Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Review: If I Was Your Girl

If I Was Your Girl If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This one is the first of three diverse contemporaries I'll be reading in a row thanks to Aimal Farooq's recommendations. It's also the first book I've read with a trans girl lead, by a trans woman author, and while Russo admits that she's taken artistic-license liberties with her depiction of Amanda, it doesn't make the book any less readable.

If I Was Your Girl reminds me a tad bit of Simon Vs. because of its Georgia setting, but it's a less lighthearted and fluffy book. Like Simon, Amanda hides who she really is from her classmates, but unlike Simon, she's got very, very good reason, based on past experience, to stay closeted. Russo sprinkles in flashbacks to Amanda's past, when she was known as Andrew, to showcase the process of her transition, and also drops some hints about past traumas, but without getting heavily detailed about it.

As for the present-day story, Amanda makes friends in her new school very quickly, and also develops a quick mutual crush on the attractive boy-next-door type, Grant. Maybe a little too quick, easily accusable of insta-love, but hey, they're teenagers. Just yesterday, I presented an alternate version of a scene from my own book, focusing on my female lead's adolescent feelings, and my classmates agreed that even though the relationship involved was very nascent, it was realistic for Fionna to have unrealistic expectations. So, reading Amanda and Grant's relationship, I thought it was really sweet, and helped balance out the darker and more dangerous parts of the book very well.

The best part of this book, I think, was when Amanda not only made a bunch of Star Wars references - geeks runneth the world! - but also expressed the thought that her geeky tendencies could give away her having been assigned male at birth. Of course, geekdom is far from exclusive to guys - or, at least, it shouldn't be - but this moment, it reminded me a bit of Elliot Wake's Bad Boy, making the reader question gender identity and gender roles and gender stereotypes just as much as the narrator.

Meredith Russo's debut makes for a quick, bite-sized, but very addictive read.

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Sunday, January 29, 2017

Lunar New Year Book Tag

Where do I always go to find good book tags? Why, Joey's Thoughts and Afterthoughts blog, of course. Today's book tag comes in honor of the Lunar New Year celebration - The Year of the Rooster, the same sign under which I was born back in '93.


Without further ado, my friends, let's get started.


Hmm. Under the radar...underrated? I can think of a few, but perhaps none more so than the future bestsellers that are J.L. Pawley's Generation Icarus series. If, like me, you loved Maximum Ride back in the day - and if Piéra Forde reads this, I hope I pique her interest - you'll be absolutely enamored with Jess' action-packed, intense, gritty, and magnificently diverse sci-fi quartet. She's been working to get the books published professionally, and while some of us are a little bummed that she's had to change the titles (First Flight, the first book, can't have that same title because it's already been taken by Marvel Comics' adaptation of Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment - so the first book will soon be rereleased as Air Born), I can tell you I'm dying - DYING! to see the future-bestselling first editions of the new quartet in my collection. And, if you've been reading my Red Rain series, I can tell you that those books and Generation Icarus - all four books, from First Flight to Second Chance to Third Time Lucky to Final Stand - would pair very well.


I've got a ton of potential high-morals, high-ideals heroes and heroines to choose from, but I'm gonna go with one that kinda falls under the "rat" banner of "flying under the radar." I'm forever salty that The Lorien Legacies never got any film adaptations beyond its first book, I Am Number Four, but perhaps for no reason more than the fact that it's not until the second book, The Power of Six, that we meet Marina, Number Seven of the teenage refugees who represent the last of the alien Loric race. Appropriately named (due to her hydrokinetic and, in later books, cryokinetic powers - her abilities were perhaps the greatest secret influence on Alex and Gabe from Red Rain), Marina may not agree with the nuns in the Spanish convent she lives in on anything, but she's a tough cookie, desperate to join the fight even when her Cêpan, Adelina, shirks her duty and loses herself in the ways of the church. (Which helps me relate to her that much more - not because I ever lived in a convent or a Catholic school, but because I know how it feels to be held back by a parental figure.)


I don't think I read a lot of "issue" kind of books, do I? (Well, that'll start changing this year, especially now that The Hate U Give promises to be THE YA breakout hit of 2017.) But for this one, I'm going with Adam Silvera's debut masterpiece, More Happy Than Not. While not the first LGBTQ+-themed book I read - that honor goes to Alex London's Proxy - Silvera's expert blend of contemporary YA, general geekboyishness (Harry Potter and Amazing Spider-Man references FTW!), sci-fi social commentary, and weapons-grade feels was basically tailor-made for me, and a major milestone in my path towards greater self-acceptance. How so? My side project The Raptor Brotherhood may have begun as a loosely-based-on-the-Bat-Family thriller, but morphed into an #ownvoices story in which an in-universe More Happy movie helps my closeted bi MC figure himself out. (And then the memory-tampering happens because Blindspot is the other secret influence on that story...but spoilers, y'know.) Long story short, if I can't get Red Rain published soon, I've at least got a good fallback work in Raptor (or Analog Kids - I might just change the title, it's a work in progress yet), and I've got Silvera and his debut to thank for it. Whenever I finish the first draft, that is.


So many ships, so little time...and Cassie Clare, I think, does it better than few other YA authors out there. She only gets better at it over time, too. While I still staunchly ship Climon over Clace, I had a near-complete inability to choose Wessa over Jessa (ultimately I chose the latter), and now, with the third full-length Shadowhunters series in progress, Lady Midnight has given me the first OTP I've been on board with from the very get-go: Emma and Julian. Taking Clare's usual theme of forbidden love to its most logical extreme yet, the two young leads of The Dark Artifices are destined to destroy everyone's feels, drawing as they do on an infinite pool of sexual and romantic tension both.


Right in the titles (two of them, anyway) for this one - Victoria Aveyard with Red Queen, Glass Sword, and King's Cage. This series is pretty much either love-it-or-hate-it, especially among my mutuals, many of whom seem to enjoy poking holes in it, and especially at the character of Mare Barrow. But me, I'm here for the epic round of "spot what inspired this millennial writer," the postapocalyptic action (particularly in GS, which, I think, actually improves on RQ by dispensing with the Hunger Games-ish fantasy balls in a sci-fi setting and going instead for the Mockingjay all-out war a book earlier than you'd expect), and of course the game of getting infuriated when Maven, like the Darkling, DOES NOT BLOODY DIE. That cliffhanger on Glass Sword, in particular, still makes me want to throw the book through the goddamn wall, and since then I've used "Aveyardian" to describe similar cliffhangers in both of Sarah J. Maas' 2016 releases (but especially Empire of Storms.) Also, I've just noticed from laying out the covers that the titles' positions rise up and down not unlike my Red Rain covers. Coincidence?


Leigh Bardugo is quite a master at writing these kinds of characters - both bad manipulative and good manipulative within the Grishaverse. For the former category, we have the Darkling from the Grisha Trilogy. Unpopular opinion: I can't stand the Darkling, and he's the reason why I loathe the aforementioned Maven as much as I do - because Maven is basically the second coming of the Darkling. But you know what? When I first started reading Shadow and Bone, I liked him. I thought he was cool. And then I saw how power-hungry and manipulative he really was - kind of like a lot of modern-day political candidates, no? - and I spent the rest of Book 1, plus all of Siege and Storm and Ruin and Rising, dying to see him get dead immediately.

And then comes the sequel duology, Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom. This widely-beloved (for good reason) series boasts a good manipulative character - relatively speaking, of course, because Kaz Brekker is quite the anti-hero. But he's still lovable all the same, and I'm not entirely sure that's not because he can manipulate me as well as anyone else in-universe. (Hey, even though Jesper's my favorite for all the reasons, Kaz is what Elliot Wake would call "dapper af." Judge me.)


Joey's pick for this one was The Serpent King, and as much as I love that one (and I love how my sister, a Horse herself, is currently reading it for a school project, on my recommendation), I'm going to wait until later to copy him. Instead, I'm going to choose...okay, I'm having trouble picking here. But I think I'm going to go with Zac Brewer's The Blood Between Us. I remember thinking of this one as an espresso shot of a book - relatively short, but fast-paced and stimulating, and a hell of a blast to read, mostly because of the surprising relatability (to me, at least) of its protagonist. Adrien doesn't have a lot of friends, but he's got a wicked sharp sense of humor, top-notch musical taste (Panic! At The Disco and more), and he's pretty casually fluid in his sexual identity. Though I'm sure some readers might take issue with Adrien's disdain for labels (shared with his author, whose vlogs famously begin with, among other slogans, "labels are for soup cans"), it's a pretty important lesson to learn - that labels can be a source of both pride and pain. Hell, labels (and how I don't exactly fit most people's perceptions of what some labels should be) are a huge reason why it took me as long as I did to come out, and still haven't done so IRL.


I've got a lot of favorite cover arts - some of which I've already shown here, like the designs for The Lorien Legacies, Generation Icarus, Shadowhunters, and the Six of Crows series. (Gotta love that black-gold-and-red-blood combo on Crooked Kingdom, especially.) And there's also the evocative eyes on Shatter Me, the vintage photos of Miss Peregrine and her sequels, The Hunger Games' iconic mockingjays, and the Red Rising 'verse as well. And also my own Red Rain series, thanks to Sam Ayers, but I've shared those in other blog posts. So instead, I'm going with one of my all-time favorite series, and one of my all-time favorite cover designs - those of Veronica Roth's star-making stories, Divergent, Insurgent, Allegiant, and Four. Those covers are part of why I stan that series forever - the circular elemental motifs (fire, earth, water, and I guess the floating Ferris wheel sort of does air in addition to fire?), the brightly colored skies (almost RGB in reverse), the stylized faction symbols on the original trilogy (don't try and tell me the crashing wave on the Allegiant cover doesn't represent the Erudite eye!) These covers will always be one of the highlights of my collection, forever. Fight me on this.


Again, Joey made some very good choices for this one, acknowledging how good Leigh Bardugo is at writing comic relief (when she's not writing manipulative characters, that is.) Remember, Jesper's my favorite for all the reasons. But again, I'm not copying Joey. Yet. Instead, I'm going to go with Newt from The Maze Runner and its sequels (and prequel, The Fever Code, though not so much The Kill Order because that one focuses on a whole new set of heroes). But especially by the movie adaptations, 'cause I much prefer the movies. Thomas Sangster's performance as Newt is the main reason why, in my head, he's become the face of Gabe Snow. Dylan O'Brien and Ki Hong Lee as Thomas and Minho are no slouches either, especially not O'Brien, who's the King of Blooper Reels both on Teen Wolf and on The Maze Runner, and especially on The Scorch Trials (watch this gag reel to the end. You're welcome. Obviously.) And as for Minho, one reason I'm really dying to see The Death Cure next year is to see if they write in his "Dude, you almost cut my you-know-whats off!" scene (and Thomas' response, "Could've saved the world from future little Minhos.") Either they'll write that in, or it'll not show up at all like how Mockingjay, sadly, failed to include the "we saw Finnick Odair in his underwear" scene.


Ah yes...my sign. (I'm surprised how well the above traits describe me, but especially "ambitious.") Lots of 2017 releases qualify here. History Is All You Left Me, The Hate U Give, A Conjuring Of Light, Windwitch, Release (thanks to Joey - I literally didn't even know Patrick Ness was releasing another book until today!) The one I'm going with for this one, however, is The Love Interest by Cale Dietrich. It's such a wonderfully original and twisted idea for a thriller, promising an intelligent spin on all manner of YA tropes. And also, that cover art. Combining black, white, and red kinda went out with Twilight, but V.E. Schwab brought it back with A Darker Shade of Magic and its sequels, and Dietrich keeps a good thing going here. It helps that I saw it as part of a meme where some fanpersonish reader made it the Charmander of covers alongside the Bulbasaur of A Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue and the Squirtle of Silvera's History, and while I've kinda lost track of said meme, it's only made me look forward to The Love Interest that much more. (Charmander was my favorite of the Generation I starters, y'know.)

Aww yeah, doggies...cutest pets of all, yeah? And now, here's where Joey and I align in one of our choices. Harry Potter, all seven books, all eight movies and now Fantastic Beasts? This is my first fandom, and my most important. It's thanks to J.K. Rowling that I'm a writer - something I'm sure I have in common with just about every millennial on this list - and, at the very least, Cassie Clare too.


I don't normally buy books - most of my money goes into Starbucks, Panda Express mushroom chicken, and movie tickets. But one set of books I'm happy to have blown a nice chunk of change on is the first two installments of The Illuminae Files. Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff's collaborative effort yielded a highly unconventional first installment in Illuminae, one I still feel like I should've been an earlier adopter on - it took several months before it crossed my radar, and even longer before I finally read it. Shocking, considering how eye-catching its bright reddish-orange cover is. The exact opposite color, blue, adorns Gemina, but my feelings about Gemina are nowhere near the opposite of my feelings about Illuminae. I was about to simply wait for Gemina to come in at the library like I always do, but then I happened to catch, while shopping at Target, a signed copy of Gemina, and I couldn't help but splurge not only on that 600-plus-page brick, but also on Illuminae as well. 35 bucks, because it was Target and all, but no matter how much money I spent, it would've been an absolute necessity. And now I've all but guaranteed that whenever the as-yet-unnamed third and final entry in the trilogy hits shelves, well, I'll once again be buying Australian.

Whew...that was a long post to write. At least I taught myself a much-needed design tip for centering photos in my blog posts while getting this together.

If you wanna get in on this game yourselves, feel free, for I tag everyone who reads this!

Happy Lunar New Year, Pinecones!

Remember: Denis Leary is always watching. Always.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Review: A Book of Spirits and Thieves

A Book of Spirits and Thieves A Book of Spirits and Thieves by Morgan Rhodes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Taking a break in between Books 4 and 5 of Falling Kingdoms (despite a weapons-grade cliffhanger), I decided it was time I took a look at this half-urban fantasy, half-time-travel Outlander-style spinoff from Morgan Rhodes.

Not unlike its parent series, A Book of Spirits and Thieves is a fun and fast read, if a little bit too loaded with multiple storylines for its own good. Believe it or not, the sections set in Mytica are actually the weakest parts of the story, probably because I've already spent several books there and was a little more interested in how it related to the real world. But even this connection is overshadowed a bit by the interesting dynamic between Crys and Farrell - the former a girl struggling to understand the world she's been unexpectedly thrust into, and the latter a surprisingly complex semi-bad-boy who made me alternate wildly between love-him-and-hate-him. Usually depending on whose POV the story was in at the time.

My only real issue is that the book really seems to end quite abruptly, but of course that only whets my appetite for the sequel.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Review: Cross the Line

Cross the Line Cross the Line by James Patterson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I don't think I was really expecting an Alex Cross novel that would top last year's stellar, harrowing Cross Justice, or even the twisty BookShots novella Cross Kill. But still, to have a book that doesn't deliver nearly as much thrills coming off the heels of that tough act to follow, it's pretty disappointing. At least we get good family stories for the Crosses, always a plus, but the case that dominates this book is quite forgettable, and honestly, I feel like Alex Cross' dad, who was such an integral part of the previous book, got done dirty here with such a minimal role.

But it's Patterson, so I'm pretty much guaranteed to never stop reading his books.

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Monday, January 23, 2017

Review: Kill Switch

Kill Switch Kill Switch by Jonathan Maberry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Every horror writer has to dip their toe into the subzero chill of the Cthulhu Mythos pool sometime, and Jonathan Maberry's latest Joe Ledger novel is one of the finest Cthulhu-inspired stories I've seen yet. Loaded for bear with paranormal terror, Fringe-y trips into bizarre dreamworlds where only gods should dwell, apocalyptic thinkers hoping and praying to end the world on their terms, and Joe Ledger having to run all over the place and kick all the ass, it's classic Maberry in every sense of the word. Perhaps it's a little less harrowing than the psychological horror show of Predator One, but getting Lovecraftian is never not needed (shoot me for the double negative, I don't care), and even as the world falls into its own real-life horror show, this Joe Ledger book serves as a great 500-plus-page escape.

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