mini reviews

Recent Reads: 3 Mini Reviews

SealskinSealskin by Su Bristow

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sealskin is set in Scotland, at an undisclosed time but likely the 19th century, and features one of my favorite myths – selkies. Selkies, for those who don’t know, are mythological creatures who live as seals in the sea but are able to shed their pelts and become human on land. Donald, our protagonist, stumbles upon a group of selkie females and ends up taking one home, hiding her pelt so that she cannot return to the sea. They end up having a family and Mairhi’s presence influences Donald into becoming a better man – but their dark beginning underlies everything.

Su Bristow’s writing is evocative, and perfectly captures the harsh landscape of Scotland and its people. I also enjoyed the fishing culture in this village, and how sea myths were interwoven throughout the story. However, that’s unfortunately where my praise for this book ends. The very first interaction between Donald and Mairhi is one of extreme violence and violation – he steals her pelt, rendering her helpless to return to the sea with the others, and then rapes her. This first moment tainted the entire book for me, and I felt completely unable to grow to like Donald. If Mairhi ever did feel fondness or love for him, it was likely out of Stockholm syndrome instead of genuine affection. I found it impossible to actually connect with any of the characters, and ultimately didn’t find the story very compelling. I wanted to like this because it’s so rare to find a good selkie story, but this fell very short for me.

Rating: 2.5 stars

I received an eARC from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for a free and honest review.

The Other Half of Happiness (Sofia Khan, #2)The Other Half of Happiness by Ayisha Malik

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I need to start this review by saying that I loved Sofia Khan Is Not Obliged, and fully expected to love this sequel. Sadly, The Other Half of Happiness fell somewhere between disappointing and infuriating. Everything that I loved about Sophia and her story (and her family/friends) was gone in this second book. I didn’t like anyone or their choices, and I realized that I should stay away from marriage novels in the future because I find them boring at best. I did, however, really enjoy Sophia’s mom and her storyline.

The central conflict in this novel was frustrating, because every character I fell in love with in the first book continued to make completely out of character choices and NO ONE USES THEIR WORDS. Throw in some unnecessarily new characters as potential romantic interests and I was done. The constant conversations about whether a certain character was becoming a “fundo” were relentless and irritating, since it made no sense. So much of this book, for that matter, made no sense.

The Other Half of Happiness ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, or at least is far too open ended, and there is currently no third book in sight. I was so excited for this sequel, and now I wish Ayisha Malik hadn’t bothered. This was just so completely disappointing.

Rating: 2 stars

I received an eARC from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for a free and honest review.

The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining WomenThe Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Radium Girls chronicles the forgotten tale of the women who worked as dial painters for three different watch companies, and how their work killed them. These women worked directly with radium, which at the time was heralded as a wonder drug. While painting, the women would put their radium-soaked brushes into their mouths to smooth the brush hairs, and they would leave work every day covered in radium dust, giving them the nickname “the shining girls.” The luminous effect of the paint caused them to glow in the dark. But the women were completely unaware of the dangers of their occupation.

These women all fell sick and died of radium poisoning, many of them incredibly young. Kate Moore’s study details their illnesses as well as the cases they eventually brought against their employers. These cases were important for labor rights, and establishing the occupational disease labor law. I can’t underscore how much I learned from this book, both about these women and labor rights/corporations in America at the time.

I did find the length and narrative style of The Radium Girls hard to enjoy. It’s a rather long book (496 pages), and Moore jumps around constantly in her narration. I couldn’t keep it all straight: which women worked at which company in which town, the timeline, the cases. There is a constant barrage of information, and at times it was all too jumbled to keep up. However, I would highly recommend reading this book because it is so – pardon the pun – illuminating.

Rating: 3.5 stars.

I received an eARC from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for a free and honest review.

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arc review · mini reviews

Mini ARC Reviews: Labyrinth Lost & Rani Patel in Full Effect

Labyrinth Lost (Brooklyn Brujas, #1)Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Alex is one of the most powerful brujas alive, but she hates magic and is afraid of her powers. In a misguided attempt to give up her magic, she ends up exiling her entire family to Los Lagos, a limbo world. With brujo Nova as her guide, Alex travels to Los Lagos to save her family and come to terms with her powers. The strongest elements of Labyrinth Lost were definitely the world building and the wonderful diversity of its characters. Nearly the entire cast of characters are people of color, and Mexican-American culture is represented not only with the characters, but within the bruja magic system as well. Our main character is also bisexual, and I loved seeing that, especially since it came across so naturally. That being said, for all of the positives I did have some pretty serious problems with Labyrinth Lost. Mainly, the writing feels weak and disjointed a lot of the time, and the author’s repeated use of nonsensical yet offensive phrases like “bipolar eyes” made the reading experience far from immersive. Nearly every other character in this book overshadows Alex, so by the end I still didn’t really know her voice, or feel connected to her as the protagonist. This is the first book in a series, but unless the writing improves I don’t think I’ll continue on. As much as I enjoyed the story, the actual story telling was too lacking for me to really enjoy it.

3.5 stars

I received an eARC from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for a free & honest review.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Set in 1990s Hawaii, Rani Patel in Full Effect was one of the most unique stories I’ve come across. Rani raps with her local crew as MC Sutra, and uses her raps to deal with what’s going on in her life – her father’s affair, the growing distance between Rani and her mother, and the years of sexual assault she suffered through. Rani has such a distinctive, powerful voice, and I loved reading about a female MC who looks up to Queen Latifah and Salt-N-Pepa. This book is Own Voices, and it really explores the expectations placed upon Indian women, especially in Rani’s Gujarati family. As much as I loved the different moving parts of this book, somehow it just didn’t quite work for me as a whole as much as I’d hoped it would. I think part of why I didn’t feel immersed in the story was because rap slang, Hawaiian words, and Gujarati phrases were used with little context or translation, so I was constantly referring to the glossary, even though many words weren’t even in the glossary. I know that Rani is 16, but the romantic subplot really diverted a lot of attention away from the family story and rushed Rani’s own personal growth instead of seeing it progress throughout the novel. I did enjoy this story, and especially Rani as a character, and loved that this book provided some much-needed representation of Hawaiian and Indian cultures, neither of which gets much attention in YA. Books are getting adapted into movies and TV shows left and right these days, but Rani Patel in Full Effect would make an amazing film. That has nothing to do with the merits of the novel, but I still wanted to share that opinion. I’d definitely recommend checking this book out, because Rani’s story and lines will definitely impress.

3.5 stars.

I received an ARC from the publisher at BEA in exchange for a free & honest review.

mini reviews · sarah dessen · summer of sarah

#SummerOfSarah Check In: August

The Summer of Sarah has come to an end. Back in May, I decided to reread all twelve of Sarah Dessen’s novels this summer, to relieve the summer stories of my teen years and revisit that magical always-summer town, Colby. August was the final month in the #SummerOfSarah, so now I have the last three books to discuss.

Along for the Ride: There are several layers to this story, and I appreciated the depth in Along for the Ride that we don’t get in all of Sarah’s novels. Auden doesn’t sleep – hasn’t since before her parents divorced – and when she decides to spend the summer before college with her dad, his new wife, and their new born daughter, Auden meets fellow insomniac Eli. Along for the Ride has some of my favorite Dessen themes: female friendship, great tension between the MC and love interest, and a realistic protag. I remember relating to Auden when I was younger, because I was an insomniac and did everything I could to avoid sleeping. I loved, and still do, the idea of going on a mini-adventure every night while everyone else is sleeping. Like most of Sarah’s books, the family dynamic is tense in this one, but Auden’s parents felt so…self-absorbed and pretentious, it infuriated me to read. Ultimately this was a middle of the road Dessen novel for me: not the best, not the worst, but overall somewhat forgettable when lumped in with the rest.

What Happened to Goodbye: After her mother’s public affair and her parents’ subsequent divorce, McLean and her dad have moved – a lot. Every town is an opportunity to become a new version of herself: Eliza, Lizbet, each with different interests and personalities. When McLean and her dad move to Lakeview, she meets brilliant but accidental delinquent Dave and makes friends, while still trying to deal with her incessant mother’s attempts at reconnecting. If Along for the Ride didn’t signal a bit of a decline for Sarah, this book did it. While it’s an unique enough concept, in execution this book falls flat and forced. I found this book to be rambling without much of a focus, and it never feels as if the story has a clear direction or motivation. The “climax” didn’t make sense, and while I enjoyed the characters enough, What Happened to Goodbye was just okay upon a reread.

The Moon and More: Emaline has always lived in Colby, the beach town where most people just breeze in and out for the summer. But she plans to leave Colby for college with her boyfriend at the end of this summer, and nothing will stop her. Until, of course, her biological father shows up, a cute filmmaker arrives in town, and her boyfriend cheats on her – that’s when things fall apart. I’m just going to come out and say it: this is my least favorite of Sarah’s novels, by far. This is a rather long book in which nothing happens. It feels even longer when you don’t particularly like any of the characters, and don’t really care what happens to them. This is the only one of Dessen’s dozen that I don’t own, and never intend to read again. The Moon and More is different from her other novels in that it doesn’t follow the same formula, but straying from that formula clearly fails Sarah. It’s unfortunate, but true. I struggled through this book because I didn’t feel connected to the story, and Emaline might be my least favorite Dessen MC to date. This is one I’d say you’re safe to skip.

I hate to end #SummerOfSarah on a negative note, so I want to reiterate how much I adored Sarah Dessen’s books when I was a teenager (and I still do!). Sarah is capable of truly representing the teenage experience – from the intense loyalty of friendships to underage partying to the unbearable pain of heartbreak. In that perfect always-summer world of Colby and Lakeview, Sarah’s novels provide readers with relatable characters who struggle with the same insecurities and families, and who need a story in which everything turns out alight in the end.  I imagine I’ll keep reading Sarah’s books as long as she publishes them, or until that fearful day when I’m too old to enjoy contemporary YA at all. If you need a lighthearted read, or a reminder of that one summer, then a Sarah Dessen novel will do the trick.

book review · mini reviews

Mini Reviews #1

I’ve decided to try something a little different and post some mini reviews. Sometimes I read a book and either don’t have enough to say for a full review, or don’t have a chance to post a review around publication date. So I have three mini reviews of recent (last couple months) releases. Let me know what you think of this format, and what you’ve been reading lately!

Crimson Bound by Rosamund Hodge (Balzer + Bay/HarperCollins, 4-28-2015)
I thoroughly enjoyed Cruel Beauty, so expectations were high for this not-sequel set in the same world. After an encounter with a forestborn turns Rachelle into a bloodbound, her anger (towards herself and her situation), causes her to resent Armand, who claims to have walked away from a forestborn losing only his hands instead of his soul. Rachelle is a fierce heroine, and her struggle with her own identity was painful and powerful, yet she still felt realistic. There are so many layers and facets to Armand that you’re never quite able to pin his character down, and he provides a great foil to Rachelle (with great banter). Hodge is beyond talented at writing into the darkness – certain parts provide an almost sinister reading experience, and you can feel the forest creeping into the edges of you vision and the pages. The greatest shortcoming of this novel, however, was the romance. The love triangle, while it served a purpose, felt like a plot device, not any genuine emotional connection. Rachelle and Eric made me a bit uncomfortable. I really rooted for Rachelle and Armand and wanted them to get together, but it didn’t come together that well, and left me wanting more for their relationship. Overall, this was a great action story with a kickass ba girl and clever good guy. As far as recent fairytale retellings go, this is a stand out. Crimson Bound is a massive tome and I devoured it in two sittings. If you always wanted your fairytales with more grit and (slightly existential) darkness, Crimson Bound needs to be on the top of your TBR pile.
Rating: 4 stars

The Wrath and The Dawn by Renée Ahdieh (Putnam, 5-12-2015)
A retelling of One Thousand and One Nights, Ahdieh’s debut novel tells the tale of a young Caliph who takes a wife every night and kills her every morning, and the young woman who volunteers. The Wrath and the Dawn was a very highly anticipated release this year, and it got a lot of hype in the book community. This was a fresh take on the fairytale retelling trend, and introduced some much-needed diversity at the same time. The Middle Eastern setting and culture were perhaps the most vibrant aspects of this book. Because on the whole, this book was a major disappointment. This book begins with the premise that Shazi volunteers so that she can kill Khalid – instead, they fall in love. The real issue is that these mutual feelings develop unrealistically, and oh my the way, he’s still the guy who killed your best friend and we get the barest explanation of why he’s not a psycho bad guy. It just made no sense to me, and prevented me from enjoying their relationship/story. Further, the dynamics between all characters were unbelievable and all tell, no show. Ahdieh’s writing itself is also hugely distracting, filled with nonsensical metaphors (like the poison toying with its remedy???) and exhaustingly overused descriptors. If I ever read/hear the phrase “tiger eyes” again, I will cause physical harm to myself and/or others. The Wrath and the Dawn is, of course, the first book in a series (that I won’t be continuing).
Rating: 2.5 stars

The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey (Delacorte Press, 4-28-2015)
The Girl at Midnight had a fair amount of buzz around its April release, a great deal of which was caused by its comparison to Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy. This is a tall order, since DoSaB is a beloved saga with gorgeous writing. In truth, there are quite a lot of similarities, especially in the beginning. An orphan human girl is taken in and raised by a benevolent parent figure creature. But the fact of the matter is that TGaM is not even close to the same quality. There are some lovely lines, but on the whole I never felt like I had to keep reading or couldn’t turn the page fast enough. I enjoyed how diverse the cast of characters was, but they still all felt rather flat and one-dimensional. Echo, the main protagonist, is the only real standout (although I appreciated Jasper for his comic relief). This book felt rather unimpressive on the whole, which was disappointing because it was so highly anticipated (and high on my 2015 releases list). Sadly, I don’t know if I’ll read the sequel when it comes out next year. The Girl at Midnight was good and enjoyable if you don’t go in expecting too much. It certainly reads like a debut novel, but hopefully this series will improve in future installments. Fans of urban fantasy should give this a try – lots of people have loved this, so you might too.
Rating: 3 (generous) stars