Thursday, January 18, 2018

Book Review: The Vanishing Spark of Dusk by Sara Baysinger

The Vanishing Spark of Dusk 
by Sara Baysinger
Publication Date: January 8, 2018
Format: ARC E-Book, 366 Pages
Genres: Young Adult - Sci-Fi - Romance
Find it On: Amazon - Goodreads
My Rating: 

Synopsis:

Stand up.

When Lark is stolen from Earth to be a slave on the planet Tavdora, she’s determined to find her way back home to her family, no matter the cost. Placed in the household of a notorious slave trader, Lark quickly learns her best assets are her eyes and ears. And if she’s brave enough, her voice.

Be heard.

Kalen is the Tavdorian son of a slave trader and in line to inherit his father’s business. But his growing feelings for Lark, the new house slave who dares to speak of freedom, compel him to reveal his new plan for the slave ships returning to Earth—escape. Together, they just might spark a change that flares across the universe.

Fight back.


About the Author:

Sara Baysinger grew up in the heart of the Andes Mountains in Ecuador where she spent her childhood exploring uncharted lands and reading all things magical. She now lives among the endless cornfields of Indiana with her husband and two young children. Sara enjoys writing and reading anything out of the ordinary, and has a bad habit of zoning out at the most inopportune moments. She is currently considering seeking medical attention for her potentially life-threatening coffee addiction.

Website / GoodReads / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

My Review:

I received an ARC from the author in exchange for an honest review.

This is the fourth book I've received for review from Sara and let me tell you, it's always a pleasure to pick up her work!

The Vanishing Spark of Dusk did a 180 from her other series, a dystopian, and dove into hard core Sci-Fi. The main character, Lark, is a human stolen from Earth by a race of aliens who have systematically enslaved humanity. Lark's home in what was Indiana is one of the last known strongholds of "free" humans on Earth. Headstrong, desperate for freedom, and determined to see her terminally ill mother again, Lark does whatever it takes to escape her captors - even if her life of "enslavement" doesn't seem all that terrible.

Jumping in from that synopsis, I do think it's important to note that this story walks a very fine line of apologism. Is a person from a culture built upon slavery ever forgivable, even if they themselves fight for abolition? If they are improving the lives of individual slaves, fighting to change the system, or even literally freeing people, can they ever be truly absolved while they are still benefitting from the system they oppose? That's a real deep moral can of worms, and I'm not entirely sure I share the opinions this book presents, but I'm proceeding with this review without getting deeper into that analysis.

I love the characters. Lark is an engaging protagonist because she's brave, outspoken, etc., all the things you'd expect from a strong female protagonist. But more than these traits, the most important thing about her is her compassion and hope. It is these strengths of character that get her from point a to b in the story, and they're such essential human qualities that it's really easy to relate to her as a reader.

Kalen's a little harder to talk about without getting into my disclaimer above, but he's well-writen, for sure. The fine line he treads between his role as the son of a merchant empire and his own moral standards makes for interesting plot and character development. The cool thing about him is that I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop somehow, but instead of him doing something awful, or him falling into a trope I was dreading, he would surprise me with true actual dedication to being a good person. By the end of the book, I was much more understanding of Lark's feelings towards him than I thought I would be.

Honestly, the coolest part of this book is its handling of sexuality. When you start venturing into other worlds with alien cultures, I always roll my eyes at how many human prejudices are built into completely foreign cultures. Kalen's culture is largely polyamorous, but it's not disgustingly sexualized. Like, I didn't feel like I was reading some weird pseudo-erotica, as much as sex was mentioned. Also! Consent. Was. Important. A+++ to you, Sara, for creating such a great world with that built in. There was also queer rep in some supporting characters, so extra kudos.

The plot itself unfolded much in the way I expected, and honestly, sometimes things came too easily to Lark. I would have personally enjoyed feeling more danger for her situation (she gains favor and privileges in her new situation real fast, with very minimal resistance, or even fear on her end). But the reason this was so binge-worthy was the characters. For such a dark topic, it was amazing how so many characters would surprise you with their humanity. What a refreshing twist for this genre!
 

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday!

Top 10 Bookish Resolutions/Goals for 2018

1. Read 75 books. I've set my Goodreads Reading Challenge to 75 books - if I hit it, that will be a new record for me! The last three years, I've set it to 50 and hit around 65. I can squeeze 10 more books out of this year, right?

2. Write. More. Reviews. I don't know what my review-to-ignore percentage is, and I really don't think I want to. Even if they're short, I want to try much harder to publish reviews for everything I read.

3. Keep my bookshelves pretty. As of January, I'm living in a new apartment, and we furnished an entire wall with a beautiful new bookcase. I even left room for expansion! It's in our living room instead of tucked away in a book corner, so I want it to stay all pretty and picturesque.

4. Bookstagram! I love my Bookstagram to pieces, but I let it fall by the wayside when I moved with my in-laws for a while. With this new place I have no excuse to not keep it up.

5. Plan the books I buy. There are so many books I want to own and I just keep impulse buying books I end up hating! If I buy a book, I want it to be one I'll love (or at least one with a pretty cover!)

6. Read more #OwnVoices authors. I did fairly well with this last year, but there's always room for improvement. I want to continue with a focus on LGBTQIA+ literature, but I don't wish to participate in objectification or commodification of the subject.

7. Read more culturally diverse books. This is such a wide umbrella, but in doing my 2017 end of the year review, I realized I was awful at all aspects of this! Books with lead characters of color, books by authors of color, and books from countries other than my own need to be priorities in my reading this year!

8. Make more bookish friends. Sites like Goodreads and Bloglovin are so great for building book communities. There are a few users I find myself chatting with frequently, but I'd like to involve myself more with things like buddy reads and challenges to really be in the bookish community.

9. Read more classics and plays. I've never struggled with this, but in 2017 the only play I read was Angels in America - and it was also the oldest book I read! Who am I? Get me some Shakespeare and Austen, stat!

10. BLOG! I want to give this blog proper love and attention. Guest posts, interviews, topical discussions. I want Looseleaf Reviews to have a life beyond just reviews.

What are your goals for the year? Let me know in the comments, and wish me luck with mine!

Weekly feature courtesy of That Artsy Reader Girl.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Book Review: The Black Notebook by Isabelle Snow

The Black Notebook 
by Isabelle Snow
Publication Date: January 1, 2018
Format: E-Book, 391 pages
Genres: Young Adult - Contemporary - Romance
Find it On: GoodReads - Amazon 
My Rating: 

Synopsis:

Trust is a funny thing isn’t it? It’s great to be trusted by your friends, but when practically the entire school - even the popular kids - are sharing their deepest, darkest secrets with you...that’s when things get messy.

Seven Warrilow has been keeping everybody’s secrets for as long as she can remember. She knows who likes who, who hates who, and all the hot gossip. But you know what? She’s sick of it! With all that classified info jumbling around in her head it’s hard to think straight, so Seven decides to write down every secret she’s ever been told into a small black notebook that she carries around for safekeeping. There, now she can breath a little.

OR NOT!? Things take a turn to Disasterville when her notebook goes missing, and when it finds it’s way into the hands of notorious prankster, Colin Stillman, the trouble really begins. Seven’s going to have to use everything she’s got to keep her classmates secrets safe, but Colin isn’t going to make that easy. After all...where would the fun be in that?


About the Author:



Isabelle Snow is a 20-year-old artist residing in the Philippines. Through her love of art and telling stories, she became a writer and has been writing since 2012. She is also an artist who specializes in graphic design and illustration, occasionally dabbling in animation. 

My Review:

I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Every so often, I'm pleasantly surprised by high-school romances. This is one of those rare books that melts my jaded, post-grad heart.

This book stood out to me because there was a plot behind the romantic tension. Seven has had a crush on Colin for ages without doing anything, but having her notebook of secrets stolen gives her a reason to essentially stalk him, daily chasing him down to get the precious book back. They start spending time together--a lot of time--so of course there's high school gossip and hi-jinks, not to mention their own sabotaging of each other that even drags their families into the mess.

But like I said, the why-don't-they-get-together-for-300-pages actually makes sense! They both doubt their own right to happiness and they spend so much time second guessing themselves and sacrificing for others. Yeah, it's a romance, but it's a coming of age story for both of them, too.

The book wasn't exactly deep, but it was fun, cute, and well-written. Seven was a great narrator while Colin was a dreamboat (a little *too* perfect to be real, but hey, an author can dream). All-in-all, a great novel for the author's debut!




Wednesday, January 10, 2018

My Year in Review 2017

I love GoodReads because it filters my right-brained reading into my left brained love of organization and statistics. Who doesn't love looking at the breakdowns of GR's Year in Books.

Because I take such meticulous notes of everything, I decided to go a step further and do my own Year in Review: 2017!

First, a breakdown of Books Read Per Month. Out of a total of 63 books:


Genres and Age Demographic. My genres are fairly consistent over the years (except I only read two plays this year!) and the bulk of my reading was YA.


Publication Year and Rating. I try to read a lot of books published within the year, which I kept with, but surprisingly, no classics this year! The earliest books were Angels in America, 1992 and 1993. As for rating, oh my, do I love to give 3 stars!


I had a good mix of Series vs. Stand Alone, but my Format was wildly skewed to E-Books! A lot were ARCs from publishers, and I also read a lot more indie books from Amazon this year. Here's a graph for my Sources, too.


Now let's talk diversity. For Gender of Author, I read mostly female authors, but The Gender of the Main Character was heavily skewed to men.


Well, I get an F for Cultural and Ethnic Diversity. That will have to be a goal for 2018.


The biggest one I was personally interested in was sexuality and gender identity diversity. I changed gears this year and made a huge focus on reviewing LGBTQIA+ literature. As anyone who tries to do this has probably realized, though, is that there is a huge propensity to exploitive literature written by (primarily) cis women about gay men. So here's my LGBTQIA+ Diversity and Own Voices breakdown, as well as a more detailed look into the LGBTQIA+ Spread.


Did anyone else do a 2017 reading breakdown? Post a link below! I'd love to compare!

Friday, January 5, 2018

My Favorite Books Released in 2017

1. All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater (Pub. October 10)

Any visitor to Bicho Raro, Colorado is likely to find a landscape of dark saints, forbidden love, scientific dreams, miracle-mad owls, estranged affections, one or two orphans, and a sky full of watchful desert stars.

At the heart of this place you will find the Soria family, who all have the ability to perform unusual miracles. And at the heart of this family are three cousins longing to change its future: Beatriz, the girl without feelings, who wants only to be free to examine her thoughts; Daniel, the Saint of Bicho Raro, who performs miracles for everyone but himself; and Joaquin, who spends his nights running a renegade radio station under the name Diablo Diablo.

They are all looking for a miracle. But the miracles of Bicho Raro are never quite what you expect.


2. They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera (Pub. September 5)

On September 5, a little after midnight, Death-Cast calls Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio to give them some bad news: They're going to die today. Mateo and Rufus are total strangers, but, for different reasons, they're both looking to make a new friend on their End Day. The good news: There's an app for that. It's called the Last Friend, and through it, Rufus and Mateo are about to meet up for one last great adventure and to live a lifetime in a single day.





3. A Wolf in Hunter's Clothing (The Sum of Its Parts #5) by E.M. Holloway (Pub. July 29)

Puck is hoping for a relaxing summer, but fate has other plans in mind. Every three years, the hunting community gathers to share information and discuss tactics and strategy. This year, Alex Durand is given the honor of hosting, which means that over a hundred hunters are descending on Arcadia Lake.







4. Lord of Shadows (The Dark Artifices #2) by Cassandra Clare (Pub. May 23)

A Shadowhunter’s life is bound by duty. Constrained by honor. The word of a Shadowhunter is a solemn pledge, and no vow is more sacred than the vow that binds parabatai, warrior partners—sworn to fight together, die together, but never to fall in love.

Emma Carstairs has learned that the love she shares with her parabatai, Julian Blackthorn, isn’t just forbidden—it could destroy them both. She knows she should run from Julian. But how can she when the Blackthorns are threatened by enemies on all sides?

Their only hope is the Black Volume of the Dead, a spell book of terrible power. Everyone wants it. Only the Blackthorns can find it. Spurred on by a dark bargain with the Seelie Queen, Emma; her best friend, Cristina; and Mark and Julian Blackthorn journey into the Courts of Faerie, where glittering revels hide bloody danger and no promise can be trusted. Meanwhile, rising tension between Shadowhunters and Downworlders has produced the Cohort, an extremist group of Shadowhunters dedicated to registering Downworlders and “unsuitable” Nephilim. They’ll do anything in their power to expose Julian’s secrets and take the Los Angeles Institute for their own.

When Downworlders turn against the Clave, a new threat rises in the form of the Lord of Shadows—the Unseelie King, who sends his greatest warriors to slaughter those with Blackthorn blood and seize the Black Volume. As dangers close in, Julian devises a risky scheme that depends on the cooperation of an unpredictable enemy. But success may come with a price he and Emma cannot even imagine, one that will bring with it a reckoning of blood that could have repercussions for everyone and everything they hold dear.

5. Avi Cantor Has Six Months to Live by Sacha Lamb (Pub. August 22)


Avi comes across these foreboding words scrawled on the bathroom mirror, but what do they mean? Is this a curse, a prediction, or a threat from Avi's emboldened bullies? And how to they know his real name when he hasn't even told his mother yet?

Then there is Ian—the cool new guy at school, who is suddenly paying attention to Avi. Ian is just like Avi, but he is also all sunshine, optimism, and magic. All the things that Avi doesn't know how to deal with...yet.

A romantic, #ownvoices fairy tale for trans boys.

Honorable Mentions: Mick & Michelle by Nina Rossing, Peter Darling by Austin Chant, The Gentlemen's Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Excerpt: I've Been Looking For You by Jennifer Dean



I’ve Been Looking for You
by Jennifer Dean
Publication Date: December 1st 2017
Genres: Contemporary, LGBTQ+, Young Adult

Synopsis:
Max: The new girl, the sarcastic asshole, the one who avoids getting attached to anyone.
Emily: The golden girl, the rule-abiding rebel, the one who unknowingly craves something more.
When fate brings the two girls together, life seemed to fall into place. Until their future plans are shattered the moment someone leaves drugs inside Max’s school locker.
While Max inevitably loses hope of escaping her new grim reality, Emily struggles to move on without the one she loves most. Especially when she’s the only one determined to find answers. But the closer Emily gets to discovering the truth, the harder it will be to stop her pursuit, even when it leads to dangerous consequences.


Author Bio:

Jennifer was studying History and English at the University of North Texas when she discovered a hidden passion for writing. She has since written two other Young Adult novels, Bound and Blinded. She lives in Seattle Washington.



GIVEAWAY!

Excerpt:

JUNE 20, 2015

Emily’s slender finger drew invisible letters onto the table, nodding along with my voice but unaware of her distracted mind. I sighed, my words fading with unimportance as I tilted my head and narrowed my eyes with a new focus.
“What’s wrong?”
“What do you mean,” Emily said, slightly confused as her eyes shifted up but her finger continued with the absentminded activity.
I stared back with a knowing look that caused her to shrug.
“I’m not perfect, you know. I’m allowed to have bad days. You’re in prison after all.”
“True,” I said with a nod. “But something tells me there’s a reason for this one.”
“Well,” Emily said, curling her finger into her palm as if it had been beckoned back by her hand to create a frustrated fist. “Since you know so much, maybe you can tell what my problem is.”
Her irritated tone was guarded by impatience, but the only thing that caught my attention was the sadness lingering within her eyes.
“Ems,” I said with a soft plea.
Emily dropped her shoulders in surrender as she closed her eyes for a few brief seconds as if it were a message for the anger to stand down. Once she had blinked them back open, it was clear the space of her former irritation had been replaced with sadness that had now just doubled its territory. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to snap.” Emily shook her head, speaking with a regretful tone. “Really. It’s nothing.”
My own irritation rose as my need to wrap my arms around her was prevented by the restrictions of the environment surrounding us.
“I know it’s not nothing,” I said, conveying with my stare that I would sit here, waiting for the rest of the visit, if I had to, until she told me what was bothering her.
Emily relented with a heavy sigh, causing me to lift the left side of my mouth into a victoriously crooked smirk.
“My roommate assignment came in the mail this morning.”
Her voice was low and filled with disappointment as her shoulders rose and dropped with another exaggerated sigh. Unable to resist any longer, I quickly looked over my shoulder, happy to see the officer in charge distracted by another inmate interaction, before I took the opportunity and reached across the table to place my hand over Emily’s.
“You knew that was inevitable,” I said while my thumb soothed the back of her hand with gentle strokes.
“I know,” Emily said pausing so that she could turn her hand over and grasp my fingers longingly with her own. “It’s just that the reality of it all is still hitting me in pieces. And seeing that this morning just—” Emily shook her head, looking down at our linked hands as if they could give her the strength she needed while she attempted to hold back the crack seeping into her voice. “It just reminded me of what we had lost.”
“I’m sorry,” I said feeling the uselessness of my words as soon as they left my lips.
I pulled my hand back, ignoring the way my fingers twitched—screaming in protest at the parting from one they were always meant to hold. Emily’s disappointment tightened my chest, leaving me desperate to take away the remainder of her pain, if only for a few minutes.
“What?” Emily said with a confused stare as she took in the false amusement now lifting my cheeks.
“Looks like you’ll be using a bra on the door after all,” I said.


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Monday, October 23, 2017

Book Review: Loving Lakyn by Charlotte Reagan

Loving Lakyn 
by Charlotte Reagan
Publication Date: November 20, 2017
Format: ARC E-Book
Genres: Young Adult - LGBTQIA
Find it On: Amazon
My Rating: 

Synopsis:

Lakyn James is sixteen years old and hating every second of it. He was supposed to be done, he'd tapped out. End of story, unsubscribe here. Suicide "attempt", they said. His intentions had no "attempt" in them. 

Re-entering normal life after ‘trying’ to take his own is weird. Especially when the world keeps going like it never happened. He still has to eat breakfast, go to school, and somehow convince a cute boy that he’s too damaged to date.

Scott White comes with his own problems, namely a habit of drinking too much and being indecisive about rather he wants in the closet, or out of it. Lakyn can’t stand him; he also can’t help smiling when Scott’s around.

Unfortunately - or fortunately - for Lakyn, life has decided to give him a second chance. He's not happy about it, but maybe, with a lot of hard work and a good therapist, he can learn to be. And maybe he can hold Scott’s hand at the same time.

No promises though.


About the Author:

Hey guys I'm Charlotte Reagan!

I'm 23 years old; born, raised, and currently residing in a small town in Texas with my cat. I've been writing pretty much all my life, even when I was too young to know how to put my stories down on paper. Once I started I couldn't seem to stop! I still have boxes of old notebooks filled with ideas and plots that I never finished. I write young adult romances focusing primarily on the LGBT+ community. I hope to have lighthearted stories that bring about hope, laughter, and maybe even a few tears. I can usually be found with my laptop or off traveling somewhere!

The LGBT+ Community and LGBT books have always been a source of great support for me and I hope that my books can maybe be there for someone else.


Goodreads / TwitterWebsite

My Review:

If you follow my reviews or blog, you’ve probably picked up on how much I utterly adored Just Juliet. Not only was the book amazing, but working with Charlotte for the launch was incredible as she is such a well spoken and lovely person. When I was approached about reading Loving Lakyn, I knew I wanted to be a part of the launch again, but here’s the thing: I don’t review books that include self-harm because it’s a hard subject for me. I’m in a better place than I was when I originally made a hard and fast rule for myself about that, and after sitting down and discussing it with my therapist, I sat down and binged this book in a day.

Here’s the thing I knew as soon as I picked up the book: it is a damn good book.

The title serves as a pretty good summary to the book: it’s about learning to love Lakyn. Lakyn is a high school boy with a hard life. He is gay in an unwelcoming family and an unwelcoming world. He suffers from mental illness and for many years, has no real support network for dealing with it. He handles it with self-harm and self-destruction. There are few people he cares about and the few he does have he pushes away.

Here’s the thing: Lakyn is not a pleasant character. He is throughly miserable and does miserable things, and while this book is about his happiness improving, there isn’t a magic fix-all that makes him as “happy” as he seems in Just Juliet. So that means that this book really is his inner dialogue, and this is about how far he gets in his recovery. That’s just so spot on to how it is, how different a person’s head is from the perception of those around them, and that was subtly and beautifully written.

The new perspective on Juliet was also fascinating. Aside from loving another glimpse into her character, she held an important place in this book in recognizing that you can’t save everyone. As a person who has been fighting depression for years, I can tell you, depression glasses make it a lot easier to see other depressed people. Lakyn spends so much time helping himself and helping Scott that, at a point, he realizes he has not been helping Juliet. It opens an interesting debate on whether he had a responsibility to help her just because he noticed her spiraling. Should he have said something? Should he have sat his uncle down and demanded help for Juliet? How could he have done that when he wasn’t even over the hurdle of asking for help himself? Without giving a direct answer or glorifying one way or the other, I think this painted a realistic relationship of one struggling person relating to another.

The love story itself is what really got me, though. Again, it’s spiraling person meets spiraling person. But Scott is a unique character in how deeply hidden his pain is. He’s a jock, he has friends, he has a stable life. But these things don’t protect your from prejudice, internal or external, and it really takes the whole book for Scott to unravel his struggles let alone overcome them. It’s also an exploration into the difference between being closeted or out, and the expectations of what acceptance will look like versus the reality of when it doesn’t. Without giving away the story, the romance plot is beautiful, and most importantly to me, it is not about them fixing each other. There is a point that Lakyn realizes how easy it is to fall down the rabbit hole of saying “Scott makes me happy and therefore Scott is the source of my happiness,” but there is a major hurdle he overcomes in recognizing that relationships cannot work with that kind of expectation. Not only does he not drag Scott down with that, but he also recovers with Scott’s *help* but not by pawning off his problems.


I’m ranting, I know I am, but this book is beautiful and deserves every star I can give it. I’m sorry this review is more of a discussion of the topics than the book itself, but I don’t think something this heavy deserves being reduced to a discussion of syntax and plot structure. It was a trip for me to read more so than a book usually is and I’m just so glad I had the emotional energy to tackle it.