Friday, January 13, 2017

The Boy Who Killed Grant Parker by Kat Spears

Contemporary YA is one of those genres that I rarely read. It's not that I particularly dislike the genre. Instead, whenever I read contemporary books, I usually find the characters too unrelatable and the situations too cliche or implausible. However, every once in a while, I will see a contemporary book that piques my interest. The Boy Who Killed Grant Parker by Kat Spears was one of those books. I first saw the title on Emma of Miss Print's ARC adoption page and, after reading the synopsis on Goodreads, I knew I had to request it. I do have to apologize to Emma though. I was supposed to review this book before its September 2016 release, and had scheduled the post to go up during my hiatus, but technical difficulties caused the post to disappear instead. I didn't notice until I came back to the blog, so I am only just now rewriting and posting it.

The title for this book seemed like a huge spoiler, but I decided to give it a try anyway. All I can really say, without giving the story away, is that the title plays a huge part in the story but not in the way you would initially think. The setting of the story, a small town in Tennesee, is pretty generic for a contemporary story and didn't have any stand out features. This book could have been set in any small town across America. You would assume this would make the story more relatable, but it only makes it less so.

On the other hand. some of the characters were really interesting. For the first half of the book. Outwardly, Luke Grayson, the main character, is very passive. He just let things happen to him and went along with the flow. His inner voice was a different matter. His thoughts were dynamic, sarcastic, and strong. Luke's friend Delilah was a powerful and compelling presence. The other characters were lackluster, including the titular Grant Parker. Then, about halfway through the book, the big confrontation between Luke and Grant happens and things take a turn for the worse. Luke's inner monologue becomes just as flat as his actions. He spends most of the rest of the book drunk and floundering. Delilah all but disappears from the story, leaving an obvious hole in the story.

The bottom line is, this book had a huge amount of potential and, not only does the author play it safe, she actually pulls back in the last half of the book. I really wanted to see more of Delilah. I wanted more detail (and more plausibility) from Luke's parents. In the end, I had to give The Boy Who Killed Grant Parker 2.5 out of 5 stars, and that is overly generous in my opinion.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Seeing Red...In a Good Way!

Well...long time no see! These last couple months have been very up and down, mostly down, for me. I did try my hand at vlogging (I stopped, but I'm planning on getting back in to it a little later into 2017) and I had a wonderful time taking part in the OTSP Secret Sister Project! I don't really want to get in to any of the negative stuff that happened, but I will say that, with everything that was going on, I didn't do much reading. One of the last books that I read was given to me by Emma of Miss Print, I had scheduled the review to post while I knew I was going to be away from my blog and, of course, it didn't post at all. In fact, not only did it not post, it completely erased itself! So I have to beg her forgiveness for it being woefully overdue and rewrite the review.

Things are looking up for me though! I've had a wonderful Christmas at home with my Parents and sister and I have a few days more until I head back to start my new job. I also read the last book that Emma sent me with days to spare for my review! It helps that I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I'll get in to the whys and wherefores below. First, what book am I talking about?!?! That would be...drumroll... Maresi by Maria Turtschaninoff, which is the first book in the Red Abbey trilogy. It has been translated from the original Swedish and is being released in the US on January 3rd, 2017.

Of all the books that Emma sent me last year, Maresi has to be the one that I was equally most excited for and most nervous about. Fantasy is one of the main genres that I read, but the more I read in it, the more difficult it is to find interesting new books. Many just seem to follow the same old tropes and have carbon copy characters. In fact, I've read several other reviews that said this book doesn't seem like fantasy, and it doesn't, but in a good way. The fantasy elements are woven so carefully and thoroughly into this book. They feel completely organic and it makes the story more "real" to me. I don't have to suspend my disbelief or wonder how something works because it just ~is~. The fantasy in this book was so masterfully done, that I honestly felt like I was reading a historical fiction book.

I also really loved the attention that Ms. Turtschaninoff paid to the little details. Many books focus mainly on the big action or long journey of a story and this book, while it did have a main action point, focused more on the everyday acts of life and the setting of the story. Two things made this focus supremely successful. First, because the book is set on an island, with all of the main characters coming to the island instead of grouping together linearly, the focus on the island and the Abbey itself made this book vivid and engrossing. I could clearly picture everything in my mind as I read, and it made the story that much more engrossing. Second, the main battle of this series is mentioned early in the story, it's actual events are only hinted at, and the entire story is spent in nervous anticipation of what is going to happen. By focusing on the ritual aspects of Abbey life, and all the chores and acts that the girls go through simply to live there, the fact that the battle cause a complete break from routine makes the battle itself more jarring.

Going in to this book, I wasn't sure how much I was going to like the fact that it is written in first person point of view. I don't usually like first person simply because the narrator ends up grating on my nerves. In the case of Maresi, I'm happy to say that didn't happen! Not only was Maresi a fun and interesting character to read, her nature and involvement made the story more detailed than it would have been if it were written from someone else's point of view. It also fed in to the feeling of connectedness that this story gave me.

The only part of this story was the general sense of negativity towards men that permeated the book. I understand that this negativity is what drives the story towards its conclusion, and it that it worked very well. However, I despise overgeneralizations and that all I felt we were given. There are multiple cases of men being terrible human beings, but we are only given Maresi's dad as an example of a good man. I think the story could have used a more balanced view of men, and that would have made Jai's experience and the ultimate battle more impactful.

Aesthetically, this book was amazing. The writing was clear, flowed well, and the descriptions were vivid but not too wordy. The cover for the ARC was just text, but seeing the finished cover makes me very happy. It fits well and gives you a good sense of what the book is like. Overall, I really loved Maresi and give it 5 out of 5 stars. I cannot wait to read the rest of this trilogy!

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Our Chemical Hearts by Krystal Sutherland: A Review

Hi everyone! I'm back with another ARC review! Life has been kind of crazy these last couple of weeks, so I haven't had much time to read. But for me, reading is really important because it is how I unwind. A while ago, Emma of Miss Print sent me several ARCs to read and review. So, when things got hectic, I decided to pick one of them up! I finally settled on reading Our Chemical Hearts by Krystal Sutherland.

Honestly, this review isn't going to be very long. The cover is what drew me to this book and I overlooked the warning in the synopsis declaring it to be a cross between John Green and Rainbow Rowell (I only like one book from each of those two authors, so it really wasn't a promising start). I finished the book pretty quickly, but I honestly wasn't invested in it. I found most of the characters to be lackluster and a little Gilmore-esque in their pop-culture name dropping. The only character that really seemed to fit their personality was Sadie, and she just seemed out of place most of the time. So, even though the book was technically good (it was well written and there weren't any glaring grammar or spelling issues), I just couldn't bring myself to enjoy the story and give it 2 out of 5 stars.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Bookish Goodness: Women in Science by Rachel Ignotofsky

There's a book dedicated to women in science! As a woman with a passion for science (mostly health related) this makes me beyond happy! To make things even better, Blogging for Books sent me a copy to review! You're probably wondering what this book is called. It's called Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World by Rachel Ignotofsky. Not only did Rachel write the book, she illustrated it too! Plus, she gets extra, extra bonus points for living in KC, Missouri! (Missourians have to stick together, after all!)

Obvious science/state love bias aside, this book was really fantastic. Every single page is richly illustrated in Rachel Ignotofsky signature style. The women included in this book range from ancient to modern, mathematicians to astronomers. The entries for each woman also include a long biography as well as fun facts. My only complaint is that, despite there are racially diverse women included in this book, the majority of the entries are for white women. I would have loved to see more diversity. However, I think this book is a great starter that will lead people to research about other women in science. Overall, I have to give this book 5 out of 5 stars for sheer awesomeness!

Thursday, September 8, 2016

When Books Hurt; A Review and Why it's Okay to Stop Reading Damaging Books

What do you do when a book hurts you?  We all have those books, the ones we read that rub something raw in us. The ones that feel like an ice shard under our skin, that we know we should put down, but don't. Maybe we keep reading because someone recommended it to us, or gave it to us to review, or we feel the need to finish a book no matter what. Maybe it's just the stigma of DNFing a book that still lingers around the book blogging community. I don't know. What I do know is, I recently read one of those books. Fair warning: there will be spoilers in this review.

I first saw this book on Emma of Miss Print's ARC adoption page, and she very kindly sent it to me. When a person adopts an ARC from Emma, they commit to reviewing that ARC before the release date. I'm a little behind with this one because, honestly, I've been having trouble putting my thoughts into words. I feel like I should start off by saying that the writing was technically good. Kathleen Glasgow has a very polished writing style. I didn't like the formatting of the chapter (some were short, only a few sentences, and some were long), but that is personal preference.

I have no problem with reading about tough or dark subject matter. Indeed, I feel that, especially for young adult readers, subjects like depression, self harm, abuse, mental illness, etc. are important to address and represent in the books that we read. When then, did I have a problem with Girl in Pieces? My problem isn't with the subject matter, it is with how the subject matter was written about. This book was DARK and DAMAGING. There was no end to the suffering that the main character endured and the only bright point came in the very last chapter. She was abused, betrayed, and abandoned by everyone that she should have been able to trust.

I read another reviewer who called this book torture porn and I agree with that assessment. The explicitness and focus on destructive behaviors seemed more like the book was catering to a fetish. The lessons that it taught really boiled down to; everyone is out to screw you, you can't trust anyone (especially not your friends or doctor), and, even if you continue making mistakes, everything will magically work out for the best. I worry about the message it is sending to people who self harm or who have depression. Admittedly, there will be a list of resources for people who self harm in the finished copy, but after the negative way that these resources were portrayed in the book, who would contact them? I can't, in good conscience, recommend this book to anyone and ultimately gave this book 1 out of 5 stars.

My review begs the question; is it okay to not read damaging books? I think it is not only okay, but necessary, not to read damaging books (speaking both personally and as a consumer). I don't self harm, but I do have depression and anxiety. When I first started reading this book, I wasn't in a very good place mentally and this book only compounded my problem. The only reason I kept reading this book was because I had an obligation to review it, but, honestly, this did me more harm than good. When it comes to taking care of your mental well-being, it is better to stop reading a book, even if you have to review it. You can always apologize to the person who sent it to you and return it to them if they wish, but nothing is worth putting yourself through a book that is hurting you. As a consumer, it is important to send a message that books with harmful content (ex. fetishistic writing) are not okay and won't be tolerated. We need diversity in books, but not at the expense or harm of the represented parties.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Gilded Cage: A Review

Historical Fiction is one of my all-time favorite dramas, so when I saw the opportunity to adopt an ARC of The Gilded Cage by Lucinda Gray from Emma at Miss Print, I jumped at it!

I really loved the premise of this book; an American farm girl thrust into the trying world of the English aristocracy with some mystery thrown in too! After the synopsis, I had really high hopes for this book. Unfortunately, there isn't much to say other than this book was really disappointing. The writing was good and the characters were believable. The pacing, on the other hand, was a serious problem. Everything seemed to happen at an accelerated rate in this book. The author would introduce a twist and before you could even wrap your head around the details, another twist would be thrown in too. The development of the relationships between characters was unnaturally speedy as well, with little evidence for most of the relationships. Overall, I think the author was too ambitious in trying to fit the story in to as few pages as she tried to. The story could definitely have benefited from a longer book and a slower pace. I think that, because the pacing of the book was very distracting, that I can't give The Gilded Cage as high a rating as it might otherwise deserve; I had to give it 2 out of 5 stars.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Around the World in 14 Days: Japan

Hello travelers! Bayram started Team Red's world tour off in the USA, so welcome to the second stop, Japan! I've been in love with Japan and Japanese culture since I was a little girl, and I was lucky enough to spend two months there this summer. It only stands to reason that I like books set in Japan, so, I thought I would share some of my favorites with you.

The Samurai Detective Series by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler

I decided to start my list off with one of the earliest book series set in Japan that I have read; The Samurai Detective Series by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler. There are seven books in this series; the first, The Ghost in the Tokaido Inn, was published in 1999 and the latest (which I only learned about when I was writing this post), The Red-Headed Demon, was published in 2014. Set in the 1700's, this middle grade series follows Seikei, a merchant's son turned Samurai, through misadventures and mysteries. I would definitely recommend this book for readers of all ages, but I would especially recommend this for middle grade boys who are looking for a good read!

Kazunomiya by Kathryn Lasky

Similar to the first series, Kazunomiya by Kathryn Lasky is a middle grade book set in historical Japan. The book, written like a diary, is the chronicle of a year in Princess Kazunomiya's life. We follow along as Princess Kazunomiya's life takes twists and turns, and she learns about life, love, family, and herself. Once again, this book is great for readers of all ages, but I think it would appeal more to young girls.

Young Samurai Series by Chris Bradford

Another historical, middle grade series (I think there might be a theme here) is the Young Samurai Series by Chris Bradford. Unlike the others, this series follows a young British boy, Jack, who is shipwrecked in Japan. We watch as he adjusts to life in a country that is very different from his own, learns a new language, and discovers his place. With lots of intrigue and action, a diverse variety of settings, and strong male and female characters, this book is great for everyone!

Samurai Shortstop by Alan Gratz

Okay, there is definitely a theme here. Samurai Shortstop is a historical middle grade standalone set during the Meiji Restoration (1890's). Similar to Kazunomiya, this book has a distinctly realistic feel that makes it seem like you are reading someone's autobiography. Told from 15-year-old Toyo's point of view, this book is an often times stark, honest depiction of Japanese high school in the late 19th, early 20th century, and how western culture influenced this ancient culture in a time of great change. There are some topics (suicide, hazing) that should be considered when recommending this book to younger teens, but, overall, it is a great book for a variety of readers.

Paper Gods Series by Amanda Sun

Now we come to the contemporary/paranormal YA! ~ecstatic clapping~ When I initially picked up Ink by Amanda Sun, the first book in the Paper Gods series, I honestly wasn't sure if I was going to like it. As you can probably tell by the series' presence on this list, I ended up liking it a lot. The story follows Katie, an American girl who goes to live with her Aunt in Japan, and her discovery of love and that there is more in this world than humans could imagine. Due to the age of the characters, and some of the plot points, I think this series would mostly appeal to the YA/New Adult lovers. 

Gai-Jin by James Clavell

First, I have to say that you don't spell gaijin like that. Beyond that, Gai-Jin by James Clavell is a really great book! It is book number 6 in the Asian Saga, and one of only two that are set in Japan. I read it out of order (I read this one first and then moved on to book number 3, Shogun, which is the other one set in Japan). I also read it at a much, much, much younger age than it was intended for. Oops? This book is an adult, historical fiction novel and it deals with some very serious topics (STDs, Rape, Suicide) in a very frank and adult way. This book does not have a single main character but instead follows several different characters and how their lives diverge and intersect. Even though I read it when I was 14, I absolutely loved it! There is a realness to it that pulled me in and held me until the story was over! I would, however, only recommend this book to teens that are mature and adults.
The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa

If you've been around my blog, you'll know that I actually posted a review for The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa. Some of my favorite parts of this book were; the focus on platonic relationships, the integration of math into the story, and how natural the progression of the story felt. This book is also an adult novel, but I feel that the subject matter makes the story easily accessible to YA readers as well.

Shinobi Mystery Series by Susan Spann

I'm rounding out this list with another historical mystery, but this one is an adult series! Fair warning, I've only read two of the four books in the series, not because I didn't like it, but because I'm waiting to buy and binge all of them in a row. Set in the days of Jesuit missionaries, this story follows a master ninja named Hiro Hattori and Father Mateo, the Jesuit Priest he has sworn to protect, as they solve mysteries in Kyoto. I'm not usually a fan of mysteries, but this series always keeps me on my toes! I would recommend this to readers of all ages who enjoy a good mystery.

With that, our adventure in Japan has come to an end. Give some of these books a chance to transport you to Japan and take this opportunity to find books set in other countries too! I also hope you'll join Xander on the next leg of our tour; Greece and the Mediterranean!