mediocre but entertaining— There’s Someone Inside Your House by Stephanie Perkins

There’s Someone Inside Your House by Stephanie Perkins – 3 stars – already released

Somewhat entertaining, a few great ideas that go underdeveloped, not much dramatic tension. Or like, any. It’s, uh, basically a contemporary where people die and every fifteen percent it gets really messed up.

// GOOD THINGS

♔ Perkins has stepped up her game on avoiding tropes, surprisingly? Makani is definitely not the stereotypical virginal blonde protagonist – she’s biracial, for one, she sort of hates herself, and she’s definitely not a virgin. There’s a balanced tone towards sex and it doesn’t become either a huge thing or a non-entity. Surprisingly rare balance, damn it.

♚ Makani’s character arc around no longer hating herself is kind of a brilliant idea. Execution was mixed, but man, good concept and perfect for the tone of the book. I wish her character arc had gotten more pagetime.

♔ This seems to be an unpopular opinion, but the kill scenes were viscerally terrifying in a really good way. A couple didn’t end in a very terrifying way, but they usually succeeded at giving me a good scare.

♚ The love interest, Ollie, is definitely sufficiently cute. And the romance between him and Makani was super cute. I love 3rd person pov romances.

♔ Everyone’s saying the killer’s motive sucked, and okay, it wasn’t amazing, but it fit with the theme of the book. It’s fine. Wouldn’t kill the book if not for the other bads.

// BAD THINGS

♔ You know what makes thrillers unsettling? A really terrifying killer reveal. You know what this did not have? A really terrifying killer reveal.

It really lacks suspense. The first half being more romancey could actually work in the book’s favor, with a fabulous buildup where you come to care for every character with the knowledge that things are about to get crazy in the back of your mind. But the second half? No, you can’t focus on romance anymore.

Makani’s character arc feels messy. Okay, there are two directions you could’ve gone with here. Direction one could’ve been making it something really terrible and having Makani as an antihero, the far creepier and more entertaining option. Unfortunately, Makani’s secret is really not that bad. This could still work with Perkins’ route; direction two would be focusing on her hatred for herself and writing a good character arc. But that’s not the focus either. It just ends up as quite a drab and uninteresting arc.

The writing. Okay, you cannot write like this:

“Memories aren’t reliable, anyway.” Makani wished that she could forget. In the darkest hours of the night, her own memory was keen and cruel.

This is just… so overdramatic?? And it was isolated, but it came across.

Tone problem. Huuuuuuuuuge tone problem. This reads like a contemporary but then people are also DYING. And it feels as if it could work but it really does not.

VERDICT: A decent book that could’ve been a lot better if it weren’t trying to play it safe like this. Make it darker, make it creepier, make life more unfair.

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girl murders rapist – The Hollow Girl by Hillary Monahan

The Hollow Girl by Hillary Monahan – October 10th 2017 – 3.5 stars

The Hollow Girl tells the story of a Romani girl who is the victim of a violent rape and sees a boy she likes killed. To save her friends, she goes on to extract one body parts from these boys, sometimes when they are alive and sometimes when they are not.

THINGS THIS NOVEL NAILS ON THE HEAD

—> Rape here is treated as a mortal sin, not because of the sexual element, but because of the violation it entails. The author treats this subject with care, and writes in an emotive way. Also, putting a trigger warning for rape in the author’s note was fantastic.

—> Monahan also infuses this story with good rep of Romani culture. I really appreciated the note at the front of the book to clarify her heritage. (It was just a really good note, okay?? I’ll move on to the actual book soon.) It’s clear that she knows what she’s talking about with her representation.

—> The protagonist, Bethan, has a great character arc filled with darkness. She’s a rich antihero who always manages to gain your sympathy, even while she’s tearing out someone’s eye.

THINGS THIS NOVEL FAILS AT

—> The writing style isn’t bad, but there’s too much telling and not enough showing. It’s not just the lack of showing, though; the author is far too concerned with pointing out how clever her writing is. There’s a moment where Gran tells a long story that’s clearly meant to parallel Bethan’s life, which would be awesome, but then the narrative outright states “this parallels my life.” This is a recurring pattern; the author will use a literary device well, and then call it out specifically as if it was hard to catch. This takes away the emotional impact and makes the book feel amateurish.

—> The Hollow Girl has huge pacing problems. The first 100 pages aren’t remotely brutal, but don’t have enough dramatic tension to lessen their boring nature. But the real pacing faults occur later on. There’s blood and rape and a thousand different plot points occurring and yet somehow it was boring. The plot didn’t feel driven; Bethan needs to extract five body parts in three days and yet she spends so much time sitting at home that this conflict loses its tension.

—> Adding on to that, it was hard to feel worried about timing during the finale when Bethan had wasted so much time earlier. It was an empty conflict. Another plot convenience really bothered me; Bethan had an opportunity to kill Silas earlier, and she didn’t, which made the final conflict lose much of its tension.

—> The ending isn’t nearly as much of a gut punch as I’d hoped. It sounds cheesy, but I’d hoped for Bethan to have some big emotional breakdown to end the book with a bang. That easily could have shot this to a four star. Unfortunately, the ending was plot-heavy and not character-heavy enough. In general, this book needed to pay more attention to Bethan’s internal conflict during the finale and less attention to the flimsy plot conflicts. With more focus on her emotional issues, the ending could’ve been a tearjerker.

Do I recommend this? If you like suspense or horror and want an emotional story, this book is a solid read. While The Hollow Girl had its debut-novel type issues, it’s clear that a lot of thought went into this novel and I’m excited to see what Monahan comes up with next.

things are messed up – This Darkness Mine by Mindy McGinnis

This Darkness Mine by Mindy McGinnis – 4 stars!! – releases October 10th

I don’t know if this is a book you can “review”. I feel like I’ll be spoiling you by saying a single thing. Besides, how can I describe these? How can I talk about some of the fucked up things that happened in this book?

I think there are two things you need to know about this book. First of all, it doesn’t depend on the reveal. There isn’t really one concrete reveal – rather, there are several that create a web of craziness.

The other thing you need to know is that this book is really messed up. There are points where I genuinely felt like my deepest fears were being unwound on a deep level, just to unsettle me. I don’t know if there’s just one element of this book that makes it so creepy and addicting, but what stood out to me was the writing. There’s a crisp quality to the prose that fits Sasha’s voice perfectly. I don’t even know how to explain how this book fucked with my mind.

The blurb is telling you antihero, but I don’t know if that’s an accurate description of Sasha. Sasha is a terrible person. But she’s a very well-written terrible person. She has this odd blend of sarcasm and genuine evil – I’d love her at one minute for her delicious inner monologue, then hate myself for ever enjoying such a terrible person as a character. It was really an experience.

I think what’s interesting about this book is how it echoes all those old classics about Some Privileged Asshole Acting Out. You know that genre? The one about really rich privileged men being asshats that somehow reads like tragedy porn and escapism at the same exact time? This Darkness Mine is like a more self-aware version of that genre. And I kind of love it. I think Mindy McGinnis is one of the most self-aware authors I’ve ever read – this book knows it’s unrealistic and makes up for it by being believable as fuck. We’ve all met people like Sasha, much as we’d like to pretend we haven’t.I think that’s what I’m going to take away from this book, in a way – the intense feeling of realism that somehow stayed around even when I tried to escape this book.

This book was weird and creepy and somehow exactly what I wanted. DEFINITELY pick it up if you’re into having your mind screwed with.

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gay murder theater – echo after echo by amy rose capetta

Echo After Echo by Amy Rose Capetta – releases October 10th – 4 stars

The thing I keep coming back to about Echo after Echo is the sheer power of the writing. Almost everything about this book is awesome, but the writing is stunning. It is “I will remember this for the rest of my life” stunning. I genuinely do not remember the last time I read a book written so beautifully. I wanted to highlight every other sentence but I didn’t want to put it down because it was so. fucking. engaging. I am going to read every single thing Amy Rose Capetta publishes for the rest of her life. You can’t stop me.

// LET’S BEGIN ANALYZING THIS MASTERPIECE

♔ OH MY GOD THE LEADS. Zara and Eli are both such well-developed and compelling characters. Zara is a surprisingly down-to-earth daydreamer desperately attached to her play. Eli is the more cynical of the two, with a passion for lighting and a deep love of the theater.

Also, quick note about diversity – our two leads are a chubby Jewish bi girl who states that she’s bi on the fucking page and a Puerto Rican lesbian with short dyed hair. Okay, okay, I just loved them both so much and I’m so happy about the rep being so good.

God, the romance??

Echo wants Ariston so quickly and so completely because she’s already fallen in love. She’s been hollowing out a place inside herself for years —and he fits.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how to make a fast-flowing romance work, and I think this book has given me the solution. Up until now, the only instaromance I’ve ever truly loved has been that of Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone. You know what those books have in common? They establish why these two characters could possibly fall so fast. Here, we explicitly see the loneliness of the romantic leads, how they both want someone in their lives. Instalove isn’t bad because it’s instant – it’s bad because it’s unbelievable.

And okay, yes, sometimes instalove is bad because it’s forced, but trust me – this was not forced. LET’S TALK ABOUT THAT STATUE SCENE. LET’S TALK ABOUT THAT LIGHTING SCENE. Zara and Eli have so much chemistry. There are so many tiny moments where you can feel the heart-arresting sensation of first love. The writing is just that vivid.

♔ I liked the And Then There Were None-esque whodunnit aspect. Echo after Echo builds up so many different characters that it’s hard to know where to turn for suspects. Yet in a strange way, you don’t want the culprit to be any of them. Not after the buildup. There’s Roscoe, the eccentric soundboard operator. There’s Etta, washed-up dame, and Carl, her first husband. There’s Kestrel, Zara’s bitter and mysterious roommate. There’s Meg, the assistant director, and Adrian, the star-power male lead. And of course, there’s the head of the whole show – Leopold, our mysterious director. I found all these characters super intriguing, and they certainly felt very developed for side characters.

Art. I can feel Capetta’s love for the theater world bleeding through the pages, and I am so freaking thankful for it. As a theater nerd myself, I’ve seldom felt the true joy and feeling of acting and performing conveyed so well.

♔ I touched on this a bit earlier, but I loved the parallels between the stage show and real life. The entire book just felt very meta and interesting due to all its symbolism. And thankfully, Capetta didn’t feel the need to throw it in your face!! I’ve read several YA books recently that felt the need to explicitly run the reader through every single moment of symbolism, and damn, am I glad this book avoided doing that very thing. I felt far more respected by the author as a result.

♚ I do have to say that the pacing varied. This is very much a slow-burn novel, and I have to say that I never felt that true desperation to finish I’d expected in the latter half. It’s not necessarily a bad thing – it just means more focus on character building – but it’s something I wish I could’ve known going in.

VERDICT: There’s so much I loved about this – the character arcs, the atmospheric writing, the theatrical aspects, the romance. God, it was just so good. I hope all of you get a chance to read this, because it is truly one of the year’s gems.

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arc review: The Tiger’s Watch by Julia Ember

The Tiger’s Watch by Julia Ember – 2 stars, DNF – releases August 22nd

I’m officially DNFing this out of frustration. This was a FAILED buddyread with Silv and Rin -links lead to their reviews. All of us DNFed which doesn’t seem like a great sign??

➽ The biggest issue here was the worldbuilding. The beginning of this book is incredibly frustrating. We are thrown into the middle of war with Tashi and their friend running away and it’s not explained… at all. I think Julia Ember wanted to avoid info-dumping and made up for it by explaining… nothing. That’s not a good solution. I can easily ignore info-dumping for two pages if it leads to some fantastic content later, but this… I want to say that I understood nothing about the war. I can’t care about something I feel nothing for.

➽ The entire concept and reasoning behind tiger bonding. I wanted the book to focus on this and I expected Tashi and their tiger would be the focus!! And yet… no. I was left misunderstanding the entire concept of tiger bonding and why anyone would want to give up half their lives to bond to an animal. How does it actually advantage Tashi?

➽ This book is also, as should be expected due to the 180-page length, very rushed. Yes, it’s a novella, and I’ve never been a fan of novellas. But I genuinely think Ember should market herself more as a writer of novellas than a writer of books. My expectations might’ve been adjusted and I think I would’ve enjoyed this a bit more.

➽ I will say that Tashi, our protagonist, was maybe what I liked most about this. They do have a lot of moments of being slightly idiotic. However, it bothered me way less than it sometimes does. I tend to heavily dislike too-stupid-to-live type characters, which maybe doesn’t reflect well on me. But somehow I still really liked them – their occasional naivety feels like a character trait more than authorial convenience, which is a decision I actually like.

➽ The nb rep also seemed pretty good so far!! I’m not nb and can’t specifically say whether it’s accurate, but it was done in a really casual way that I loved. I didn’t feel like Ember was trying to educate, which I love – the whole “let’s explain someone’s existence” talk that happens in so many books often feels almost out-of-place. It’s a part of Tashi’s character but also doesn’t define them.

➽ Unfortunately, they’re also stuck in this incredibly cringey love triangle. It’s one of those love triangles where there’s a bad boy and a good boy. And as is usual for these love triangles, you know who they’re meant to end up with from they’re beginning. Thankfully, it looks like Tashi is going to end up with the best friend instead of the evil commander – that’s definitely my preference in this type of love triangle. My question, then, is why does evil commander have to exist?

I was just ranting about this trope yesterday . Y’all have got to learn the difference between morally ambiguous love interests and love interests who read like they’re on the verge of physically abusing their partners for 90% of the book. Xian is terrifying. His relationship with Tashi is one of the most cringeworthy and creepy things I’ve read this year.

And as I mentioned above, even ignoring the “this-isn’t-enemies-to-lovers-it’s-just-creepy” thing, this relationship felt totally rushed. If they hadn’t gotten together in this book and the tension had been drawn out until halfway book two, this could’ve led to some delicioustension. But Tashi gets together with Xian really quickly. And of course, you can also tell that Tashi is going to end up with their best friend anyway. What’s the point? It’s written in this way like it’s meant to be somewhat creepy but also… sexy?? And I’m not feeling it at all.

VERDICT: Maybe the second half is better, but honestly, I’m not sure I want to find out. If you can get past the terrible romance and the confusing plot, Tashi’s character is fun and the possibility of a well-done friends-to-lovers trope is promising!! But for now, not so much.

gay feminist snow white – Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust

Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust – Releases September 5th – 4 stars

As many of you may know, I’m a huge fan of subersive retellings. A retelling focusing on Snow White and her stepmother always sounded fabulous to me, especially with feminist themes.

And, thank goodness, it didn’t disappoint. This is really all I want out of fantasy; developed characters, interesting subversions of done-before tropes, and sapphic girls.

In terms of retellings, this is one of the more imaginative ones I’ve read. I can’t really spoil how!! But really, the new elements added were so delightful and creative, yet stick to the spirit of the tale. With one exception, obviously, for Mina and Lynet’s relationshhip.

This book’s chief strength is the character work. Mina’s character arc is extremely well-written and developed. Her character isn’t so much morally ambiguous as troubled and self-hating but I found her combination of self-hatred and confidence so realistic.

Lynet isn’t quite as fabulous a character, but she’s still easy to connect to and fun to see on page. I like her inner strength and bravery.

There are two romantic relationships here, one of which occurs between two girls. Their relationship was cute and not instalovey, which is awesome, but I unfortunately wasn’t totally blown away. While they’re cute, it takes a lot of character work for me to really get invested. The secondary relationship actually enticed me more, probably because I liked Mina more.

It’s not a new favorite book, sadly; despite my love for the characters, I found the actual plotline slightly underwhelming. I wanted something more, something darker. There’s not enough worldbuilding or real intrigue for my taste. This book might’ve been able to get deeper with a full series. Standalones just can’t get much deeper than this.

VERDICT: An interesting and engaging retelling of Snow White; definitely recommended for any retelling fans looking for something different.

arc review: the new voices of fantasy anthology

The New Voices of Fantasy – 3 stars – releases August 8th 2017

I love anthologies because I get to review each story as a separate entity.

While I’ll be mentioning thoughts on each story separately, I would like to say a few words about the collection as a whole. First of all, this is more speculative fiction than fantasy. Barely any of these take place in a different world, and barely any have standard plots. Instead, with a few exceptions, most are brief ruminations on a certain topic. I have to admit, I found that element fairly boring. Many of these started fantastically and ended just blah.

However, I did find a few FANTASTIC stories in here. I’m an especially big fan of the weird-but-badass Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers by Alyssa Wong, the eerie Jackalope Wives by Ursula Vernon, the probably-going-to-be-polarizing Tiger Baby by JY Yang, and the emotional & feminist The Husband Stitch by Carmen Maria Machado. If you’re looking for a place to read a few of my fav stories from this anthology, I’d recommend checking out Melanie’s review, in which she added links for every single short story she could find so you can read a few of my favs for free!!. This was so much extra effort and I appreciated it so much. If you want to check out her blog and follow her because she’s fantastic, she’s here!!

♔ Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers by Alyssa Wong – ★★★★★
This one is basically terrifying. A girl uses Tinder to find dates and feed off their gross thoughts about her body. Yet on one date, she feasts off a murderer and becomes addicted. There’s also a maybe-romance between her and her best friend. I adored this story, although I felt that the end fizzled a little. The writing and atmosphere is pitch-perfect, I adored the characters… just great. Probably my favorite of all the stories.
You can read this here.

♔ Selkie Stories are for Losers by Sofia Samatar – ★★★
This follows– um, I’m not quite sure, because this really didn’t feel resolved or completed. I liked the writing and the atmosphere, but the execution of the storyline was mediocre. Also appreciate that both of the first two stories were both a little gay.

♔ Tornado’s Siren by Brooke Bolander – ★★★
This follows a girl in love with a tornado. It’s… weird. I love the idea, but I didn’t emotionally connect with anything here. The magical realism feel is nice, at least.

♔ Left the Century to Sit Unmoved by Sarah Pinsker – ★★★★
This is a slice-of-life about people living near a pond in their small town. I LOVED the beginning. Absolutely adored the writing, loved the themes, was so excited to see what the solution is. I thought this would blow my mind. It unfortunately didn’t. These open endings have got to go.

♔ A Kiss with Teeth by Max Gladstone – ★★★
It’s a coming of age story, but with a really old vampire instead of a teen. I was honestly kind of surprised I enjoyed this, after I found the beginning badly written and slightly stalker-ish. But this quickly turned into an interesting story about accepting faults in love. I especially loved reading about Vlad and Sarah’s little family.

♔ Jackalope Wives by Ursula Vernon – ★★★★★
This is a story about wanting what you can’t have and having what you can’t want. It’s… eerie. I feel like this will be polarizing, but I loved it. And yes, it is about jackalope wives. Go figure.

♔ The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees by E. Lily Yu – ★★★
I don’t think I understood this? The themes about human empowerment are clear, but there’s no thesis to it, I guess. It is very well-written.

♔ The Practical Witch’s Guide to Acquiring Real Estate by A. C. Wise – ★★
Meh. I think I have to agree with Melanie when I say this was kind of pointless. It’s a guide for witches building houses.

♔ The Tallest Doll in New York City by Maria Dahvana Headley – ★★★★
This was so weird but so creative and atmospheric. It follows a group of buildings that are dating. I said weird, don’t blame me. I don’t even know if I understood all of it; is it time neutral or something? Yet I ended the story with happiness rather than with a desire for more.

♔ The Haunting of Apollo A7LB by Hannu Rajaniemi – ★★★★
The first line of this story is freaking amazing; I actually planned to take a break from this collection until I saw the first line. And thankfully I really enjoyed this!! It’s a story of lost love and dreams. Be warned it’s far less creepy than its blurb.

♔ Here Be Dragons by Chris Tarry – ★★
This follows a man who is always leaving his parents to make money off townspeople via slaying fraudulent dragons. I thought this was going to be some story of redemption after being a terrible father, but it’s so… ugh. There’s this vibe of “women are the right parents for children and men pitching in is just a bonus” which… no. I kind of enjoyed the middle of this story, but the end ruined it for me by going back on all the potential for character development.

♔ The One They Took Before by Kelly Sandoval – ★★★
Maybe more of a 2.5, because I legitimately have no fucking clue what this is about. Nice writing though.

♔ Tiger Baby by JY Yang – ★★★★★
This was so weird, and yet here I am with your latest five-star review. Maybe a 4.5 in reality, but this fucked with my mind. This follows a girl who believes she is truly a tiger. The ending is just as odd as the rest, but I really enjoyed something about it. I’d like to analyze this one. I feel as if it will be quite hit-or-miss. And this will sound odd, but I appreciate the amount of stories in this collection with badass gay Asian girls as protagonists.

♔ The Duck by Ben Loory – ★★★
This follows a duck who falls in love with a rock. I know what you’re thinking – he’s weird. An odd duck, if you will. But truly, that’s the point. This story is truly about accepting your friends for who they are. It’s a sweet theme and a sweet story. Unfortunately, I found this a bit lacking. The themes lacked the depth of development I wanted, due to the ridiculously short length.

♔ Wing by Amal El-Mohtar – ★★★★
This is a story about how love should be accepting. Following a girl with a book around her neck, a girl with a secret, we see how love should come about. It’s quite short, but I enjoyed this a lot. There are some fabulous and quotable lines in here.

♔ The Philosophers by Adam Ehrlich Sachs – ★★★
This is a series of vignettes about fathers and sons. And no, there aren’t any girl characters. Go figure. The first story is about generations trying to communicate and bad translating methods. The second story is about recognizing parental faults and hats. The last story isn’t about fathers at all, it’s about creating paradoxes through assassinating your relatives. But it was probably my favorite of all these.

♔ My Time Among the Bridge Blowers by Eugene Fischer – ★★★★
This is a story about colonialism. Readers will be drawn to the themes and message of this, as well as the complex and intriguing worldbuilding. Why couldn’t this be a full book?

♔ The Husband Stitch by Carmen Maria Machado – ★★★★★
I read this earlier due to Melanie‘s awesome recommendation. This is a story about being consumed by men and losing your own agency. It’s a story about how much you can give before you break. And that’s all I’m really going to say about it. This is one you really have to experience on your own. One thing is clear, though; it’s worth the read. There were a few metaphors here I only understood on the second go due to sheer exhaustion, which is really upsetting – I feel like this would be my fave rather than my second fave otherwise.
You can read this story here.

♔ The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn by Usman T. Malik – ★
I’m going to be totally honest here – I hated this. It’s really well-written, and I’m sure many will appreciate it if they “get it”. But I could not get past the length. This takes up an entire 25% of the story collection. Twenty. Five. Percent. That’s not short. That’s a 75 page story. And it didn’t need to be so long!! This easily could’ve been twenty pages and fantastic, if a little confusing. Confusing short stories are fun and make you think. Confusing long stories are annoying. This was the latter. It’s an overwritten mess that keeps touching on cosmology but doesn’t make any sense.

Comment below if you had any similar thoughts on these stories, or different ones!!