mini reviews

Mini Reviews: New Takes on Old Tales

I’m sharing some more mini reviews today as I catch up from my blogging break. The three books featured in this post all offer new takes on old classics: The Canterbury Tales, Prince Dracula, and the common tropes/themes of YA scifi. That last one will make more sense when you read my review of Nyxia. Some were certainly more successful than others, so keep reading to find out which of these I’d recommend!

Feral YouthFeral Youth by Shaun David Hutchinson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Feral Youth is a YA retelling of The Canterbury Tales, edited by Shaun David Hutchinson, so I was incredibly excited to read this. This anthology follows a group of teen delinquents at wilderness camp who are on a 3-day trek back to camp, and have a story telling competition along the way.

The stories in this collection run the gamut of genres: there is folklore, fanfic, creepy, and contemporary. Each character’s story is written by a different YA author, with Shaun David Hutchinson taking the narrator’s perspective to weave it all together. I really enjoyed this premise, and I of course liked some stories more than others, but I still enjoyed nearly every single story. Feral Youth has great representation, both in terms of race and sexual orientation, and it’s a collection fundamentally about knowing that you’re more than your mistakes. This book confronts the treatment of “at risk” kids, disproportionately those who are people of color and often poor, and exposes the ways in which our society doesn’t give them a fair shot, much less an honest second chance.

*I received an eARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for a free and honest review.

Nyxia (The Nyxia Triad, #1)Nyxia by Scott Reintgen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Nyxia is the first book in a new trilogy about teens traveling to a new planet who have to decide what they’re willing to risk for the fortune of a lifetime. Our main character and narrator is Emmett, and he and the other teens are competing for spots to mine the mysterious substance called Nyxia on the distant planet Eden. It must be said that Nyxia is pretty typical YA scifi – there’s an evil corporation, teens in space, and the questionable ethics of colonizing planets with a native population.

The world building in Nyxia is super basic, although there will be an entirely new world/planet that we’ll surely learn about in the next book. I thought this would be a rare YA without romance, but nope. About 80% into this book, there is a forced instalove relationship that made no sense other than to create unnecessary angst for Emmett. It was honestly so dumb that I nearly gave up reading at that point. The entire book is just the competition to win a spot on Eden, and as you can probably tell, that was so monotonous. A trilogy is absolutely unnecessary, because this first book could have easily been edited down and combined with the next book. This book was 300 pages of teens repeating the same events in a competition for 200 days, and it was ridiculous. Nyxia was admittedly enjoyable enough, but unexciting and unoriginal.

*I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for a free and honest review.

Hunting Prince Dracula (Stalking Jack the Ripper, #2)Hunting Prince Dracula by Kerri Maniscalco
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This sequel to Stalking Jack the Ripper follows Audrey Rose Wadsworth and Thomas Cresswell as they attend a forensics program in Romania, but find themselves in the midst of another investigation when murders occur in a similar fashion to Vlad the Impaler. While I enjoyed Stalking Jack the Ripper last year, I don’t love this series quite as much as others. That being said, I do adore Audrey Rose and Thomas, and their banter. The best thing about these books, by far, is that they’re so feminist. Audrey Rose makes a place for herself in a male dominated field (as was…every field in the 19th century), and I really enjoy seeing her assert herself in the numerous situations in which she’s discounted for being female. Audrey Rose doesn’t have time for your misogyny. There is a great running theme in this novel, in which Audrey Rose wonders if marrying Thomas will compromise her autonomy, and how she’s unwilling to have any man, including Thomas, speak for her and belittle her. Those great character moments are some of the strongest in this book.

However, the whole Dracula thing was just bonkers. It made no sense and felt very unsatisfying, and I especially didn’t like that it was tied to a certain character. Overall, the Dracula angle just seemed dumb and gimmicky. And that’s really saying something, considering the first book was about Jack the Ripper. It’ll be interesting to see what these two get up to in American for the third book.

Rating: 3.25

*I received an ARC of this from the publisher in exchange for a free and honest review.

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If you’ve read any of the books mentioned in this post, let me know what you thought of them!

 

mini reviews

Mini Reviews: Sisterhood with a Twist

Hey everyone! I’m finally back at blogging after some much needed down time. Today, I’m sharing mini reviews of three August releases that all dealt with sisterhood. Ok, including Wonder Woman: Warbringer may be a stretch, but Diana and Alia refer to each other as “sister in battle,” so we’re just going with it. Let’s dive into the reviews!

 

A Map for Wrecked GirlsA Map for Wrecked Girls by Jessica Taylor
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A Map for Wrecked Girls tells the story of two sisters, Emma and Henri, who are stranded on a deserted island with a boy they barely know. Told in alternating timelines, the reader discovers what caused the tension that threatens to ruin Emma and Henri’s relationship and their chance of survival on the island.

This book, rather unfortunately, continues the existing trends of sister stories in terms of the unimaginative dynamics readers often see between the siblings: Sister A is vibrant and cruel, Sister B is a timid follower. B loves Boy, Boy loves A, events occur, the sisters fight. Sound familiar? Because it’s super played out and I’d like some better sister dynamics in fiction, please.

I was so much more interested in the storyline of them on the island than the flashbacks to what happened previously. Emma and Henri have a completely co-dependent, destructive relationship, the likes of which I have literally never heard of real life sisters sharing. The survival story on the island is by far the strongest part of this novel, and I really enjoyed seeing how these characters handled that experience. I also understand why there needed to be a third person on the island with them, but I hated that Alex was only there to be an unnecessary romantic interest. Personally, I would have preferred if this was only the island story without the melodramatic flashbacks.

*I received an ARC of this from the publisher in exchange for a free and honest review.

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Wicked Like a Wildfire (Hibiscus Daughter, #1)Wicked Like a Wildfire by Lana Popović
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I went into Wicked Like a Wildfire expecting an amazing tale about sisters in a matriarchal magic family – but that’s not quite what happened. I still think the premise at the heart of this book was good and had so much potential. Unfortunately, the author filled every page with purpose prose and so much description that it was hard to wade through it all and actually find the action. I usually like some flowery writing, but this was just too much. Every single outfit that every female character wears is described in such excruciating detail that it felt as though I was reading an early 2000s fanfic. The characters in this story felt pretty flat and one-dimensional. Everyone had his or her single defining characteristic, and that was it.

Wicked Like a Wildfire is set in Montenegro, and I’ve never read anything set in that country before. It was really interesting to get a glimpse into the culture and landscape of Montenegro, and I enjoyed how those aspects were woven into the story. Also, in terms of representation, one of the sisters is a lesbian and in a relationship.

This book was truly weird, especially towards the end when more secrets are unveiled. Unfortunately, Wicked Like a Wildfire simply wasn’t an enjoyable read, and I found the story to be all over the place. In fact, it was so underwhelming that I just had to pick up my ARC copy and remind myself of the ending. At this point, I don’t plan to read the sequel.

*I received an eARC of this from the publisher in exchange for a free and honest review.

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Wonder Woman: Warbringer (DC Icons, #1)Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wonder Woman: Warbringer begins with 17-year-old Diana rescuing a girl from a sinking ship. Breaking the rule to never bring a human to Themyscira, Diana learns that Alia is a Warbringer: a descendant of Helen of Troy destined to bring bloodshed and usher mankind into war. Diana decides to help break the Warbringer curse, forcing her to leave Themyscira and prove herself as an Amazon.

I love Wonder Woman, but I think this book suffered a bit from being published the same summer as the movie. I couldn’t help but compare the two the entire time I read this book. Leigh Bardugo is one of my favorite authors, but it did feel a bit weird to read a “contemporary” story written by her.

The best parts of this novel were undoubtedly the mythology woven into the action, and seeing what Themyscria is like for young Diana. Wonder Woman: Warbringer is wonderfully, unapologetically feminist, and there is great representation. Almost every character is a person of color, and there is one LGBTQIA character. The not-so-great aspects, for me, were definitely the pacing and the weird sort-of romance between Diana and a male character. There are some really great quotes and overall it’s an empowering story, but this just didn’t quite work as well as I expected. In terms of the DC Icons series, I’m intrigued to see Marie Lu’s take on teen Bruce Wayne, but I’m not interested in Superman or Catwoman (written by SJM…ugh).

Rating: 3.75

*I received an ARC of this from the publisher in exchange for a free and honest review.

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Let me know what you think of these books if you’ve read them! Also share your favorite sister stories in the comments!

book review

ARC Review: Goodbye Days

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Title: Goodbye Days
Author: Jeff Zentner
Publication Date: March 7, 2017
Publisher: Crown Books | Penguin Random House
Format: eARC*

“Carver Briggs never thought a simple text would cause a fatal crash, killing his three best friends, Mars, Eli, and Blake. But now Carver can’t stop blaming himself for the accident and even worse, a powerful judge is pressuring the district attorney to open up a criminal investigation.

Luckily, Carver has some unexpected allies: Eli’s girlfriend, the only person to stand by him at school; Dr. Mendez, his new therapist; and Blake’s grandmother, who asks Carver to spend a “goodbye day” together to share their memories and say a proper farewell.

Soon the other families are asking for their own goodbye day with Carver—but he’s unsure of their motives. Will they all be able to make peace with their losses, or will these goodbye days bring Carver one step closer to a complete breakdown or—even worse—prison?”

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It must be said right off the bat – Goodbye Days is sad af, y’all. But really, how could a book about a boy who loses his best friends be anything other than heartbreaking? Jeff Zentner manages this with a deft hand, and gives Carver (and the reader) enough hope and support to keep going.

Goodbye Days features two things that do not get enough representation, especially in YA: positive, supportive male friendships and actually present parental figures. The group dynamic between the “Sauce Crew” – Carver, Mars, Blake, and Eli – is beautifully portrayed, and something I cannot remember coming across before. They’re teenage boys, so there are plenty of fart jokes, but there’s also an undeniable closeness between them. These boys are open and honest with each other, and it’s so refreshing to see close male friendships in YA.

Often in YA, parents are either nonexistent or uninvolved, which is an even greater indication of fiction than love triangles, in my opinion. An unexpectedly wonderful part of Goodbye Days is that there are cases of parental figures that are involved in their children’s lives and present in their grief. Not only do we have Carver’s parents who are desperate to protect their son from potential criminal charges, but the parents (and Nana, in Blake’s case) of Carver’s friends spend their “goodbye days” with Carver. Through those parents, the reader experiences many different types of grief, and sees how loss affects everyone differently. While I certainly enjoyed certain parental figures more than others (hello Nana, peace out Eli’s dad), I appreciated that we had so many parents in this book. YA authors, take note.

There is amazing representation not only of the painful mix of grief and guilt Carver experiences, but also therapy and anxiety. I loved that we see Carver seek help for his panic attacks, and that he seeks out a therapist and medication combination that helps him. The scenes in which Carver has a panic attack were so powerful, because I have been there before and thought I am going to die I cannot possibly survive this. Zentner doesn’t shy away from the harder aspects of grief, and I liked that Carver is still a flawed human being and isn’t beatified through his suffering.

There were a few moments where I thought Goodbye Days stumbled. While I loved Jesmyn as a character, I think the story could have done without a romantic subplot. I would have preferred to see a strong male/female friendship without any romance. Zentner manages to maintain a balance that keeps Goodbye Days from being unbearably sad, but there are times when it almost strays into tragedy porn territory. I think it’s because there are three different goodbye days, with Carver’s own experience, and Jesmyn’s, and then an overarching theme of grief. It was just a bit much at times, for me. Carver sounds a bit too adult and wise for his seventeen years, traumatic events aside, and there’s a propensity for him to wax philosophically in order to end a chapter on some profound note. Even though Carver is a writer, this felt a bit heavy handed.

In terms of inclusivity, the majority of the cast of characters is white. Jesmyn is Filipino, and Mars and his dad are black. One character self-identifies as gay (although his coming out is the extent of that representation, full disclosure), but the rest are implied/assumed to be cishet.

Rating: 4 stars

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