Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Book Review: Moon River by Amber D. Tran

Moon River by Amber D. Tran 
Publication Date: September 17, 2016
Genres: Contemporary - Coming of Age

Find it On: GoodReads - Amazon
My Rating: ★★


Synopsis:

In this debut novel from author Amber D. Tran, a tale of adolescence and heartbreak unfolds. Nine-year-old Abigail Kavanagh first meets Ryan Mills during the summer of 1999. A shy and awkward boy, Ryan hides behind his wide-framed glasses while Abigail is determined to learn everything there is to know about him. The next few summers are filled with birthday parties, adventures in and around the West Virginian mountainsides, and late night conversations where they share their most secretive and personal thoughts.


Their friendship starts to crumble when Abigail befriends the attractive and musical Lilly Anderson, a girl who is also interested in uncovering the mysterious nature surrounding Ryan. However, everything comes to an end the summer of 2004, and Abigail must decide if her new journey is worth traveling alone. 

About the Author:

Born and raised in the heart of the Appalachia, Amber spent her childhood growing up on gravel roads and playing Pokémon Red on her Game Boy Color. At the age of 10, she discovered her fascination with creative writing and turned a 1-page homework assignment into a 35-page document for her 5th grade teacher. Less than a year later, she wrote her very first book about a female basketball player with leukemia. She will spare you the pain from having to read it.
After graduating Magna Cum Laude from West Virginia University in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in English literature and a concentration in creative writing, Amber moved to northern Alabama. She married her husband after meeting him in a Dragon Ball Z chat room. She is currently employed as a senior technical writer and Scrum Master for a software company. In her free time, she enjoys playing League of Legends and discovering dive bars with her girlfriends.

She is featured in Calliope, Sonic Boom Journal, HeartWood Literary Magazine, Speculative 66, Blue Stoat, and Spry Literary Journal. Her novel Moon River was released in September. Her essay "Saltwater" will be featured in the upcoming anthology This Bridge Called Language, available in print in 2017.

Amber currently lives in Alabama with her husband and two dogs, Ahri and Ziggs.


My Review:

*Thank you to the author and The Review Chain for providing an ARC of this book*

Moon River is a well-written and deeply emotional coming of age story of a girl, Abigail, growing up in rural Appalachia in the early 90s. From what I can gather, it is a partially, if not entirely autobiographical story of the author's childhood involving a boy on whom she had a lifelong crush and a handful of friends and acquaintances involved in his story. 

That being said, I think the summary provided for this book is a little off base. While Abby's friend, Lilly, is of course a major character, it seems to me that this book all came down to being Ryan and Abby's stories. Not just about them growing up, but also about all the people who let them down and slip through the cracks. Without any major reveals, the main character ends up getting mental health treatment in the course of the book, and there's this really great way that the author built the story so intricately that we as readers completely missed how much she was suffering, despite being in her narration.

This is, of course, a debut novel. I think there was some amount of its autobiographical nature getting in the way of storytelling. There were many scenes that could have been cut, or characters that could have been combined. But the emotional weight of the story lands perfectly, and Ryan's story had me hooked until the end. 

This is a quick read, so I definitely suggest picking it up! Reading it may open your eyes to some people around you. And above all, I hope the process of writing this has helped the author release some of what she's been holding.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Book Review: The Legend of Korra: Turf Wars Part One

The Legend of Korra: Turf Wars (Part One) by Michael Dante DiMartino 
Publication Date: July 26, 2017
Genres: Graphic Novel - Adventure - LGBT

Find it On: GoodReads / Amazon 
My Rating: ★★


Synopsis:

Relishing their newfound feelings for each other, Korra and Asami leave the Spirit World . . . but find nothing in Republic City but political hijinks and human vs. spirit conflict! 

A pompous developer plans to turn the new spirit portal into an amusement park, potentially severing an already tumultuous connection with the spirits. What's more, the triads have realigned and are in a brutal all-out brawl at the city's borders - where hundreds of evacuees have relocated!


In order to get through it all, Korra and Asami vow to look out for each other - but first, they've got to get better at being a team and a couple!


My Review:

IT'S FINALLY HERE!

Well done, guys. Well done. After all of the end-of-tv-series drama, we dive right in to this with two canononically BISEXUAL women being HAPPY. I was expecting most of the book to be about them getting together, but it more or less dove right in to them being a couple, which let's their development in the tv show totally stand on its own.


Is it pushing an agenda? Sure. But in 80 pages, it handled "here's how we're dealing with being two women dating," "here's what the world thinks of this," and "here's what our friends and family think of this," plus a substantial new plot with plenty of action.


I for one am super glad I preordered this comic. I'm super glad that it exists period, let alone it being a spin off of one of my favorite series. And I'm downright giddy that this beautiful, wonderful, gay-as-hell comic has Nickelodeon's logo slapped on it.


Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Book Review: Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Strange the Dreamer (Strange the Dreamer #1)
by Laini Taylor 
Publication Date: March 28, 2017
Genres: Young Adult - Fantasy 

Find it On: GoodReads / Amazon / iBooks / Book Depository
My Rating: ★★


Synopsis:


Strange the Dreamer is the story of: 

the aftermath of a war between gods and mena mysterious city stripped of its namea mythic hero with blood on his handsa young librarian with a singular dreama girl every bit as perilous as she is imperiledalchemy and blood candy, nightmares and godspawn, moths and monsters, friendship and treachery, love and carnage.


Welcome to Weep.


My Review:


A quick warning on this book, because I did not come across any before reading: The plot revolves around a culture with a shared history of sexual abuse. There is no direct graphic reference to these events, but the entire story is about the psychological fallout of this trauma. Please take that into account if that is something you struggle to read

How did such a rich, beautiful, intricately woven book from one of my favorite authors get a 3-star review from me? Like so. You take:

- A damn cool premise. There is a city, from which no citizens have emerged in years, that has no name. The only word that can refer to it is "Weep." What happens to its people? Who cursed its name and how? Literally no one has any idea except

- The protagonist, a young man named Lazlo a low-ranking orphan librarian. He is no closer to solving the mystery than anyone, but he seems to be the only person determined to try. He has spent his childhood and teenage years poring through any text about Weep, learning its language and its history, desperately trying to keep its memory alove.

- The Godslayer. A man who is a hero to his people, but a stranger to his loved ones, and mystery to the world. He is a genuinely good man, but he has one of the most morally complex histories of any YA supporting character I've seen in a while.

- Thyon Nero, an alchemist, a golden son of the royal line, who is somehow living in Lazlo's shadow. He is my absolute favorite character of the book, because he is neither hero nor villain, or even a rival. He is, if anything, the steady force behind Lazlo's story.

- A real, true villain, rife with moral ambiguity and a damn clear justification behind her actions.

- Some serious (and well-handled!) themes of trauma, regret, guilt, personal growth, and overcoming bigotry. 

But you know what else you have?

- 250 pages of setup. You read it. 250. I get that Lazlo is an orphan with a winding backstory, but I feel like ten steps of his setup could have been removed. Not only did he jump from place to place too much, but I honestly didn't get a sense of his personality until this point. There was so much narrative set up that he honestly didn't have substantial dialogue until this point. Which would almost be okay if the whole book were light on dialogue, but from this point, he has a very distinct personality and talks a downright lot. Where were you earlier, cool Lazlo?

- A second main character that first narrates like, a third of the way in? And is the most utterly generic female protagonist imaginable? Like Taylor, c'mon, your leading ladies are bamfs. Now you're trying to spoon feed me a virginal innocent-to-the-world personality-less teenager who is constantly and uncomfortably described in a sheer slip? First of all, please skip me with the sexualization of "child-like-innocence." And second, I was yawning through all of Sarai's narration (there's a joke in there somewhere).

- World building? What world building? There is definitely world building to the city of Weep, but I have absolutely no perspective on if the world has magic. Are people simply surprised or entirely devastated by Weep's secrets? It seems like people don't believe in magic, but alchemy jives with the status quo. There are flying machines but they ride horses? That was a downright interesting industrial revolution. There is a Queen but what does she rule? Is it all one country or many? How big? One continent? How has no one been to Weep when they all walk right in? 

Once he was driving he story, I loved Lazlo. Once the plot was going, I loved its twists and turns. Lazlo, Eril-Fane, Thyon, and Minya? Sign me up. Throw in Sarai and the other siblings? Meh. And honestly, how dare you give my Calixte for maybe five total lines and give me chapters of Ruby and Feral? R u d e.

The high points were so damn good that I'm giving this 3 stars, but man, do I feel cheated.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Book Review: Bubblegum by Sari Taurez

Bubblegum by Sari Taurez 
Publication Date: October 9, 2017
Genres: New Adult - Action - Dystopian - LGBT

Find it On: GoodReads
My Rating: ★★


Synopsis:


Tiana is your typical pampered young twenty-something with a love for expensive shoes, hot guys, and murder.

Status means the difference between life and death in this society. For Tiana, she’s never had anything to worry about - that is until her mother cuts her off from the family riches. Luckily she’s got good prospects ahead: a job that could make her a killing.


Her first client: Julia, a lower-class I.T girl that finds life can be tough for those who can’t afford to call the police. When the orphanage where Julia volunteers is targeted by the infamous brothel-owner Bobby Nails, Tiana is excited to take the job. But when she discovers Bobby Nails has a full army of mercenaries at his disposal, Tiana wonders if she may be in over her head.


Tiana and Julia face an unexpected adventure as they seek vengeance against the elusive Nails. Their adventures lead them not only to their target, but to a partnership stronger than any of their differences. But will it be enough to stop Nails and save the orphans from a terrible fate?

About the Author:


Sari Taurez lives in Arizona with her wife, daughter, cat and two dogs. In her free time she crochets, paints, collects Star Trek action figures, and plays video games.

A film school graduate, Sari strives to make every novel feel like an action movie. 
Sari is an advocate for LGBT rights, and strives to create thrilling adventures with LGBT characters.


Check out her Website / GoodReads / Twitter!

My Review:


*I received an ARC of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review*

Bubblegum sure as heck is a wild ride!

The cover art is perfect because this book reads a lot like a high-action comic book. The main character, Tiana, is something of a self-proclaimed vigilante for hire in a mess of a futuristic dystopian world. Instead of getting a main character who really cares about the terrible things the police or government are doing, Taurez gives us a girl who sees a way to work the system. Want to see the human trafficking stopped? Well I can do that, for a fee. The book is somewhat episodic as Tiana and her accumulated crew take on different jobs that are all in some way taking down the criminal empire run by Bobby Nails.

It's so refreshing to read a thoroughly awful leading lady. I mean that! There are next to no redeeming qualities in Tiana and I love it! How often do you get a twisted, edgy guy who has no redemption arc? Well here you've got a high-heel loving rich girl with a hot pink gun named Bubblegum who is willing to sell out just about anyone for a buck. Simply delightful, I tell you.

Not to say that the book is static. There's a great (and diverse!) cast of side characters that work their way into Tiana's life. While I found Julia a little bland, Ruby and William were likable and dynamic. And not to say that Tiana's indifference doesn't come to bite her on the ass...no spoilers, though!

If you're looking for an action story with a good dose of feminism and diversity, this is your book!







Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Book Review: A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

A Darker Shade of Magic (Shades of Magic #1)
by V.E. Schwab
Publication Date: February 24, 2015
Genres: Fantasy - High Fantasy

Find it On: GoodReads - Amazon - iBooks
My Rating: ★★



Synopsis:



Kell is one of the last Antari—magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel Londons; Red, Grey, White, and, once upon a time, Black. 

Kell was raised in Arnes—Red London—and officially serves the Maresh Empire as an ambassador, traveling between the frequent bloody regime changes in White London and the court of George III in the dullest of Londons, the one without any magic left to see.

Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they'll never see. It's a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences, which Kell is now seeing firsthand.

After an exchange goes awry, Kell escapes to Grey London and runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She first robs him, then saves him from a deadly enemy, and finally forces Kell to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure.

Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they'll first need to stay alive.


My Review:


I have been gloriously and spectacularly underwhelmed.

I think this was largely a case of an amazing plot in an underwhelming story. As a basic premise, you have a multiverse world where four London's sit on top of each other, each one sitting further from the universe's original source of magic. Black London, a city of legend that was destroyed generations ago, was consumed by the magic, while White London, Red London, and Grey London sealed themselves off from each other. Only two people alive possess the type of magic--blood magic--that allows you to travel between worlds.

Cool, right? Sure, if anything happened with it.

Our main character is one of the two blood magicians named Kell. He was adopted by the Red royal family when he was five and had nothing but a knife with the letters KL. Kell. Invented his own name right there. Ladies and gents, we've got an edgelord here! But in all honestly, Kell wasn't an awful protagonist, just a rather bland one. He's somewhat mysterious. Somewhat attractive. He's got some moral ambiguity going, but he's generally a good guy. For a 400 page book with next to no plot going, I need something more than "kinda cool" from an MC.

Lila on the other hand was just intolerable. Badass crossdressing lady pirate wannabe with a troubled past? I thought we were over that trope in like 2000. 2005 if we're pushing it. She just doesn't want to be a lady and dreams of the open seas and just loves stabbing things. Short of some cliffhangery suggestions at the end, she doesn't even serve a real purpose in the plot aside from stabbing the people that Kell doesn't get to first and being edgy.

There were some cool side characters I guess? I get the impression from talk of these books that Rhy is a bigger character next book. Then you've got the other blood magician, some inn keepers, Kell's mentor, et. al. who truly don't do anything. Several times I think I was supposed to be sad that someone died, but it's hard when they were only introduced 20 pages ago. 

Am I setting the bar too high? Probably. I was just expecting to love this and yet I practically DNF'd halfway through. What am I missing that got everyone raving?


Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Book Review: The Boy in Red by E.M. Holloway

The Boy in Red (The Sum of its Parts #4) by E.M. Holloway 
Publication Date: January 3, 2017
Genres: YA - Paranormal - Urban Fantasy - GLBT

Find it On: GoodReads / Lulu
My Rating: ★★


Synopsis:


Just when Puck thinks he might get a break, a warlock turns up in town and starts targeting his pack with dark magic. With no better options, Puck is forced into a cat-or-mouse game with their enemy. The struggle to keep his pack safe takes its toll on Puck in more way than one, and he finds himself facing threats he never would have expected.

My Review:


If it's even possible, I think this may have been better than the last book!

The Sum of It's Parts series has two incredible things going for it. One, it is an incredibly diverse an inclusive cast of characters with well handled social issues. The second is that it is a damn good story!

All of these books are somewhat episodic. This picks up with Puck, a human alpha of his werewolf pack, and the rest of his gang just sort of doing their thing. They hold down a territory--where sometimes threats pop up and are dealt with, they go to high school, they have teenage drama, and they do wolfy things. It's frequently mentioned that minor trouble arises in between books, but each book picks up when a major event happens. I find it refreshing that the overarching story is supplemented by these events, but we aren't subjected to absolutely everything that happens to the pack. It gives me the sense that these characters live outside of the confines of the pages.

In this particular installment, the pack is being threatened by a warlock who has shown up in town with no apparent intention other than to screw with Puck's life. The whole last book was about him proving that he is a good alpha, despite being a human, but that was judged by a tribunal of other werewolves who have led wholly supernatural lives. Without giving away too much of the plot, this was a beautiful shift in Puck's character as Sebastian largely challenges Puck on his humanity. After all, the moral compass of a supernatural being is something different than that of a human. As it has been so important to Puck to remain human in the face of everything, it's fitting to finally see what that really means with the lifestyle he has chosen.

Now for the meaty stuff. I am personally both someone who suffers from PTSD and identifies as asexual. I know that no narrative or fictional character can ever truly be a stand-in to generalize any sort of social label, but let me tell you, I *get* these characters. There's something to be said for an author who doesn't just use PTSD as a plot device. In fact, Puck's PTSD, even more than his tangible flashbacks and memories, largely affect his life in the way it effects his general sense of personal safety and security. Understanding the mind of a character living with that takes a lot more than a WebMD search of PTSD symptoms, so major props to Ms. Holloway.

The reason I picked up this series in the first place was that it was lauded in asexuality communities as a well-written asexual relationship, and I whole heartedly agree.

"I'm straight, but in love with Connor even though I don't want to have sex with him, and Connor's asexual, but in love with me, so it all works out even though there's no word for it in the general population's vocabulary."

That quote is pulled from a conversation where Puck is explaining to an outsider who Connor is. But short of this explicit info-dump, this relationship hits the nail on the head of the old "show don't tell." Puck and Connor are a beautiful exploration of a relationship that is entirely devoid of sexuality with no loss of intimacy. Reading four books now, I've been terrified of the point where the author will buckle down and have them do something sexual, but as it stands, they have not so much as kissed, which is just beautiful to me. Ms. Holloway is able to portray two people who love each other enough to just curl up in a ball and cry on each other, but not give in to the easy route of telling their story with tropes or grand romantic gestures.

This series is beautiful. Truly. It's not just a SJW textbook of how to write inclusive fiction--it's a fully developed story that doesn't shy away from difficult issues or complex characters. Please do yourself the favor of picking this up!


Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Guest Post With Sara Baysinger, Author of Ashen City

When I got my hands on my much-anticipated ARC of Ashen City by Sara Baysinger, I was also first in line to sign up for a quest post with this amazing author. After shooting a few emails back and forth, we agreed on our mutual interest of the topic of the evolution of the dystopian genre!

If you like what you read, please check out my review of her new release, Ashen City, and be sure to purchase it on Amazon!



The Evolution of the Dystopian Genre, by Sara Baysinger


I was so excited when the subject of the evolution of the dystopian genre popped up as a blog topic for me to write about. For those who don’t know, dystopian is the opposite of utopian. While utopian is about a paradise-like government where everyone is equal and pretty much happy, dystopian is a government where everything is…not so perfect. There’s usually oppressive leadership, a large gap in class systems, and little-to-no freedom.

Most people think The Hunger Games when the dystopian genre is brought up, but this genre has been around long before we fell in love with Katniss.

The Giver by Lois Lowry was a big hit, published in 1993. 1984 by George Orwell was published in 1950, and just recently became the number one bestseller on Amazon when Trump was elected into office. Dozens of other dystopian books were written long before The Hunger Games, and you can find a list of some of them here.

However, we must pay Suzanne Collins her due. The Hunger Games brought the dystopian genre back with a bang, using a lot of influences from history. (Mainly, Ancient Rome.) Divergent by Veronica Roth was released shortly after, solidifying dystopia as a worthy genre. Other authors followed behind, all with their own creative ideas of what the future could potentially look like based on our current priorities as a society.

So where does my own dystopian series, Black Tiger, fit into all this?

A lot of people have likened Black Tiger to Divergent and The Hunger Games, and rightly so. But while I did borrow the idea of a mega city from Divergent, the oppressive government similar to The Hunger Games, and while I was heavily influenced by Tehereh Mafi’s writing style in Shatter Me, Black Tiger has certainly taken on a form of its own.

Setting:
The Community Garden is a fictional place close to my heart, mirroring the lifestyle I grew up with, while Frankfort mirrors the big city I moved to when I was in high school. Ember deals with the same fears, claustrophobia, and introductions to the new culture of city life that I did. I feel like I’ve taken my teenaged self and placed her in the Black Tiger world. Though I was never nearly as outspoken or stubborn as Ember, I certainly was hesitant to step into the spotlight like her.

Politics:
A large influence on Black Tiger from our own society was the politicians. I remember learning about the ungodly amount politicians get paid while they're in office—and keep getting paid long after they’re out of office—while others in this country are breaking their backs for minimum wage. This in itself is a form of dystopia to me, so I took it and magnified it. Hence, Black Tiger was born.

Heroine:
Unlike the action packed stories with strong heroine leads that a lot of dystopian books encompass, Black Tiger focuses more on character development, relationships, and a main lead who would rather remain under the radar than perform any risky heroic deeds. (Much to many reader’s dismay. Sorry!)

Religion:
Many bestselling dystopian books don’t talk about religion much, other than a brief mention of God. (Though there are more out there than you think.) While I don't see Black Tiger as overtly religious, I do approach God in an organic, natural way, using my own experiences with the Divine. To some this is a turn off, and understandably so. To others it’s what made them pick up the book. To me, I feel like we’ve all questioned God in one form or another at some point in our lives—whether we came to believe in something or not—and this was Ember’s journey.


So those are my thoughts on the evolution of the dystopian genre. What about you? What thoughts would you add or disagree with?