Nannah's Bookbox

Nannah's Bookbox

Queer, disabled, and way too invested in YA lit. Always searching for more diverse books!

Review
3 Stars
Saga, Volume 1
Saga, Volume 1 - Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples
Well, I wish I liked this more. It came to me highly recommended, and it's obviously well loved here.

I was drawn to it because of its awesome art style, but its sexism and just plain odd dialogue didn't appeal to me at all.

So Volume 1 introduces us to the very complicated plot (that at times moves a bit too fast): the inhabitants of a planet and its moon (the races distinguished by having wings or horns, respectively) are at war. Because both the planet or the moon need each other to keep in orbit, the war was outsourced to other planets in the galaxy.

The main characters, Alana and Marko, are two deserters from the opposing sides who've fallen in love. Both sides want Alana and Marko dead, and their baby captured alive.

Sounds pretty good! The execution of it is what falls flat. And yeah, so I haven't read many graphic novels, but I'd still like to think that a comic can still be successful without gratuitous sex and sexism. I mean, aliens with cultures completely different from our own, and yet sexism is still a cultural norm? It kind of shows a lack of creativity, at least, besides reflecting poorly on Brian Vaughan, who thinks a "strong woman" is someone who shits on other women and talks like a teenage boy.

Then again, everyone had the same teenage voice, and it made the witty banter stale very quickly.

I might read the other two volumes my friend let me borrow, but I probably won't go looking for more.
Review
4 Stars
Cress
Cress - Marissa Meyer
Ahh, these darn middle books, leaving me with little or no conclusion and itching for the next one!

But my girls! It was so nice to read about them again, especially without the Wolf/Scarlet romance front and center. Cress is a wonderful addition to the crew, and her character is definitely someone I can sympathize with--anxious and shy but also brave and optimistic. She and Carswell Thorne's lovely "whirlwind" romance was probably the highlight of this book (not really a spoiler, since it's pretty much a given by now that the girls are going to pair up with the boys).

I never once got bored with any character's PoV, and there was a perfect balance of romance and adventure and drama, something I felt the second book had trouble with.

And Winter! Winter. Just one chapter of her, and I know I'm going to love her. Knowing the next book is titled after her makes me even more antsy to get my hands on it. I'm not going to say any more about her for fear of spoiling anything for anyone, but I can tell she's going to be by far the most interesting leading lady of all of them.

If I had to really try to stand back and say what I didn't like about Cress, it'd be that there was so much time spent on sitting around thinking up plans and talking and going back and forth and I found myself waving my hands trying to get them to move on with it and do something. But all in all, loved this book. And yeah, can't wait for Winter.
Review
4 Stars
172 Hours on the Moon
172 Hours on the Moon - Johan Harstad, Tara F. Chace
SPACE.

I feel like this book probably deserves only three stars because of some faults with the writing, pacing, and buildup, but I enjoyed it so much (and the setting), that I'm going to give it four anyway.

NASA decides to return to the moon, and for funding and publicity, holds a contest that will send three teenagers on a "vacation" up along with the astronauts.

I say "vacation" in quotation marks because apparently NASA found something beyond terrifying up on the moon back in the 70s that they covered up--but of course, isn't gone.

This book is chilling and engrossing. I could not put it down, even if it was somewhat predictable. I'm a little ashamed at how fast I went through this novel, but it was just one of those books. I didn't want to stop.

There were some problems with pacing, though. There was a ton of focus on the characters before they went to the moon, and it would have been great if it was to be used a slow descent into terror, but when everyone got to the moon (about halfway through the book), things just happened so fast, I felt I didn't get to really feel the terror as I should've. I might be a minority in that opinion, though.

All in all, though, this book is an eerie, fast, and easy read.
Review
1 Stars
Blood Red Road
Blood Red Road - Moira Young
Wow.

Great premise. With probably the worst execution possible.

The writing style reminds me of the Chaos Walking trilogy, but it's almost an insult to Patrick Ness, because while the two styles share similarities in misspelled words, lots of dialect, etc., Moira Young's writing is just . . . really poor. She uses her style as a crutch to mask her very simple and awful prose. An example:

As written in the book:
"I ain't doin nuthin fer you, I says.
You ain't gotta choice, she says.
You cain't make me do nuthin, I says.
Oh you'll do ezzackly what I tell you, she says."

Now, without the "spice" of her misspelled words, it's just:
"I ain't doing nothing for you, I say.
You ain't got a choice, she says.
You can't make me do nothing, I say.
Oh you'll do exactly what I tell you, she says."

I don't really know if it makes a difference, but according to the high praise and 5-star reviews, it must. It's 459 pages of writing that reads like a first draft: barely readable writing, way too much that needs to be cut, underdeveloped characters, and random, aimless events plugged in for drama but that don't further plot/characters/etc.

So many things happen at breakneck speed, but it's all one pace. It's all without depth. No action has a consequence. People get hurt--they're miraculously healed so they can do something the story requires them to do. And then they remember they're injured when the love interest comes back into play. All plot points end with a feeling of "well, that was easy".

This book also wins an award for the most cheesy and sickening romantic device ever to be used in YA history: the heartstone. A rosy pink stone that heats up around the wearer's true desire.

:|

Not to mention, Saba (the MC)'s love interest is this cliche, cocky fellow who teases Saba relentlessly--but no, this book is so original, a breath of fresh air!! (and if Moira Young writes "My lips is tinglin" after a kiss one more time . . .)

But I need to give this book SOME credit. I mean, who doesn't love a teaspoon of ableism with their crappy YA post-apocalyptic romance? Enter the villain: the King. The King who is present in maybe 1/16 of the novel, who is always talked about as being "crazy" and also "the devil" but is never actually . . . there, until the end. Where you find out he actually probably does have some sort of mental problem, referring to himself in the third person and spitting over everyone when he talks. Don't you just love negative representation!

After finishing the book, I have a couple thoughts:

1. The entire 7/8 of the book was about finding Lugh. Saba wouldn't sleep, wouldn't eat, wouldn't bathe until she found Lugh. Well, she found him, and after a brief hug, she basically went, "Ok, now that that's taken care of, what's next??" I don't . . . understand.
2. I also don't understand Emmi. Was she just in the book to be beaten up in order to hurt Saba? It's ridiculous.

This review turned out a lot more sarcastic and cruel than I intended. But, as you can tell . . . this really wasn't for me.
Review
3 Stars
Einstein's Beach House
Einstein's Beach House - Jacob Appel
***I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

(3.5 rounded down)

This is a very difficult book to rate & review, because though I loved some of the stories in this anthology (Einstein's Beach House, The Rod of Asclepius), there were also stories I wasn't so fond of (La Tristesse Des Hérissons, Sharing the Hostage). It was a very mixed bag for me, as can be the case (risk?) with anthologies.

Appel has a very nice writing style with a good flow. I think what I missed was some kind of connection with most of these stories. The voice was the same from story to story, and it became harder to differentiate between them the more I read. An eleven-year-old girl sounded the same as a middle-aged man, etc. It might be that the style is just not for me!

One thing I do have to mention is the ableist theme that was present throughout a few of the stories. Characters seem to hold mental health care and professionals in contempt and find mental illness as something shameful (even a pharmacy technician "grinned knowingly" at someone ordering a prescription for Prozac and the MC trying to convince the tech it wasn't for him because dang, wouldn't that be the end of the world). I mean, if it was just one of the stories, it would be something I could shrug off, but it's multiple stories that characters seem to find mental illness shameful or mental health practitioners people to be mocked. It's . . . not something I like to read.

The Rod of Asclepius is by far my favorite from the anthology. It was chilling and had a climax I feel some of the other stories lacked. And Einstein's Beach House is wonderful - darkly comedic and tragic and exactly what I was looking for in this book.

Overall, it's a nice collection of stories, and some of them really made it worth the read.
Review
3 Stars
Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow
Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow - Jessica Day George
Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow is a retelling of the fairy tale East of the Sun and West of the Moon, one of my favorite fairy tales.

I feel like there are a couple ways to write a novel-length fairy tale: stick closely to the original tale in style and content or reinvent the tale, straying from the original material. This book really plants itself in the first category, so much so that it reads exactly like a fairy tale - the writing is very (almost too) simplistic, characters are static and undeveloped, and things flow very inorganically and without evoking much emotion (stemming from the author relying on telling rather than showing, maybe).

But the book, like its fairy tale, certainly is transporting. I really feel like I felt cold reading it, and it does a good job painting the icy, Norwegian winter.

It’s a nice read and a lovely retelling, but it doesn’t have that stick-to-your-heart kind of feel.
Review
4 Stars
Not a Drop to Drink
Not a Drop to Drink - Mindy McGinnis
(4.5)

Content warnings:
rape (implied)

So there's this big city called Entargo. Water is so scarce now that population schedules have been created: only one child per couple. Couples who have more are kicked out of the city and are left to survive on their own on the outside, where people will kill for a drop of water.

Sounds like your typical dystopian YA novel, right? Interestingly enough, Not a Drop to Drink really isn't that book; the only reason I know all that is because it was in the backstory of someone Lynn, the main character, met about halfway through her story.

Lynn is a girl who knows next to nothing about the big city and who's made it on the outside with her mother for her entire life. There could be a Katniss Everdeen doing her large-scale rebellion thing inside Entargo, but this story's concentrated on the world of Lynn's little pond and the stream nearby. That's what makes this book really stand out.

This book is beautiful and harsh and heartbreaking. I think it works so well because it's so well contained in its small-scale setting and plot. Characters grow, relationships change, and the reader experiences it all in real time with the characters. It definitely doesn't shy away from being brutal, though, and there are moments I couldn't believe were actually in a young adult novel. Sure, it's a trend or something to be as gory and violent as possible to be "dark" and “edgy,” but for some reason experiencing some of the things in this book felt more real and heartbreaking instead of something for shock value or effect.

Lynn's character growth is one of the most beautiful arcs I've read in a young adult book in a long time. I can't wait to see how she'll grow it in that next books if this is how McGinnis writes her in just the first one.

The only criticism I can think to say is that I wish I had more of a connection to Mother, but she felt more like an idea to me rather than an actual person and character.

In any case, I can't wait to read the second installment.
Review
4 Stars
The Brides of Rollrock Island
The Brides of Rollrock Island - Margo Lanagan
I have to go back and check if this book really was classified as YA, because it really reads more like an adult fairy tale.

At first glance, The Brides of Rollrock Island is about a sea-witch, Misskaella, who enacts her revenge on the residents of Rollrock Island because of the bullying she endured while growing up. She conjures up sea-wives (selkies) to enchant the men, driving every woman off the island--and earning a mighty sum in the process.

But again, that's just at first glance. The book goes into different character's PoVs, all telling the same story through different perspectives. With each new perspective, protagonists become villains, villains to characters you root for, and you see the fairytale more richly and clearly. It's hauntingly beautiful and expertly written.

The prose is so gorgeous and flowing you just keep reading on and on. It sucks you in, even if it's not a very action-packed novel. It's definitely not for everyone, but it's a transporting, powerful book, and one that'll probably stick with me for a while.
Review
2 Stars
The Coldest Girl in Coldtown
The Coldest Girl in Coldtown - Holly Black
I wish I would have started reading Holly Black's books with something other than The Coldest Girl in Coldtown. I have read some of her short stories before, and I've heard only great things about her, but this book just really didn't do it for me.

Trigger warnings:
ablest language
ableism
unhealthy relationships
abuse
lots of gore, as you can expect

I came into this book with the promise that it “wasn't like other vampire books.” And as neat as the concept of coldtowns are (quarantined towns for vampires to live in), this book really didn't offer anything new to the vampire genre. There are ancient vampires feuding, speaking in formal, stiff language (because vampires who adapt technology and put live-feed cameras all over their houses surely can't adapt to language changes over the years), and a vampire who falls in love with a main girl–even creating a sort of love triangle. Even if it really didn't go anywhere.

The writing, though, is fantastic. Holly Black can really write some beautiful prose. It kind of borders on purple prose, but it's beautiful nonetheless. The only problem with this is that it does need to take you somewhere. The plot seems to wander rather than drive towards something. Characters drifted around this coldtown, and things happened, but they didn't seem to happen for a singular goal or anything focused like that.

I feel like this kind of book could have maybe stuck with just Tana's PoV, instead of venturing into other's: Gavriel's, Pearl's, etc. . . . especially because these didn't happen at times where it would make an impact. Flashbacks didn't occur on a need-to-know basis, and they felt more like filler than anything else. Maybe the alternate point of views/flashbacks are supposed to help distract from how aimless the plot seems to be, but they just seem to distract altogether.

This book also lacked in character development. Characters ended the same way they began (altogether unlikable). I'm not sure how I was even supposed to feel about the character Aiden, who is introduced as a rather abusive ex-boyfriend (who is also a very harmful and stereotypical representation of an unfaithful bisexual). Was there supposed to be a love triangle? The relationship between Tana and Aiden was left stagnating, and I'm not even sure why he was in the book in the first place.

There are other characters like Aiden, such as Valentina and Jameson, who add diversity to the cast (a trans girl and a Latino boy) but who also don't have any real character and don't offer anything to the book other than being convenient plot devices for the main character to use when she needs them. It all left me with a very tinny taste in my mouth, as if I were being robbed of something.

Maybe I am just completely done with vampire books, but this wasn't for me.
Review
2 Stars
Rot and Ruin
Rot and Ruin - Jonathan Maberry
I'm not even sure where to begin with this book, so . . .

Content warnings:
ableist language
sexism
violence and gore
exoticism (possibly?)

The concept of this book sounded promising: in a post-apocalyptic world overrun with zombies, children need to get jobs once they turn fifteen or they'll lose their food rations. And Benny Imura's older brother, Tom, is a bounty hunter who kills zombies for a reward, and would like Benny to train under him.

Unfortunately, the execution of this idea is what lost me. I think a lot of what has to do with it is the book's tone, which is completely and unabashedly preachy. The book told me how to feel, rather than letting me feel it myself. It told me, through Tom mostly (the moral high ground of the book), that killing zombies was wrong because they used to be people. That I should care for the zombies. But it never actually led me through events that made me feel this way. I was just lectured on how I should feel–because the great Tom Imura said so.

On that same note, so much of the book's first half consisted of telling stories to Benny. This happened, then this happened, and it was tragic, and it was awful, and everyone should care about it. After so many stories, I really just didn't care.

Characters tended to be way too poetic and unnatural in dialogue and voice, especially when there was some element of romance or when Tom was trying to preach. The many clichés also turned me off to the writing. There were serious scenes that I just couldn't take seriously.

“What did you do?”
“What we had to do.”

(followed by a deep sigh or some sort of dramatic beat)

Another thing that tends to come hand-in-hand with the post-apocalyptic genre is sexism, and Rot and Ruin is definitely no exception. Beyond the fact that there are no female bounty hunters (you don't have to be explicitly sexist to still be sexist), Benny falls in love with the image of a young girl painted onto a trading card. From then on, he makes it his personal mission to find her–not just because he's curious and wants to get to know her, but because he has a deep need inside him to protect her from everyone. And when the only other main girl, Nix, gets kidnapped, he has another girl to add to his must-protect list.

I was really tempted to give up this book when Nix said, “Look… I'm sorry for being such a girl.” Because that really says so much about what Maberry thinks about girls in general and what he thinks girls think about other girls (or what they should think, since Nix is obviously supposed to be the heroine girls are supposed to look up to if they're reading this book). I really almost quit this book, and I don't do that often.

Okay I need to preface this next part by saying that I'm white, and though Maberry gets props for having his main character a PoC, I'm not so comfortable with the way the half-Japanese Benny Imura was treated. In many ways, Benny's older brother was like the stereotypical East Asian sage character who teaches someone rasher and younger how to fight. It was also interesting how Tom knew so much Japanese fighting terms and how he knew how to fight “like a samurai,” even though his parents died when he was very young (what was he, six?). As far as I know, no one else in Mountainside was Japanese, and Maberry went to lengths to describe everyone's ethnicities (e.g. "despite their very Vietnamese appearances, they were born in America" <--another part I side-eyed the heck out of, actually).

But despite all this, there were some good things. Mainly Nix's ambition and her small moments that didn't revolve around Benny: her ideas about not being ruled by fear and expanding and moving it out of mountainside, etc.

All in all, I don't think this book had strong enough plot, characters, or writing for me to enjoy it fully. It praised toxic masculinity ("it was time for me to become a man" -- by killing people) and forced certain ideas down my throat while being unkind to women . . . and it was just not my thing.
Review
3 Stars
Article 5
Article 5 - Kristen Simmons
Ahh, what would dystopias be without sexism, misogyny, and heteronormativity?

(3.5 stars)

Content warnings:
ableist language
sexism
misogyny
violence against women
slut-shaming
heteronormativity

My opinion of this book keeps going back and forth from positive to negative. I just can't make up my mind . . .
On one hand, I hate that authors think dystopias and oppressing women/traditional gender roles go hand in hand. It's a mindset and a trend I want to kill with fire. On the other hand, Kristen Simmons really tries to turn a few annoying (and sexist) cliches around, which is refreshing.

The beginning of this book is pretty sickening. Ember and several other girls are shoved into a bus by all-male soldiers who laugh at their pain and take enjoyment from teasing and mocking them. I get that this is to milk the atmosphere here, but I wish it didn't have to be done by using male dominance over women. Because why would I want to read a book where all the women are treated so horribly? Ember's mother is subjected to slut-shaming because of her free spirit and was treated badly by many of her boyfriends for that same reason. Like, okay, I get the book's dark. But is it too much to ask for a book that doesn't also create an unsafe place for women?

Speaking of, I'm incredibly FURIOUS about what happened to Rosa's character. How dare she be used as a prop to show off the reform school's (and the soldiers') cruelty? With her being the only explicitly-described woman of color, it's even more awful. Her vibrant character was only written that way so it could be beaten down and defeated.

Despite that I really don't like the whole (very intentional) misogynistic tone of the story, I do appreciate some of the messages presented, such as when Rosa tried to escape at the beginning. The soldier hit her, and Ember was horrified. Another girl said, "She's crazy." And Ember said, "She's crazy? Did you just see that he just--"

I can't begin to explain how much I loved those two little lines, because in real life victim-blaming happens all the time. Having the main character acknowledge and call out this behavior is amazing. It made me want to cheer (also, how sad is it that it's so rare for this to happen that it needs celebration?).

The "Whole Family - 1 man, 1 woman, & children" thing really shouldn't have surprised me, as it's kind of a standard for dystopias, but I wish authors wouldn't just forget about queer people when they write. I guess LGBTQIA+ folk just don't exist in this book/version of the USA. I'm also wondering about people who can't conceive. The Whole Family includes children, after all. Are those people violators?

The book's strongest point, by far, is Ember. I loved her more and more as the story progressed. She is so incredibly brave and strong and proactive, but she also reacts to things in very realistic ways--so much so that there were times I needed to pause and get myself back together (such as when she dropped the baton in the truck after the two men attacked them). I was SO invested in Ember and her mother's story.

It was when Ember made the plan to leave Chase because he seemed dangerous and frightening that I fell in love with her. This woman is amazing. A female YA protagonist sticking up for herself and putting HER SAFETY before her love interest? I wanted to jump up and cheer for her. I know things didn't end up like she planned, but she made that choice herself. Also, my FAVORITE LINES (which may be more Kristen Simmons than Ember): Chase: "But while we're together, you don't have to be afraid of me. I won't hurt you. I promise I will never hurt you." And Ember thinks, there were plenty of ways to hurt someone without using your fists. Either way, it's one example of the way Kristen Simmons tries to fix some troublesome cliches that run rampant in so many YA books.

Chase is . . . more complicated (although, a leading MoC! I may have screamed). He's another rough love interest with a heart of gold that comes standard to YA fiction these days, and it wasn't long before I got really tired of the way he was written. Specifically, "his face darkened," "his eyes darkened," etc. I think they made up 80 percent of his facial descriptions. He was surrounded by a lot of vague descriptors in general (i.e., "Chase cradled my name as though it was an injured bird." ?).

I'm also FURIOUS that the whole plot ended up being about him. With such a great MC like Ember, this turn came like a physical blow. I'm trying to keep this from being too spoilery, but Chase keeps important information from Ember to "protect" her. What's revealed basically makes the plot's catalyst all about him and not about Ember or her mother. I'm furious. Screw women's pain being used to motivate men or punish men. Readers should feel for women and their stories without them needing to motivate a man's story. This is saying far too much already, so I'll stop here.

I'm being unfairly cranky, maybe.
I LOVE Ember. And I LOVE her mother.
And my very favorite moments were when Chase and Ember encountered people along their journey to the carrier--the way each person reacted to Ember and Chase, their situations, and the whole dystopian country in general. There was a lot of thought behind the way those different people reacted to the same events, and it was really wonderful to read.

There were just too many YA dystopian cliches (sexism, heteronormativity, child regulation, heavy romance, missing parent, and a resistance group called The Resistance thrown in the last 1/4 to top it all off), and too few original elements to spice these tropes up for me to enjoy it more.
Review
2 Stars
What Came from the Stars
What Came from the Stars - Gary D. Schmidt
(1.5)

This was . . . a difficult book for me to get through, to say the least. I've heard good things about Gary D. Schmidt, and this happened to be the first book I came across in the library. I wish I'd chosen one of his other books instead!

The chapters set on the other world--and the book opens with one of them--are incredibly bothersome and overwhelming. I'm bombarded with names and events that mean nothing to me without proper backstory or explaining. Or even drama to establish these characters. Things were just named as if they held any meaning: "Verlim the Destroyer" and "Ouslim the Liar," as if they should be famous to me. They were there to add flair, but there was nothing substantial to add flair to, so it felt like glitter was just thrown and suspending in air. I ended up skimming these chapters.

The plot doesn't bring anything new. The male protagonist gets picked out of everyone in the world to be someone special. In this case, a chain from another planet fell into his lunchbox and granted Tommy some pretty amazing powers. But I absolutely hated how they also made Tommy seem so entitled at times--fixing the painting in his principal's office, for instance. I feel sick that this scene was written in a way that excused his actions. Basically, Tommy sees his principal's unfinished painting, decides that it's just not correct, and then takes it upon himself to fix and paint over it. This kind of thing just further encourages the kind of male entitlement society needs to drop. This painting literally took the guy two years, and Tommy takes it over, because it "wasn't right," and he could do better. The principal just ended up marveling at Tommy's work and encouraging this sick, elitist, and egotistical behavior. I mean, this is really what we want little boys to learn? Yes, I'm taking a MG book way too seriously.

As I read on, I start to get a clearer picture of this author's opinion on people that fall outside social norms. Tommy harps on Patrick Belknap for playing and liking accordions: "You know what, Belknap? Warriors do not carry accordions. They never carry accordions. They don't even like accordions." This happens near the book's end, as if it were a breaking point, as if Patrick Belknap is a character written for this moment of comic relief, because he's not James Sullivan who likes sports and always carries a football. Of course, this furthers the ridiculous stereotypes of masculinity and femininity presented in this book (football+warriors = Tommy and James Sullivan. And Alice Winslow can actually run! No way! Tommy was so surprised! But had to mention she was breathing hard. Because, I mean . . .).

This book feels like part of a fad, actually, because people seem so obsessed with super-intelligent, dick-ish male characters right now (e.g., Sherlock Holmes, the Doctor, Tony Stark, etc.). Obviously, this is just my opinion, but I feel like a protagonist like these douche bags is the last thing we need more of at the moment.

Speaking of Tommy's sudden alien superpowers, one of the most disappointing aspects of this book is that Tommy has no opinion or feelings about what is happening to him. Or that he's even aware he's any different than before! Who is Tommy Pepper? What is he like? How much of him is Tommy and how much of him is new alien powers? I just don't know.

I don't know who the villain, Lord Mondus, is either. He seems another cookie-cutter villain who rewards his loyal servants with death (is that supposed to be shocking anymore?) to prove how absolutely EVIL he is. I wasn't invested in the story at all, because it was everything I'd read a thousand times before. I know this book is MG, but that doesn't mean it can't be creative.

I was disappointed with the female characters, too. Charlene, a woman bent on taking away Tommy's home to build new developments, can be seen as a villainous character. Of course, she has makeup and nail polish, and Tommy describes all that in the most negative way. Because everyone knows women in makeup are not to be trusted. Honestly, this bit wouldn't mean anything if women didn't already get harassed for wearing a lot of makeup. But really, Charlene and her daughter (the story's bully) are meant to be read as villainous, and one wears a ton of makeup and the other is larger. It's hard not to see the sexism (and bonus fat-shaming) in this. In contrast, Alice Winslow is society's ideal girl: quiet, supportive, maternal, and caring. She is nothing but what I'm sure is the "token female character." She did nothing and added nothing to the story. Her character is basically in the book to say "Oh my goodness" every so often.

HOWEVER, the setting is wonderful! I especially love Tommy's house, which is described and imagined with such great care. It reminds me of something out of a Ghibli movie. The entire family dynamic, in particular, was the book's strongest aspect for me. It was made up of such lovely and interesting people that made it work (especially with habits like watching the dawn together with hot chocolate). That felt warm and real and wonderful.

Something that really stuck out: in the last quarter of the book, Tommy manipulates Cheryl by using his chain. He puts the chain in her hand, hand she will suddenly do whatever he wants her to do. This is oddly convenient. Did he know of this before? It wasn't ever explained. If so, why didn't he use this power earlier? It would have solved SO many of his (and the plot's) problems. If not, how in the world did that idea come to him? Again, it was never explained.

Anyway, this book really didn't do it for me.
Review
4 Stars
The Remains of the Day
The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
(4.5)
Ouch.

Talk about tragic. Stevens is one of the most interesting characters to read about (and whose POV is one of the most interesting to read), because on the surface he's the absolute most boring person. He's so wrapped up in his own concept of "dignity" that he can't separate himself from it. Basically, Stevens's idea of dignity is to remain in his role as butler even through trying events. But he has become so attached to his own ideal that he's lost in it, and he's lost himself and nearly any ounce of personality he may once have had. His dignity is all he is, and because of it he misses out on what's important in his own life.

I feel like I can call Stevens an unreliable narrator, because I believe he misleads readers about his own feelings. Not deliberately, though. He's suppressed his emotions for so long that suppression has become part of who he is. It comes through in the masterful way the POV is written. Really, the writing and crafting of this novel is so beautiful and well thought through.

Most of the time, I only get to glimpse how Stevens actually feels about something when other characters express concern for him ("Are you all right?" "Have you been crying?" etc. Or something like that--these are from memory . . .). He keeps so much to himself that when he actually, truly lets himself be vulnerable (and you know what part I'm talking about!), it's just--ouch.

It's just one line, but it seems to bring the entire book together into the tragic love story that it is.
Review
5 Stars
More Than This
More Than This - Patrick Ness
I'm crying as I write this. Suicide trigger warning for the actual review, and book triggers to follow.

As someone who has been in some pretty dark places myself, I feel as though this book is a personal letter to people fighting depression, suicidal thoughts, or any kind of hardship disguised as a YA fiction novel. Patrick Ness doesn't communicate this through blatant dialogue or some preaching speech tacked on at the very end, but he lets you know by making you experience Seth's journey. Understanding how Seth's attitude changes from only focusing on how hard life seemed for him to realizing, "I wanted so badly for there to be more. I ached for there to be more than my crappy little life. And there was more. I just couldn't see it."

That's exactly what it's like and how it feels.

It's beautiful that Patrick Ness included characters like Seth, Regine, and Tomasz (and even Seth's parents), who were each fighting something different in their own ways.

Okay, I'll start the actual review, I guess. I should begin by saying this book is intensely triggering, but the characters talk about these experiences (because what's triggering is mostly in flashback scenes) and how they have affected them. I can't begin to explain how important that is. These things aren't thrown in for dramatic effect or for shock value. They mean something. However, it's better to be safe than triggered, so here's the list:

-suicide
-domestic abuse
-homophobia
-fat shaming

Now that I've gotten that out of the way, if I were to describe this book in one sentence, it would be: wait, I wasn't expecting THAT. Everything is twists and surprises, but it doesn't get exhausting. It feels like this entire book was almost an experiment. Every time I finally felt comfortable with the pacing or the concepts or the world, the entire novel would shift on me, and I didn't know where I was anymore. It wasn't annoying or too confusing to continue; it was exciting and something I've never experienced before.

Patrick Ness was a genius to write this in three parts, because each part seems almost like a completely different genre of book. The first part is like a post-apocalyptic story. Until the last page or so, Seth is the only character. Sure, there are other characters interacting with him in flashback scenes, but he's the only character in the "present." He dies, wakes up in an unfamiliar place, and tries to live in it and figure it out. It's almost like the game Amnesia: the Dark Descent (shh, allow me this bit here), where the protag is bumbling around, confused and frightened, reliving these painful memories, and then suddenly the the monster shows up. And it's the worst experience ever because he's been alone the entire time leading up to that point.

The second part is more like a sci fi novel, and I don't want to delve too much into this one, because I don't want to spoil it for anybody. What I will say is that it's like a sci fi novel you think you're familiar with, but Patrick Ness keeps you from being too comfortable. He always will. Don't try to think you've got things figured out. He'll just laugh at you, I'm sure.

The third part is more similar to the second than the first, but it seems more like a coming-of-age novel than anything with Seth's growth and the way he accepts his situation.

And that ending! As I said, don't try to think you've got things figured out! There isn't a definitive "ending" here, but it didn't annoy me as much as most open endings do. The whole book is open for each reader's personal interpretation, and I think that's beautiful, because I think this book in general is very personal. It also allows people to supply their own ending, depending on who they are and what they've learned/needed from the book.

A major reason this book is so dang successful in connecting with readers is the characters, I think. Because each of them have their own major obstacles to overcome and pasts to accept, SO many people who feel unrepresented or who don't feel included in real life can relate to these main characters (who are minorities or deal with experiences that people in similar situations can connect with). The protagonist, Seth, is gay; Regine is a heavy black girl who openly and vocally challenges black stereotypes; Tomasz is a Polish immigrant who speaks broken English and deals with prejudices of his own. And this is all just surface stuff, who they are goes so much deeper, and it's heartbreaking how these characters can relate to so many different people. I'm trying not to project too much of my own experiences on this . . . I'm trying. Continuing on . . .

These characters become literallythe oddest trio. It's evident in how they interact with each other, too, but that of course makes for the most interesting interactions. I honestly believe these three are the most beautiful and wonderful characters I've read in a long time. They make the book work--the book is literally shaped by them (and Tomasz is a shining beacon of light when everything goes dark. I will love him forever!).

Anyway, read this book. Read it.
Review
3 Stars
Ship Breaker
Ship Breaker - Paolo Bacigalupi
I have to start this off by saying the first third or so of this book is AMAZING. The world-building, the characters, the plot, the gritty and realistic atmosphere (does that cover deliver, eh?)--everything is absolutely riveting and fantastic. Heck, every character but one is a person of color, too! And women were in every sort of role one could imagine. I was so dang in love with this book already.

Heavy sigh.

The beginning was so well imagined and tight that I'm sure it's part of the reason why I wasn't as fond of the rest of the book. Things seemed to lose focus once Nita and Nailer left the beach. I'm not sure what exactly was going on. Things started just happening to the characters, and they went along for the ride without carving their own paths. In the latter half of a book, this is so dang annoying. Most things were summarized, and Nita became an object rather than a character: "She's scavenge." Everyone was looking for her, everyone wanted her back. She became the treasure, the woman/prize at the end of the journey. It went from her relying on her own skills to deal with her captors to "save Princess Peach!" Okay, I'm being bitter.

Overall, this book was all right. I can't help but feel a little let down simply because of how promising the opening was.
Review
4 Stars
This is Not a Test
This is Not a Test - Courtney Summers
(4.5)

I opened this book not knowing anything about it, and I really do mean anything, so the the fact that holy goodness, this is a zombie book! caught my by surprise. But then again, it's not really your typical zombie book, either; it's more about the characters dealing with their difficult situation than relying on action-packed, overused zombie gimmicks to pull readers through the pages.

Trigger warnings: domestic abuse, suicide
(Seriously, if these trigger, you, tread VERY carefully!)

This book works in the same way that The Walking Dead does, in that the greatest danger might not be the zombies but the people who are trying to survive. It also asks the question: what about the people who, even before the apocalypse, didn't want to live in the first place? Aaaand, meet our protag, Sloane, one of those people.

And since she's been introduced, I'm going to talk about my biggest gripe with this novel. I completely, utterly, 100% thought that Sloane was queer. The tension between her and Grace was a thick, heavy thing. Finally, a protagonist whose queerness doesn't define the book's plot OR her character! I was cheering, I was dancing! Until . . . I continued reading and discovered that . . . she wasn't? She was simply awkward? I'm still not entirely sure what happened with this.

But moving past this, these characters were wonderfully fleshed out, real people who all reacted to the same event in very different ways. They even reacted to each other's reaction in different ways. It's what made this book shine, and what made it impossible to put down. It wasn't just drama, either. People died, and there were genuine consequences for actions. It had me on edge, even without the constant threat of zombies breaking through the school, where these characters holed up in.

I can't wait to get my hands on the second installment.
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