2 stars · fiction · young adult

All of This is True is NOT the contemporary you were looking for

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All of This is True

author : lygia day penaflor

pages : [ebook] 432

summary :

Miri Tan loved the book Undertow like it was a living being. So when she and her friends went to a book signing to meet the author, Fatima Ro, they concocted a plan to get close to her, even if her friends won’t admit it now. As for Jonah, well—Miri knows none of that was Fatima’s fault.

Soleil Johnston wanted to be a writer herself one day. When she and her friends started hanging out with her favorite author, Fatima Ro, she couldn’t believe their luck—especially when Jonah Nicholls started hanging out with them, too. Now, looking back, Soleil can’t believe she let Fatima manipulate her and Jonah like that. She can’t believe that she got used for a book.

Penny Panzarella was more than the materialistic party girl everyone at the Graham School thought she was. She desperately wanted Fatima Ro to see that, and she saw her chance when Fatima asked the girls to be transparent with her. If only she’d known what would happen when Fatima learned Jonah’s secret. If only she’d known that the line between fiction and truth was more complicated than any of them imagined. . . .

review :

I received an e-Arc of this book from Epic Reads in exchange for my honest review.

I was very excited to read All of This is True because I want to read more contemporary this year. The book is told in alternative format, which I love–in podcast interviews, emails, texts, and book excerpts. There’s a book-within-the-book going on, which I think is an interesting move. I was highly interested and didn’t know much about the plot before I dove in.

Let’s start by talking about the format. Some of the alternative text didn’t lend itself well to ebook format, though this may just be an issue with the ARC, so I’d suggest getting a physical copy to get the full affect. Still, I think it could have been done in a better way to really capture the narrative voice. The podcast interviews were impossible to tell apart—all of the girls being interviewed ended up sounding the same. Because the names of the people in the book-within-the-book, characters based on the characters we’re learning about in ‘reality’, all began with the same letters as the people they were based on, it was hard to keep track of who was who. There was no real foundation for the story to stand on.

Next, the characters. If the voice couldn’t be the foundation, surely the characters could. But they were all very unlikable, and I’m not certain that was done on purpose. I didn’t really care about any of them. I didn’t care if they were hurting, or in trouble, or excited. I didn’t want to hear their perspectives on the incident. Actually, I still don’t knowwhy the book was told in this format. Why did we need to hear their perspectives on the incident? Only one character actually says anything that adds to the intrigue of the book (such as it is). In that case, we could have focused on her for the whole of the story and made things less confusing.

The book-within-a-book was . . . bad. This is another thing that, if I knew for certain was done on purpose, I would like a lot more. The book-within-a-book is supposed to be written by this young, best-selling writing prodigy. I think she’s in her mid-twenties and she’s supposed to be really, really great at writing amazing, thought-provoking passages. The book-within-a-book was so laden with cliche and specifically YA cliche that I thought it had to be done as a parody. I really hope it was. Matching this terrible book-within-a-book with the supposed prodigy author, within the context of the theme of the real book, would make things very interesting.

The plot twist . . . as soon as that portion of the plot was mentioned, I called the resolution then and there. Actually, I thought that the book would have been better and bolder if the plot twist hadn’t existed and the plot had taken a completely different direction. Instead, the plot relied upon and built up to this twist that was completely unnecessary, that needed ‘shock value’ I guess, and made the book pretty . . . boring.

It was a very unique idea, but I can’t say that I recommend it.

2/5 stars

 

 

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2 stars · fiction · young adult

Girl Out of Water: another contemporary I couldn’t get into

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girl out of water

author : laura silverman

pages : [paperback] 350

favorite character : lincoln

summary :

Anise Sawyer plans to spend every minute of summer with her friends: surfing, chowing down on fish tacos drizzled with wasabi balsamic vinegar, and throwing bonfires that blaze until dawn. But when a serious car wreck leaves her aunt, a single mother of three, with two broken legs, it forces Anise to say goodbye for the first time to Santa Cruz, the waves, her friends, and even a kindling romance, and fly with her dad to Nebraska for the entire summer. Living in Nebraska isn’t easy. Anise spends her days caring for her three younger cousins in the childhood home of her runaway mom, a wild figure who’s been flickering in and out of her life since birth, appearing for weeks at a time and then disappearing again for months, or even years, without a word.

Complicating matters is Lincoln, a one-armed, charismatic skater who pushes Anise to trade her surfboard for a skateboard. As Anise draws closer to Lincoln and takes on the full burden and joy of her cousins, she loses touch with her friends back home – leading her to one terrifying question: will she turn out just like her mom and spend her life leaving behind the ones she loves?

review :

I keep trying to find contemporary books I’ll love. I promise. But I’m beginning to think the genre really just has it out to get me.

Girl Out of Water is different. I’ve never quite read anything like it—I can certainly give it that much. Unlike most beach-y reads, where the main character moves to the shore for the summer, Anise is forced away from the ocean. This is mostly horrible to her because she loves surfing and wants to be a competitive surfer. But the move is temporary and not only that, it’s for a really, really good reason. As in, Anise doesn’t really have much room to complain about it.

But, I get it. Just because I have to do something or it’s the right thing to do, doesn’t always mean I want to do it. I can respect that. It’s just that, when those thoughts begin to overtake the entire plot it gets to drag, on and on.

The characters are fairly realistic and were surprisingly diverse, which was a nice touch. But they were fairly boring. Most of them had flat personalities. Again, this could stem from my aversion in general to contemporary stories. Their problems, for the most part, were pretty minor and petty. Their problems which were larger and more interesting ended up for the most part unresolved. Less used for character growth and more for the drama of it.

I did enjoy the fact that this book shows active girls, surfing and skating and generally enjoying sports. Not once is it mentioned that Anise is good at things “for a girl”. She’s always simply good at it (and, okay, her ego is GIGANTIC when it comes to physical activity and makes absolutely no sense. If I were the best baseball pitcher I wouldn’t just ASSUME I was also the best quarterback, you know?). I feel like this book will be really interesting to early teens who are passionate about sports.

Honestly, though, this book is a bit forgettable. There isn’t much suspense or action; it wasn’t very character-driven. It just sort of happened, and certainly wasn’t for me.

2.5/5 stars

 

2 stars · fiction · young adult

The Radius of Us: a unique contemporary

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the radius of us

author : marie marquardt

pages : [hardcover] 304

favorite character : phoenix

summary :

What happens when you fall in love with someone everyone seems determined to fear?

Ninety seconds can change a life — not just daily routine, but who you are as a person. Gretchen Asher knows this, because that’s how long a stranger held her body to the ground. When a car sped toward them and Gretchen’s attacker told her to run, she recognized a surprising terror in his eyes. And now she doesn’t even recognize herself.

Ninety seconds can change a life — not just the place you live, but the person others think you are. Phoenix Flores-Flores knows this, because months after setting off toward the U.S. / Mexico border in search of safety for his brother, he finally walked out of detention. But Phoenix didn’t just trade a perilous barrio in El Salvador for a leafy suburb in Atlanta. He became that person — the one his new neighbors crossed the street to avoid.

Ninety seconds can change a life — so how will the ninety seconds of Gretchen and Phoenix’s first encounter change theirs?

Told in alternating first person points of view, The Radius of Us is a story of love, sacrifice, and the journey from victim to survivor. It offers an intimate glimpse into the causes and devastating impact of Latino gang violence, both in the U.S. and in Central America, and explores the risks that victims take when they try to start over. Most importantly, Marie Marquardt’s The Radius of Us shows how people struggling to overcome trauma can find healing in love.

review :

The Radius of Us is an important book and an interesting book, but not an entertaining book. By that I mean in a contemporary novel, I usually expect a more gripping plot. Unfortunately this one kept the characters at the distance and didn’t delve as deeply into its themes as I thought it might.

I went into this book knowing absolutely nothing about it. That’s how I find some of my favorites. But I have to admit that contemporary has always been a hit or miss genre for me; you have to have some speculator writing, characters, and themes for me to read about life as I already know it. Usually I don’t really need someone else to tell me about the world.

But books like The Radius of Us are usually the exception, because this book presents a viewpoint I don’t think I’ve ever seen before in YA literature. The book is told in alternating points of view. Half of the book is told by Gretchen, a teen from Georgia who has a myriad of issues after experiencing something horrible, and Phoenix, a year or two older than her, having run from El Salvador to seek asylum in the US.

Honestly, I might have liked this book better if it was gold only from Phoenix’s POV. So young, having been through so much, and having to face so much more still in Georgia. I understand Gretchen as a counterpoint–a reference US readers might relate to more easily–but her character felt so flat compared to Phoenix. I rooted for him, hoped for him, felt sympathy for him–and Gretchen could only fail as a comparison.

The Radius of Us did succeed in making me determined to read more books from diverse POV, because these different experiences are so important to try to understand through literature. It discusses privilege, racism, gang activity, immigration, and more. All amazing, important themes that the writing just falls flat on supporting.

2/5 stars

discussion · Fantasy · fiction

Feminism and Pirates: How Dead Men Tell No Tales leaves no room for women

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(image source)

Let me start by stating that I am not a casual Pirates of the Caribbean fan. I’ve loved the movies from the start and, yes, I even loved the fourth movie no one else ever seems to like.

Please don’t read that and immediately question my taste.

I’ve been waiting years for Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. Not this film, specifically, but any pirates film in which all three of the main cast members would return and fulfill all of my expectations–

Well. At least one expectation was fulfilled, and–can anything be considered a spoiler so many months after the film’s release?–that scene at the end with those two characters reuniting sort of made me feel like it made my spent money worthwhile, when I saw this in theaters.

As it was recently added to Netflix, I decided it was about time for round two.

So. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is what happens in the film industry when people know they could cobble together literally anything and other people will flood the theaters with their dollar bills. (Like Star Wars, and that last horrible Indiana Jones movie, but . . . those are beside the point.) Who needs a script that makes sense in the greater context of the film arc and general setting of the story, when you can settle for cheap laughs, Johnny Depp’s antics, and the general bad-assery of a pirate story?

DMTNT (this title is too long) follows Henry Turner (the new Will Tuner), Carina Smyth (the new Elizabeth Swann), and Jack Sparrow (the less quirky, more drunk and sad version) on a quest for the Trident of Poseidon. Basically, it’s meant to break every curse of the sea. There’s a ship of ghosts sailing after Jack Sparrow and it’s never really clear how they became cursed ghosts. There’s some witch involved for all of two scenes and they can’t even give her the benefit of fleshing her into an actual character rather than a plot device. Barbossa shows up and somehow they managed to even mess up his character.

DMTNT doesn’t really add to the mythology of the greater world of Pirates, because it’s only attempting to break down those barriers–one can only assume, so they can be rebuilt in some future planned film.

It really doesn’t do anything for the women, either.

Carina Smyth is arguably the only woman in the film. (I refuse to count the deus ex machina witch and the cameo by you know who). This kind of places a lot of pressure on her, as somehow seemingly the Pirates world can fathom ghosts, curses, krackens, tridents, and Davy Jones, but not the introduction of more women to the film. Because that would be historically inaccurate, I’m assuming they’d defend themselves by saying.

So, as a lady who really likes the Pirates franchise, it was very exciting to see the singular woman . . . pretty much play out the same role Elizabeth Swann did four films ago. Every joke and plotline seems to revolve around sexism. About how they might see her ankles beneath the dresses she needs to wear because of sexism. About how everyone believes she’s a witch because of sexism. How she’s bad luck on a ship. How she’s questioned about everything because she’s a woman, but isn’t it so great that she’s right, and smarter than all of these other men? And that makes up for her being the only woman, surely, because it isn’t so terrible if she’s the one who comes up with the plan. Which can only be executed by–you guessed it!–men.

I mean, Elizabeth ended up as pirate lord and pirate king two films previous. You’d think some of that would have rubbed off and we wouldn’t be headed backward.

Ah, but I’ve remembered two entire other women in the film! One who had no lines at all, who was presumed to have been sleeping with Jack Sparrow, and another who seemed to have been made revolting in every way possible to make it hilarious that she might be marrying Jack Sparrow . . .

Hang on a minute. And Carina Smyth . . . so much of her character arc not only focused on the sexism, but the search for her father/the final revelation of her father’s identity. So it’s almost like . . .

Almost like these women only existed to further the stories of the men surrounding them, allow for more cheap laughs, and solidify the heterosexual love interest that throws in the necessary undertones of romance.

Seems like the makings for a great, epic adventure, doesn’t it?

I’m disappointed in Pirates. I’m angry, because I had so many expectations.

Well, maybe now that I have none, I might enjoy the next movie that will inevitably be released.

5 stars · Fantasy · fiction

Teen Titans Volume 1: an interesting reboot series

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Teen Titans: Volume 1

Damian Knows Best

author : benjamin percy

illustrator : jonboy meyers

pages : [paperback] 144

summary :

As a part of DC Universe: Rebirth, the son of Batman, Damian Wayne, joins the Teen Titans!

The Teen Titans are further apart than ever before…until Damian Wayne recruits Starfire, Raven, Beast Boy and the new Kid Flash to join him in a fight against his own grandfather, Ra’s al Ghul! But true leadership is more than just calling the shots–is Robin really up to the task? Or will the Teen Titans dismiss this diminutive dictator?

The team will have to figure this out fast, as a great evil from Damian’s past is lurking around the corner, ready to strike at the team’s newest leader and destroy the new Teen Titans before they even begin!

The newest era of one of DC’s greatest super-teams begins here in Teen Titans, Volume 1: Damian Knows Best! Written by Benjamin Percy (Green Arrow) with spectacular art by newcomer Jonboy Meyers.

CollectingTeen Titans 1-5, Rebirth

review :

I love Teen Titans. I love the DC Rebirth event. I love this volume.

Damian Knows Best kicks off with a nice kidnapping of all of the team members and only gets better and more complex from there. Starfire, Raven, Beast Boy, and Kid Flash are all older (though not necessarily more mature) than thirteen year old Damian. He knows what he wants, and maybe not necessarily what he needs. With a team put together, he’s determined to keep all of them alive–knowing that big enemies are coming toward them, both because of and in spite of them.

I loved the character arc throughout this volume for Damian, aka Robin, aka the son of Batman. He really grew on me, from this obnoxious, egotistical little kid to a strong, brave (still really short) kid. He’s put up with so much in life. I love how glimpses into his upbringing are given without the typical info-dumping that typically happens in comics. Instead, it’s introduced gradually and seamlessly into the plot.

Apart from that, I love how every version of Teen Titans I read involves its own take of the team members. Not only stylistically with the character sketches but little tweaks with how they hold themselves, present themselves, though the core of their personalities and who they are always remains the same.

This volume also has amazing, complex, and a little bit terrifying villains. I love how nothing was simple. I loved the big battles. I love that the Titans aren’t all-powerful and still have a few things to work out between themselves to become an even greater team.

I’d definitely recommend this volume, both to fans of the Titans and those who’d never been introduced to them at all. This is one you can read with no background info and absolutely fall into. The universe and plot set themselves up so nicely, the art is amazing, and the characters are addictive. I need more!

5/5 stars

2 stars · fiction · science fiction

Clean Room Volume 2: interesting, not captivating

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Clean Room: Volume 2

Exile

author : gail simone

illustrator : jon davis-hunt

pages : [paperback] 144

summary :

Journalist Chloe Pierce had no idea that her fiance Philip’s decision to pick up a book by enigmatic and compelling self-help guru Astrid Mueller would change her life forever–by ending his! Three months after reading Mueller’s book, Philip had blown his brains out all over Chloe’s new kitchen and something in that book made him do it.
Now, Chloe will stop at nothing as she attempts to infiltrate Mueller’s clandestine organization to find the truth behind Philip’s suicide and a “Clean Room” that she’s heard whispers of–a place where your deepest fears are exposed and your worst moments revealed.

This volume features a spectacularly disturbing standalone issue that delves into the depths of Astrid’s terrifying personal history and explains why demons have haunted her since birth.

review :

Clean Room: Volume 2, Exile picks up immediately after volume one. There’s intrigue and monsters, gory and vivid panels on nearly every other page, and a lot of questions still to be answered. Unfortunately, many of them continue unanswered throughout the entirety of this volume, but I suppose that’s what volume three is for, right?

Exile follows a lot more of Astrid’s story, and speaks more about her followers as well. Actually, there’s almost nothing new exposed about Chloe, the would-be journalist from volume one who I thought was intended to be the main focus of the series. The view flips between her and Astrid often, but rather than giving an all-encompassing view, this only ensures that readers never really get the full picture of what is going on.

Which means that little to no answers are given in this volume, at least until the very end. The conclusion of this volume hints that all will be revealed, or at least placed out in greater detail, in the next set of issues. Still, it would be nice to be thrown a little something every once in a while, apart from gratuitous violence and proving just how far these monsters are willing to go to harm these people. Again, there are the chillingly creative panels where the monsters demonstrate just how monstrous they can be.

Still. I would have been more pleased with this follow-up if it was more story and answers (or, even, more interesting questions) than perpetuating over and over again the power these monsters have to manipulate the people. That was clear from the first issue. Now it’s become redundant.

I’m determined, though, to see this through to the end, because it is an interesting concept, like nothing I’ve ever read before, and I want to see where they take the story. I’ll be going on to volume three.

I’d recommend this volume if you really like horror and gory intrigue. It definitely isn’t the type of graphic novel for people looking to read something happy.

2/5 stars

2 stars · fiction · science fiction

Clean Room Volume 1: a very gory, not very great, graphic novel

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Clean Room: Volume 1

Immaculte Conception

author : gail simone

illustrator : jon davis-hunt

pages : [paperback] 160

summary :

Journalist Chloe Pierce had no idea that her fiancée, Philip’s, decision to pick up a book by enigmatic and compelling self-help guru, Astrid Mueller, would change her life forever: by ending his! Three months after reading Mueller’s book, Philip had blown his brains out all over Chloe’s new kitchen and something in that book made him do it.
Now, Chloe will stop at nothing as she attempts to infiltrate Mueller’s clandestine organization to find the truth behind Philip’s suicide and a “Clean Room” that she’s heard whispers of–a place where your deepest fears are exposed and your worst moments revealed.

review :

I started reading this series because my library let me know about an app called Hoopla, where I can download a certain number of titles per month with my library card. This comic popped up under the popular section, I saw that all three volumes were available for download, and in I dove.

I’m still not quite certain what I’m getting myself into.

Clean Room: Immaculate Conception relies on an interesting mix of intrigue and horror to pull along the story. So mysterious, in fact, that I’m still not altogether certain the story needs to be stretched so far. Many panels are meant to convey that there are things going on that the reader doesn’t know about, that the characters haven’t yet pieced together, and that they hadn’t decided to give us all of the details on yet.

This volume has an interesting ending, giving just enough that I immediately downloaded the next volume. But it didn’t leave me sitting with anything particularly worthwhile. Nothing that I might want to recommend, or think about afterward. I can sort of see what lengths the comic is trying to reach toward–an interesting kind of twist on people being able to see monsters, and what exactly those monsters are, and how they factor into the mythology of the world.

Still, I feel like this volume reads mostly like horror, from the gruesome panels contained within. If you have a weak stomach, or don’t want to be scarred for life by the admittedly inventive and creative terrors living in these pages, stay away. If you like that sort of thing, maybe you’ll like Immaculate Conception more than I did.

2/5 stars