Review: Dream a Little Dream

Dream a Little Dream
Dream a Little Dream by Kerstin Gier
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**Thank you to Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group via NetGalley for providing me with a digital ARC copy of this novel for the purposes of review**

In all honesty, I was a little nervous going into this book — while Kerstin Gier’s ‘Precious Gems Trilogy’, which started with ‘Ruby Red’, is extremely popular, I had many, many issues with it. I kept feeling like it could have been one book as opposed to three and that the romance was very, very rushed. From “I can’t stand you!” to “I would (literally) die for you!” in the span of, what, a few days? A week? It was all too much, too soon. However, I will not deny that there was a lot of creativity involved in that trilogy — enough so, that when I saw another of Ms. Gier’s books was being translated into English, I went into it with good faith, and the hope I would like it better.

And she did. Again Ms. Gier’s creativity shines and, even better, she goes a step further and includes a wee bit of creepiness into her story. If there’s one thing I’ll object to, it’s the entire “new family” subplot. What kind of mother drags her two daughters halfway around the globe with the promise of a nice English countryside home to: I have a boyfriend (surprise!) and we’re moving into his home in London (surprise!) because I’m going to marry him (surprise!)?!? I find that rather far-fetched and that entire portion of the story upset me. Does it lend itself well to Ms. Gier’s brand of humour? Yes. It’s equal parts sarcastic and sweet, and thrives when in awkward circumstances. I just wished it hadn’t been because of this subplot.

However, the character voice of our protagonist, Liv, is a major step-up from the protagonist of the ‘Precious Gems’ books, and this is where Ms. Gier’s humour serves her best. Liv’s voice is fresh, distinct, and unique; I enjoyed reading her hilariously snarky internal dialogue, especially in relation to her soon-to-be step-brother Grayson and his cohorts: Arthur, Jasper, and Henry. Her constant, internal demand for logical answers was wonderful to see — and also the fact that she spends the majority of the novel trying to prove that what’s happening and what these boys believe isn’t real: she’s trying to prove a negative. Supremely difficult, but I like that she thought herself up to the challenge. It’s nice to see that in a character. In other words: girl has moxie.

Now, the boys. The boys, the boys, the boys. It’s rather a reverse harem here and, while there are definitely going to be echoes for fans of Maggie Steifvater’s Aglionby Academy Raven Boys, the little ‘Dream Club’ — as I took to calling them — are fun personality tropes. You’ve got your protective one (Grayson); jokester with a wild streak (Jasper); brooding one with a good heart (Henry); and the odd, enigmatic one (Arthur). I hope to see them develop further outside of these little boxes with the rest of the trilogy because the potential is 110% there.

The best parts of the novel come during the numerous dream sequences — which, brace yourself, easily slip between dream and nightmare without warning — and the book, while not finishing off on a cliffhanger, leaves you hungry for more. A definite recommendation for fans of paranormal fantasy.

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Review: Don’t Look Back

Don't Look Back
Don’t Look Back by Jennifer L. Armentrout
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

4.5/5**

I’ve done it: I’ve finally found that Jennifer L. Armentrout book that I liked. I should have known I was just reading in the wrong genre. For the uninitiated: Ms. Armentrout is probably best known for her YA paranormal romance novels. I know, I know…you’re already shaking your head. Me? Para-rom novels? No wonder I wasn’t enjoying anything. But I kept trying — I really wanted to like this author whom so many people on BookTube just raved about. And, now, I’ve finally done it.

I won this copy in one of Martina Boone’s many contests during her “Compulsion for Reading” lead-up to the publication of her own YA novel, COMPULSION — which is wicked fun, so give it a read — and it’s been sitting on my TBR shelf, staring at me ever since. Well, as it was a gloomy, rainy day, I figured it was the perfect time to whip on this thriller.

And it was SO MUCH FUN! Thrillers in general can be very hit-or-miss with me, but I found this book addictive. Did I call the mystery early on? Yeah, I got about 98% of it — I was off on a few details — but I didn’t really care. I got invested in Sam’s search for the truth and her shifting relationships with the people in her life. It was fast, fun, and a creepy ride. Everything I’d want a psychological thriller to be. I hope Ms. Armentrout writes more novels like this one, because I’d totally be on board for them.

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Review: The DUFF: Designated Ugly Fat Friend

The DUFF: Designated Ugly Fat Friend
The DUFF: Designated Ugly Fat Friend by Kody Keplinger
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

**Thank you to Hachette Children’s Books via NetGalley for a digital ARC of this novel**

So let’s just say I’d heard lots and lots about THE DUFF before I read it. I’d heard good things; I’d heard bad things; and I’d even heard lukewarm things. Hearing that much is pretty close to going in blind because it was, truly, a wide spectrum of opinion. Also: No, I have not seen the film adaptation, which I’ve heard is quite different from the novel anyways, so I see it as entirely irrelevant.

As with any book there are things I did and didn’t enjoy. If I enjoyed anything the most, it was how in command Bianca is of her own sexuality and body. She’s upfront about what she does and doesn’t want, and actually is the one to initiate — quite authoritatively — the sexual relationship she carries on with Wesley in this novel. It shouldn’t feel rare or like a novelty, but it kind of is. As for Bianca as a heroine? Let’s make something abundantly clear: there is a different between snarky and acidic. Bianca is acidic. She’s seemingly deliberately negative, acerbic, and derisive about almost everything in this novel — that does not for a likable heroine make. Now, do heroines have to be likable? No. But when they’re bitter about 99% of the people/places/things that take place during the course of the story, it makes them frustratingly annoying. I actually think I might have rather read a book about her friend Casey, who was one of the only characters that appeared to be even a hint of three-dimensional in this novel.

Also, let’s address the elephant in the room: slut-shaming. If there’s anything I had heard a lot about in relation to this novel, it was the topic of slut-shaming. There’s a lot of it in this book — every girl slut-shames just about every other girl character. It would seem startling except, well, this is an unfortunate aspect of the world in which we live: that degradation of women based on their sexual proclivities and activity. I won’t speak for high schoolers, no longer being one, but I can say that this is something that continues even beyond the world of high school. It happens in college; it happens after college. I’m twenty-three years old and can guarantee you I still hear girls slut-shaming each other at our age. It’s appalling. I’m not averse to this book tackling the topic, nor including it — I just wish it took a consistent stand on the issue.

This book is to slut-shaming what Rihanna’s song is to S&M — nothing. It throws it in there and in your face, but it doesn’t discuss it in any insightful way. It doesn’t say: I support this or I don’t support this. THE DUFF, to it’s credit, throws some things in there, but it’s inconsistent and contradictory. It’s like: only some people can be slut-shamed, others no way. As a reader, that’s very frustrating to me because I want the author to have an opinion, to take a stance. I don’t even need it to be a stance with which I agree — anything solid would be good!

Okay, now that we’ve finished this discussion, there are some things to enjoy about this book. For all her flaws, I cared about Bianca and wanted her to succeed. I wanted Wesley to show the kind of young man he was beyond the playboy exterior. And I wanted for everything to work out in the end.

This is the kind of book that divides people very strongly, and yet here I am on the fence about it. I say read it yourself and see what you think of it.

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Review: Beneath the Surface: Killer Whales, SeaWorld, and the Truth Beyond Blackfish

Beneath the Surface: Killer Whales, SeaWorld, and the Truth Beyond Blackfish
Beneath the Surface: Killer Whales, SeaWorld, and the Truth Beyond Blackfish by John Hargrove
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One does not have to have seen BLACKFISH, the acclaimed documentary on SeaWorld, to read and appreciate John Hargrove’s book. In simple, clear prose we are taken inside the world of killer whale trainers and the magnificent animals they worked with in captivity. It’s equal parts caustic and empathetic and, for those of us fascinated by the questions and issues posed in BLACKFISH, it’s a phenomenal additional read.

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Review: My Heart and Other Black Holes

My Heart and Other Black Holes
My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I got the chance to meet Jasmine Warga at NoVaTeen Book Fest ’15 and get my book signed — I had wanted to read this novel since people first started showing off ARCs, but waited on purchasing it until I was actually at the event. This does mean I went into the novel with some understanding as to the back-history of the story and Ms. Warga’s writing process. This, however, did not in any way affect my opinion of this novel.

This novel had me at its first paragraph:

“Music, especially classical music, especially Mozart’s Requiem Mass in D Minor, has kinetic energy. If you listen hard enough, you can hear the violin’s bow trembling above the strings, ready to ignite the notes. To set them in motion. And once the notes are in the air, they collide against one another. They spark. They burst.”

YES.
YES.

It’s rare that something grips me so quickly, but Aysel’s introduction via those six sentences spoke to me — they called to me and sucked me in. And they never let me go, even during the novel’s slower parts. What Ms. Warga is able to conjur with her descriptions of Aysel’s “sadness”, as she calls — depression, as I do — was so beautifully written, so unromantic, and at times too real and too close for me. I was sitting in the same room as two members of my family and had to fight not to openly cry. But believe you me, I wanted to. Anyone, ANYONE who has been depressed knows what Ms. Warga was describing through Aysel — knows exactly what it feels like: that aching, bloody scab at the centre of one’s chest.

That’s the beauty of literature: it is a safe environment where we can feel. Where we can experience all the emotion’s of the human condition, of our own condition, in a way that is not destructive and sometimes, just sometimes, can lead us on our own path of healing.

This book was beautiful. It was honest and bloody and raw. Sure, it wasn’t perfect, but that’s more than okay with me.

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Review: Poisonwell

Poisonwell
Poisonwell by Jeff Wheeler
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

**Thank you to 47North/Amazon Publishing via NetGalley for providing me a digital ARC of this novel for the purposes of review**

If the final installment of the Whispers from Mirrowen series shows me anything it’s this: thrilling action cannot replace dynamic characters. This has been my problem with the series from the very first novel. While I have rated this entire series a three out of five stars, that three has been tentative, based only upon Mr. Wheeler’s ability to write action sequences. The characters are the ultimate problem: they lack depth and, thus, I feel little-to-no connection to them. This makes the action all the more difficult to enjoy because if I’m not invested in the characters, why should I care if they live or die?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: characters don’t necessarily have to be likable, but they have to at the very least be interesting. I, personally, do not find these characters particularly interesting — to the point that I lose track of whom everyone is and their relationship to each other. This is coming from the person who can dictate out most of the houses of ASOIAF without a problem.

Is this book stronger than its predecessors? Yes. Absolutely. But it’s by a hair. Mr. Wheeler manages to pull out all the virtual stops on his action sequences, relentlessly juggernaut-ing his characters towards the novel’s finale. As a result, sure, there are a few surprises in the ending and I know some fans may not be entirely satisfied. I, myself, am simply pleased to be finished with the trilogy; any lingering questions I possessed were answered and that’s enough for me.

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