deep air of mystery. You were always wondering what exactly was going on. Each book had its own mystery, one that slowly unwound around the reader.

I enjoyed the slow and steady pace of these books. Sometimes with mystery books there is a long drawn out hint at what is going on. Then at the end everything gets wrapped up in a few pages. This was different. The mystery unfolded piece by piece. We meet new characters and figure out what is happening. This pace is what keeps you reading, wanting to find out the exact details.

I also like that this whole series was around one family. I enjoyed slowly learning about them. We got different generations in the books. We saw the evolution of the family and the long term effects of events in the earlier books. I liked this connection that built on themselves throughout the stories.

I also enjoyed the air of otherworldliness in The Angel’s Game. This was the first one I read and I twas captured by it because I had this feeling something was happening under the surface. I liked this kind of floating feeling I had throughout the story. I had a theory and later learned I was right; but I liked that it was in another novel that I found out what was truly going on. This was what kept me reading this series. I wanted more of this atmosphere though unfortunately  that wasn’t present in the the other books.

1232What I was just okay with:

I started with The Angle’s Game and found out that it was the second book in a series of three. When I finished The Angel’s Game I believed that The Shadow of the Wind would have taken place before The Angel’s Game, or at least have a solid logical connection it. That was not the case.

The Shadow of the Wind actually took place after The Angle’s Game which left me very confused. I could not fathom why the series was written in this order. I read The Shadow of the Wind expecting to have more understanding of The Angle’s Game but that wasn’t true. It did nothing to help tell The Angel’s Game any different.

I struggled I think because I started The Shadow of the Wind with a certain expectation. When I realized it was not going to do what I expected it to do, I felt let down. I felt lost which I think took me out of the series.

If I had read the series in order maybe I would have felt differently about the series as a whole. But as the way I read them, I felt I was missing a vital piece to this story in the end.

9781922079886What I wished was different:

The last book The Prisoner of Heaven felt like it had nothing to hold itself up. The Angle’s Game and The Shadow of the Wind were two good stories that stood alone if necessary. The Prisoner of Heaven did have a nice connection to The Angel’s Game but it was a history of one of the characters, nothing more.

I wanted to hold a true story but it felt like it could have been integrated into the other books. The last book felt unnecessary which left me feeling detached and disappointed by the series as a whole.

 

As a whole the series was alright. I gave it between 3-4 stars on Goodreads. I liked the mystery elements, I liked how it held me captivated but wish that the series felt better connected with one another. In the end I felt like the series could have been stand alone stories and it would have worked as well if not better.

Squint – Review – Jack Kardiac

51ep5qKxHYL(Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own).

Ten stories that as you read you get a feeling something is different, a feeling that you aren’t getting the full picture. A collection of short stories that as you reach the end you realize that you were only seeing a small portion of the story. You finish a story and want to go back and reread, hoping to pick up on the little details you missed the first time. Ten stories that by the end you have something to think about.

What I loved:

I was interested immediately in the collection when it began with a prologue. I am not used to seeing prolongs in a collection of short stories. I usually attribute a prologue to something setting up pieces later for a story. I was interested to see how a prologue worked in a short story collection.

The prologue set up the fact that all these stories take place in the same universe, or at least most seemed to. I wasn’t expecting for this greater connection. I not only enjoyed the overarching redemption storyline but I also liked the little nods to stories that had taken place previously. I liked to be able to say, “Oh yeah, I remember her or that incident.” These little call backs were fun and kept me reading because I wanted to see how things would connect further.

I also really enjoyed some of the twists in the story. There were a number of stories that you didn’t quite understand what you were reading until the end. Then I got what it was about and was eager to go back and find the clue that I missed earlier. Any story that keeps you wondering and has a satisfactory reveal is always fun.

What I was just okay with:

I am not an overly religious person. I am not an atheist but I don’t talk about religion often and I don’t connect life events to a religious meaning. This might be why the religious undertones sometimes threw me out of the story.

I won’t say it was too much, it wasn’t preachy. I am always hesitant to read stories that have religious overtones because I worry that it will become preachy and make me feel like I am being lectured. This collection didn’t do that until probably the last story. That one was the wrap up story and I understood why it made use of religion as it did but I just didn’t find myself as enthralled by the story as I was with the rest of the them.

I think most of the talk about God and spiritual connections was wrapped up in the stories well. It made sense most of the time. It was just personally for me I felt myself pulled out once in awhile.

What I wished was different:

This is another personal preference thing. I always enjoy author notes about their stories but for I wish they were in an appendix at the end of the collection. I feel like the explanations take me out of the world, especially with this collection because they were all  connected. If I want to know more about the inspiration for a story I will go and read the explanation. If I am satisfied with how I read the story I may not read the explanation. I know I could skip the those but being right in front of my face I feel drawn to at leas scan them. For me, I just prefer the explanations at the very end.
I gave this collection four stars out of five on Goodreads. I enjoyed it. I liked the twists. I liked that they were all connected in some fashion. It was a quick and enjoyable read.

If you are interested in this collection there are a few giveaways and promotions that the author is currently running.

Amazon giveaway, 10 ebooks which ends on Nov. 22nd.

Goodreads giveaway, 5 paperbacks which ends on Nov. 24th.

Kindle Free promotion on Nov. 22nd and Nov. 23rd.

So if this collection sounds interesting to you, take advantage of any or all of these promotions! Or if you want to purchase it outright, be sure to check it out on Amazon.

They Both Die at the End – Adam Silvera – Review

1487621303004What would you do if you knew today was your last day to live? You will die before the day is over, there is no way around your fate. Would you live the life you always wanted to live? Would you open yourself up to a complete stranger? They Both Die at the End explores this idea through a bittersweet tale that will make you smile and cry at the same time.

Mateo and Rufus have both received their Death-Cast call. They will die within the next 24 hours. Mateo becomes trapped by fear in his apartment, afraid to take a step outside and truly live for his last day. While Rufus, a foster child, has lost himself in grief and survivors guilt after surviving the car crash that killed his family. He has no idea who he is anymore but he is determined to live his last day as the person he always wanted to be and not as the one other’s have started to see him as.

They both turn to the Last Friend App to find someone to live their last hours with. Together they extract their real selves from one another. Mateo puts fear aside and truly lives. Rufus lets go of his guilt and shows his true soft and loving side that got lost in the tragedy. They find not only friendship but love and a connection with one another on their last day.

What I loved:

Adam Silvera is the king of emotion. He knows how to invoke that tightness in the chest and that sting of tears in the eye. He knows how to create heartache from sadness and a bittersweet pull as well. He is among a handful of authors who make me fall into my emotions. It is rare I feel so connected to a set of characters. I desperately wanted this to end differently.

Mateo and Rufus were so well written. It is difficult to create round and dynamic characters with only one day of time to work with. Both of these characters start off one way and do a complete turn around by the end. In less than 24 hours Silvera manages to bring both of these boys out of hiding and put them into the lives they were always meant to live.

Mateo is lost and scared. He is a little obsessive. He is scared to experience life. He has no support system life, his mother having died giving birth to him and his dad in a coma.He would have stayed inside, letting his last day slip away.

Instead he uses the Last Friend App to find someone to spend the day with. He wanted to truly live but he doesn’t know that in this last day he will end up living the life he always dreamed of living.

Watching Mateo open up and be purely happy was sweet and heart wrenching at the same time. I felt a rock on my heart knowing he couldn’t get to truly live with this new side of himself. I imagined him making it though the day and becoming this full and whole person.

I felt connected to Mateo. I have always had a fear of taking risks and experiencing the world. His fear hit close to home for me. I have recently walked outside my fears and the feeling is freeing and exhilarating. I wanted Mateo to feel that full experience and see how awesome life can be.

Rufus is lost in his grief. He survived a crash that killed his family. He doesn’t know what to do with himself. He lashes out and hurts other without meaning to. He is lost and scared, much like Mateo.

Watching him push off that guilt and live with Mateo was exhilarating. He showed Mateo that he was a kind soul. He was able to show that he was someone to be loved. His transformation was satisfying. I wanted him to be able to show the world who he truly was. Knowing he wouldn’t leave that impression with everyone was hard to read.

I also really enjoyed the short snippets from other lives that we saw in the story. Each one had some small connection to Rufus and Mateo. Not all the connections ended well but it was this glimpse at how connected everyone in life is. No one exists in a vacuum. We touch lives in some way everyday.

I thought this was a nice touch to alleviate some of the pain and sorrow that clouded the story. The idea that we got to take a step away from the story for a moment and recollect and see that life went on for the people was a good way to ease some of the heavier emotions in this story.

What I was just okay with:

The only thing I was sort of only okay was the concept of Death-Cast itself.  There is no explanation of how it works, which bugged me for the beginning of the story. I found myself asking questions about it but once I got into the story I realized it didn’t matter how it worked. Death-Cast wasn’t the main element of the story, it was the vehicle by which these boys were able to change. The story was about two boys connecting and living while discovering love and was not about the technology itself.

What I wished was different:

I honestly wouldn’t change anything in this tory. I read it in 3 days. There was nothing that help me back or anything that I couldn’t manage to get past. Even the insta-love aspect didn’t hold me back because of the finite time line that we were working inside of.

 

I gave this 5 stars on Goodreads. If you want a story about living life to its fullest, young love and finding your true self you will love They Both Die at the End.

 

Quotes:

“It’s just the fear of disappointing others or making a fool of myself always wins.” (pg.109)

“I may not be able to cure cancer or end world hunger, but small kindnesses go a long way.” (pg. 126)

“Entire lives aren’t lessons, but there are lessons in lives.” ( pg. 334)

Mask of Shadows – Linsey Miller – Review

29960675How far will you go for revenge? Would you enter a contest where the only way out was to win or die? Would you be able to kill other contestants in order to reach the position that will allow you to avenge your family?

These are questions that Sal has to ponder when they find a flyer for auditions to become Opal, part of The Left Hand of The Queen. Sal is a street thief who has spent the last few years just trying to survive. They know that becoming The Left Hand will allow them access to those who destroyed their life. Sal enters into the auditions and learns that revenge is not as simple as they first thought.

(Note since Sal is genderfluid and uses he/she/they pronouns based on how they are dressed I will be using they to refer to them throughout this review to avoid misgendering them at any point.)

What I enjoyed the most:

One of the things that caught my attention about this book when I first heard about it was the fact that the main character is genderfluid. I have read a few books where a side character is genderfluid but never one where the main character was. I have also not heard of genderfluid characters in a fantasy novel. I was interested to see how this story was going to be done.

Now I do want to state that I am not genderfluid and I don’t know anyone who is so my opinions are based off the research I have done. I did read some reviews of this book by genderfluid reviewers who approve of Sal and the way they were represented.

The society in this world seemed very accepting. When Sal first meets the rest of The Left Hand they state how they are to be addressed. They base their pronouns off what they are wearing, if they are wearing more feminine clothes they use she, if they are wearing more masculine type clothes they are he and if their clothes don’t fall into either category they use they. Once their pronouns are explained it is accepted. No one argues with them or try to fight them about who they are.

There was one moment where they were purposely misgendered and it was done by a character to argue against Sal. The character did it to put Sal down and argue against them staying in the competition. This character was quickly corrected and reminded to respect who Sal was. But that was the only time that Sal’s gender was discussed in any negative fashion.

There were also a variety of sexualities in this story. One character is bisexual, one is implied to be asexual and another is gay. There are also a number of POC as well. I liked the diversity in this book and how it was just accepted. This wasn’t about accepting people for their sexuality or color, it was about these auditioners trying to become The Left Hand for a variety of reasons. In the end it mattered what they could do not how they identified or who they were attracted to.

Another aspect of this book that I enjoyed was the use of masks. Everyone auditioning was given a mask with a number and that was who they became until the end. The three other Left Hands had their own masks and no one got to see their real faces. This was an important part of this story.

The masks kept identities secret. We didn’t get to know who anyone truly was. It didn’t matter. What mattered was what they could do. Could they kill without thought? Could they do what was necessary to become an assassin? Could they remove who they once were and take up this new position in life?

Sal puts on their mask and they become twenty-three. They become someone who is out to do whatever is necessary to become Opal. They can’t let anyone get in their way. But even though this is mainly about a competition to kill the competition there are soft sides to the characters. I liked that feel. I was glad to see lighter moments, moments where care was shown. I think without these moments the story would have been hard to relate to. I found who I would root for and who mattered. If it was all about death, it would have been easy to write everyone off including Sal.

What I okay with:

One of my favorite parts of a story is the dialogue. I feel like through the dialogue I connect to the characters. I can learn if they are humorous, deep or intellectual. I can learn if they are more sarcastic or serious or if they hide behind words. I had a bit of trouble with the dialogue in this story. I felt like it was stilted and clunky. There were times that I wondered what the point of a conversation was or where it was going. Sometimes it felt like conversations just ended for no reason. I wish the dialogue was a bit more precise and relatable.

I also had a bit of trouble with the world building. It wasn’t bad enough that I couldn’t feel part of the story but it was enough that I never felt set in the story. I felt like we were fed pieces only when necessary creating more of a jigsaw puzzle image. I had trouble figuring out how things connected.

I wished we had gotten a bit more history. There is a timeline in the back of the book about how they land was created. I wish that had been peppered throughout the story instead. It wasn’t until I read that that I felt like I understood how certain pieces fit together but by that point I was done with the book. I think putting those pieces in the story would have helped me feel more grounded.

What I would change:

Characters are what keep me reading a story. They are the reason I feel connected to a tale. If a character is flat or undeveloped I find myself struggling to finish a book. Unfortunately for this story I felt little connection to Sal.

Sal is a thief who lost their whole family and is out to avenge them. That is about all I know about Sal. I wanted to know more about their connection to their family. I wanted to know more about their homeland. I wanted to know if they felt wanted or needed in their home if they were on the outside. I wanted more history about Sal.

I think if we had gotten some flashbacks to Sal’s life before we would have a better way of understanding their choices during the story. Sal has potential to be a deep character. I think making Sal a deeper character would have made this more than a simple revenge story.

 

In the end I gave this book 3.5 stars on Goodreads. I liked the pace, it was fast and never felt dull or slow. I just wish we had gotten a bit more about the world and a bit more about Sal.

Quotes:

“Most everyone wanted me to pick one, make addressing me easier to them by denying myself. I was already dressing so they could get it right. The least they could do was try. I didn’t see why I had to choose.” (pg. 79).

 

Aaru – David Meredith – Review

(I was provided a copy of this book by the author in exchange for an honest review. All comments and thoughts are my own).

35649191.jpgAaru is one of those books that you think you understand but by the last page you realize you were wrong. There are two stories here but one is much deeper than the other.

Rose is a 16 year old who is dying of cancer. All the treatments have failed and she is being made comfortable for her last days. As a last ditch effort  to save her, her parents sign Rose up for an experimental new system called Aaru.

Aaru is a computer system that copies and uploads a person’s brain and personality into a computer system. The person is able to live on digitally even though their body has died.

As Rose adjust to her new “life” her sister Koren is finding a way to live a new life of her own. She is made the spokesperson for the new technology but quickly learns what happens when you are forced into the spotlight at a young age. She is thrust into this role that begins to destroy who she is and puts her life and well-being in danger.

What I loved/enjoyed:

Aaru was a beautifully created world. I had no problem imaging this new place. It was vivid and alive. I felt like I was inside this computer program as they built it into a new home. I liked the system even though I didn’t quite understand why some aspects were chosen. Why there were Lords and  Ladies or rankings didn’t quite get adequately explained but that didn’t keep me from sinking into this new world.

I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of what could be done and how things were made and changed. There was one scene in particular where Rose and her friends play a game of soccer that was exciting. I was enraptured by the game and how they used their new home and powers to make it more than just a simple and easy game of soccer.

I also liked the way life, personhood and afterlife were spoken about in this story. Is Rose still Rose without a functioning brain and body? Without the brain to create new pathways and links, can she evolve beyond who she was when she died? Who is she in this new setting?

Also if you become part of this place are you excluded from a traditional afterlife? Can you die again and move on to either Heaven or another place you believe in? What if your family is unable to join you? Is it worth staying in this place then? I liked asking these questions as we read because it put this new technology into a stark and real perspective.

Koren’s story was handled well. I can’t say I “liked” it, because of the way it went but I respected it and its part in the story. Her side of the tale explained how thrusting a child into a spotlight can do irreparable harm to them. Putting them on TV, or in magazines all dressed up can cause people to view them beyond their age. We saw how dangerous this concept can get. It was a good look at the dangers of child celebrity, even if it did disturb me into almost stopping reading at times.

 

What I was was okay with (didn’t love/hate):

I had some trouble with the way accents were written. They felt out of sorts, almost forced. There was only one character who was written with an accent while a number of them were supposed to be foreign. I found his speech difficult to follow at times and it threw me out of the story at times. I don’t know if his speech was needed to be written the way it was.

 

What I was wished was different:

My biggest issues in Aaru was with a handful of decisions that were made. Koren accepts the role as spokesperson without a minute of thought. Her parents never step in and demand a contract. There is no waiting period to think it over, she shakes hands and that is it.

Koren and her parents just trust a company they know next to nothing about. It was hard for me to believe they wouldn’t want details. Even beyond protecting their daughter’s well-being they don’t verify the money or the details of the deal. Her parents don’t even speak up during the exchange and decision process. There was also no later indication that they ever talked the contract over with a lawyer or verified everything that was as they were told it would be.

I also had an issue with the fact that there were cameras throughout the house. I can’t see anyone being okay with that idea right off the bat. Maybe it would have made more sense if there had been a discussion about it. Koren’s parents were intent on gaining the power and money that comes with being celebrities. I think I would have bought the idea more if there had been a scene where they were convinced to allow the cameras to be set up everywhere from the living room the the bedrooms.

Koren doesn’t even seem to know about the cameras. She states multiple times she doesn’t know how they got the footage. Shouldn’t she have at least known they were there? I don’t think it is even slightly legal to set up cameras without the owner’s knowledge and permission. I wanted more discussion about that fact.

I also would have liked more background on Rose and Koren’s parents. The story is about the girls but the parents felt flat. They were almost cliche’s. All her mother talks about it things “happening as they should” or “that is how things are in show business.” Her father falls into drinking, quickly. We have no foundation for them so watching them fall is hard to follow. I wanted to understand them better and why they allowed certain things to happen as they did.

 

This wasn’t something I hated but what I found hard to read. The way the Magic Man’s actions and desires were written were difficult to read. I understood why his storyline was there but I did almost stop reading because of his chapters. The first time he appeared I didn’t know where the story was going and I wasn’t sure I could continue. I did end up finishing and I understood his part but I would say that anyone reading the story should be made aware of the thoughts and actions that may be triggering to some people.

I gave Aaru 4 stars on Goodreads. It wasn’t the story I was expecting but it was well written and did tell a story with an important warning about the dangers of celebrity.

Because You Love to Hate Me – Review

bylthm_covcomp19_ver25b15dVillains fascinate me. I think it is because their backstories are usually more in-depth and complicated than the protagonist’s. They make hard choices, even though they are usually the wrong choice. The path to making that choices is a twisting one that makes you reconsider your own choices. I like that even though we understand them we still feel some type of aversion to them.

Because You Love to Hate Me is a collection of 13 stories all told from the “villain’s” POV. Some are retellings or reimagining while others are involve original characters. The idea was for 13 Booktubers (Book bloggers on Youtube) to provide 13 authors with a villain centric prompt. The author then took the idea and created an original story for the collection. Each story was followed up by a quick piece by the Booktuber who provided the prompt.

What I loved…

I loved the way every story made you question who was supposed to be the villain. Some did it better than others but all the stories left you wondering if the “villain” was really that bad. I did not hate one of the main characters. I didn’t like some of the choices they made but I found myself not despising any of them.

By giving us the whole story from the “villain” POV only, we got to be surrounded by the idea that they were people facing tough obstacles. In these stories they were not the obstacles but were just people trying to find a way to solve a serious problem in their lives. I liked this because it allowed us to focus on them, their identities, their choices and the consequences of those choices. We as readers got to focus on what happens when you make poor decisions or choose based on selfish thoughts or ideas.

My favorite story was Victoria Schwab’s, “Death Knell.” Her prompt was “Hades wakes up after bring unconscious at the bottom of a well in Ireland.” She took this idea and twisted it to be about death in general. This is someone we don’t generally see a traditional villain. I loved the way she told her story.

It was a simple story but it was beautifully done. It focused on the idea of our fear of death and also created a new way to look at the idea. I loved how original and fresh the story felt. It was the one that stayed with me the longest.

Things I was just okay with….

Everyone of the stories had a Booktuber follow up with it. The small essays ranged from discussions about the story to quirky quizzes and how-to guides.

While most were entertaining in some fashion I wanted more from the commentary. I wanted to know they the topics were chosen. Why choose to ask for a story about a spy or giving Ursula’s backstory? Why did this intrigue you enough to ask for a story about the person or topic?

I felt like the stories could have had more depth if the explanations were deeper. Some were great, like the one after Victoria Schwab’s story but most were goofy or unconnected to the story. I wanted a better look into the ideas and thought processes.

What I wished was done differently….

I enjoyed most of the stories. They were fun looks at a different viewpoint. But many of the stories felt like generic retellings or just took the prompt given at face value.

I wanted the prompts to push more depth into the stories but many felt surface level. They didn’t dive into the psyche or thought process’s of the characters enough. I didn’t want what we already knew just told in a slightly different way. We have basics about many of these characters, I wanted that next, deeper layer.

On Goodreads I gave the collection a 3.5. It was a fun read but could have been improved by more depth from both the authors and the Booktubers providing the prompts.

Quotes:

“Most people din’t steal or kill or sell drugs because they want to, Holmes, or because they love being ‘bad guys’ so much. They do it because they’re born to a life with no exists. No chances. […]”  (pg 104).

“People are peculiar. They have a way of seeing only what they want, or not seeing anything they don’t.” (pg 208).

 

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