Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

My Dark Vanessa [review]

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell
Published by William Morrow on March 10, 2020
my rating: ★★★★★
Goodreads avg:
4.15 (as of 2020-04-20)
Spoiler-free review

Goodreads IndieBound | Author Website

Alternating between Vanessa’s present and her past, My Dark Vanessa juxtaposes memory and trauma with the breathless excitement of a teenage girl discovering the power her own body can wield. Thought-provoking and impossible to put down, this is a masterful portrayal of troubled adolescence and its repercussions that raises vital questions about agency, consent, complicity, and victimhood. Written with the haunting intimacy of The Girls and the creeping intensity of RoomMy Dark Vanessa is an era-defining novel that brilliantly captures and reflects the shifting cultural mores transforming our relationships and society itself.


Wow. So, I read this almost entirely in one sitting and was absolutely blown away by it. Yet another book that tackles the intricacies of abuse and how things aren’t always black & white. While as a reader it is easy to condemn Strane and even to see where Vanessa went “wrong,” the novel also delves into the impact of grooming and how it can impact one’s thought processes for life. It faces head-on the idea of agency in young women and why some people may opt to see themselves as something other than a victim. This is unbelievably compelling and unbelievably important and in lieu of a full review (that would just be me gushing), I’ll leave you with some of the lines that struck me most while reading this.

It’s important that you never feel coerced. That’s the only way I’ll be able to live with myself.

“Haven’t you always felt like an outsider, a misfit?” he asks. “I’ll bet for as long as you can remember, you were called mature for your age. Weren’t you?” I think back to third grade, how it felt to bring home a report card with a teacher’s note scribbled on the bottom: Vanessa is very advanced, seems like she’s eight years old going on thirty. I’m not sure I was ever really a kid at all.

Slowly guided into the fire–why is everyone so scared to admit how good that can feel? To be groomed is to be loved and handled like a precious, delicate thing.

Because if it isn’t a love story, then what is it?


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Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me [review]

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me by Mariko Tamaki & Rosemary Valero-O’Connell
Published by First Second on May 7, 2019
my rating: ★★★★★
Goodreads avg:
4.13 (as of 2020-04-18)
Spoiler-free review

Goodreads IndieBound 


This was an amazing graphic novel that absolutely blew me away. Similar to but lighter than In the Dream House, this does an incredible job at demonstrating that queer relationships can also be toxic and abusive, which is imperative for lgbtq youth to be aware of. I really loved Freddy’s character and her friend group, which felt so real and relatable. I just wish we had seen some more of her friends! Laura Dean clearly has no idea what she’s doing wrong, which I think is unfortunately often the way of some abusers. The art itself is absolutely stunning and I was blown away by it from the start. This is a really incredible book that I’ll absolutely be trying to get others to read.


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Rafe [review]

Rafe: A Buff Male Nanny (Loose Ends #1) by Rebekah Weatherspoon
Published on September 26, 2018
my rating: ★★.5
Goodreads avg:
3.81 (as of 2020-04-15)
Spoiler-free review

Goodreads IndieBound | Author Website


the heroine is absolutely great: a black woman who is a successful surgeon! the hero is great too: a tall, tattooed guy who loves kids! there is plenty of extremely nontoxic masculinity to be found and it’s really refreshing. the characters were also communicative adults who talked about their feelings and what they wanted! unfortunately, this book lacked a lot of what i look for in romance novels. namely, chemistry! i felt absolutely no chemistry between Rafe and Sloan, which meant i wasn’t super motivated with my reading. there also felt like there was a lot of filler that i found myself skimming over. the ending was so abrupt that i was taken aback by it. annnd a few places that could have used a bit more editing (but it’s really not too bad).

i’ll probably be recommending this book to others, but with the caveat that it’s not the best i’ve read.


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The Dare [review]

The Dare by Lauren Landish
Published January 31, 2020
my rating: ★★★
Goodreads avg:
3.93 (as of 2020-04-15)
Spoiler-free review

Goodreads | Author Website


this started off SO fun and i thought it would be 4-5 stars for me. i tore through the first 2/3 in one sitting. unfortunately, it turned into family drama and i got so bored that it took me days to get around to finishing it. not to mention the fact that everything going on was so far-fetched — which i wouldn’t have even minded if i was still having a good time reading it. also, the MC gets so slut-shamey about another woman and i hated that! i’d probably still recommend this, but it’s not going to be a favorite.


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Wrong [review]

Wrong (Wrong #1) by Jana Aston
Published by Rutherford Press on October 7, 2015
my rating: ★★★★
Goodreads avg:
3.92 (as of 2020-04-15)
Spoiler-free review

Goodreads |Author Website


there are a lot of… problematic elements to this, but if those don’t bother you then it’s a good read! super steamy, well-written, and the MC’s friends were a blast. i’d read the second book in the series but i think it’s a side relationship from this book that i had a loooot of issues with that i can’t personally overlook (namely, stalking! but haha don’t worry it’s cute). i’d read other works by Jana Aston, though!


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Disappearance at Devil’s Rock [review]

Disappearance at Devil’s Rock by Paul Tremblay
Published by William Morrow on March 14, 2017 (originally 2016)
my rating: ★★★.5
Goodreads avg:
3.58 (as of 2020-03-15)
Spoiler-free review

Goodreads IndieBound | Author Website

A family is shaken to its core after the mysterious disappearance of a teenage boy in this eerie tale, a blend of literary fiction, psychological suspense, and supernatural horror from the author of A Head Full of Ghosts.


Elizabeth sends her a list of groceries. As she types milk 1% and diet soda and 1 lb turkey and cheese and bread she wonders how it was she got here, to this particular moment; calmly texting an ordinary grocery list seconds after shutting off a national cable news show discussing the evils of her missing son.

This took me a bit to get into but ended up being quite thrilling. There were some very spooky bits and the “twist” (I suppose it could be called) was so disturbing it actually made me nauseous and I had to put down the book for a bit. This is an interesting combination of horror and thriller, and it’s hard to figure out which the book really is, so I’d classify it as both. I didn’t feel any of the characters besides Elizabeth were particularly compelling, but I did find the plot interesting and am glad I read it.


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Mini-Review Compilation #22

Gone at Midnight

disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for review consideration. All of the opinions presented below are my own.

I kept trying to push myself to pick this up, but just couldn’t press any further. The writing leaves a lot to be desired; I didn’t feel engaged with the content at any point. It really felt like the author was just regurgitating info they found online, and jumping from topic to topic without much of an idea of where they’re going.

There were several points at which I had to wonder how much independent research they had really done. One of these involved a quote from Elisa’s tumblr, where some thought she could have been commenting on graffiti from the roof. But I recognized it right away — it’s literally a quote from the Game of Thrones books. Could she have just been reading asoiaf? Yes! There’s no way for me to know whether the author knew this but either they intentionally left it out to make it look like Elisa had written it herself or they didn’t do the bare minimum of research it would take to realize this was a popular quote from a popular book series.

Regardless, I just didn’t feel like putting time in energy into reading a book I wasn’t at all enjoying.

Rating: DNF @ 15%

Face Off

pros:
-quick read
-mostly fun

cons:
-biphobic mc; assumed another wlw must be a lesbian and later said that she thought her ex (who she had dated for YEARS) who left her for a man was just a straight woman looking to experiment with “a dyke”
-the premise itself didn’t make that much sense to me (two people obviously into each other decide to fake date instead of just… dating)
-using an abusive stalker ex for drama
-mc has a homophobic teammate for ?? no reason, just more drama i guess even tho nothing comes of it
-editing issues (inconsistent timelines, mixed up names, etc)

Rating: ⭐️⭐️.5

The Outsider

This was a really great read, especially after I struggled so much with Mr. Mercedes. We run into just a couple of the same issues — namely, King’s obsession with Holly taking Lexapro (yes, Holly makes an appearance!). It was kind of funny to see Holly saying she absolutely could NOT drink because of her Lexapro when just about everyone I know who is on it drinks to no ill effect. Regardless, I thought this was a pretty clever way of doing the shapeshifter trope. As I began it, I thought “wait, how is he going to do this in a creative way?” but he really pulled it off. This was quite the spooky read and I had to put it down a few times while reading it alone at night. My only real complaint is that things kind of fell apart in the finale and I felt dissatisfied at the ending. Regardless, I highly recommend this but do be forewarned that there are major spoilers for the Bill Hodges trilogy. While it is not necessary to read the trilogy before this, do NOT read this first if you do plan to read the trilogy.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️


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Mini-Review Compilation #21

Foul is Fair

disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for review consideration. All of the opinions presented below are my own.

She looks at the bruises on my neck and the scratches across my face, but she doesn’t say anything.
So I point at my hair, and I say, This color. Know what it’s called?
She shakes her head: No.
I say, REVENGE.
She says, Good girl. Kill him.

This is the revenge story I’ve been dreaming about for ages and it was great. Apparently a Macbeth retelling (I am wholly unfamiliar with Macbeth), this was bloody as hell and pulled no punches. While ultimately an enjoyable read, both Jade and her coven were so cold and heartless that nothing about this felt realistic. Occasionally it felt a little repetitive and there were points where I just wanted to see where things would go. So while I would recommend this and am glad I read it, I’d also say it’s not necessarily a perfect read.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐.5

The Roanoke Girls

This was really not what I was expecting, although not to the book’s detriment. What I thought would be more paranormal YA turned out to be an adult thriller. This is a tense story about some pretty serious topics and is masterfully woven throughout multiple timelines. Sometimes I find this confusing, but I felt it was extremely clear when we were in the story and was able to keep each point in time separate in my mind. The characters are all distinct and pretty fully fleshed out. I liked how dubious Lane’s morals felt at times and thought her character was handled well overall. Overall this was a pretty compelling read whose only downfall was that it sometimes felt pretty far-fetched. I’d definitely recommend it to those who can handle the content.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Pucked (Pucked #1)

Picked this up hoping for a fun, distracting romance and ended up having to DNF. The main character is SO childish and I struggled with the immaturity a lot. I didn’t feel any chemistry between Violet and Alex and the writing also wasn’t great enough to warrant continuing. What really pushed me over the edge was the *incessant* slut-shaming. Violet never stops putting down other women, assuming the worst of them, and thinking them terrible for… wanting to sleep with hockey players. Take a chill pill and get over yourself.

Rating: DNF


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We Need to Talk About Kevin [review]

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
Published by Counterpoint on May 1, 2011 (originally 2003)
my rating: ★★★★
Goodreads avg:
4.07 (as of 2020-02-15)
Spoiler-free review

Goodreads IndieBound | Author Website

That neither nature nor nurture bears exclusive responsibility for a child’s character is self-evident. But generalizations about genes are likely to provide cold comfort if it’s your own child who just opened fire on his fellow algebra students and whose class photograph—with its unseemly grin—is shown on the evening news coast-to-coast.

If the question of who’s to blame for teenage atrocity intrigues news-watching voyeurs, it tortures our narrator, Eva Khatchadourian. Two years before the opening of the novel, her son, Kevin, murdered seven of his fellow high school students, a cafeteria worker, and the much-beloved teacher who had tried to befriend him. Because his sixteenth birthday arrived two days after the killings, he received a lenient sentence and is currently in a prison for young offenders in upstate New York.

In relating the story of Kevin’s upbringing, Eva addresses her estranged husband, Franklin, through a series of startingly direct letters. Fearing that her own shortcomings may have shaped what her son became, she confesses to a deep, long-standing ambivalence about both motherhood in general—and Kevin in particular. How much is her fault?

We Need To Talk About Kevin offers no explanations for why so many white, well-to-do adolescents—whether in Pearl, Paducah, Springfield, or Littleton—have gone nihilistically off the rails while growing up in the most prosperous country in history. Instead, Lionel Shriver tells a compelling, absorbing, and resonant story with an explosive, haunting ending. She considers motherhood, marriage, family, career—while framing these horrifying tableaus of teenage carnage as metaphors for the larger tragedy of a country where everything works, nobody starves, and anything can be bought but a sense of purpose.


Well, this was dark as hell. I think I had a general idea of what We Need to Talk About Kevin was about before going into it, but I had no idea the extent to which it would go. It’s formatted interestingly: a woman’s letters to her ex-husband exploring their past together, primarily her relationship with their son. Unfortunately this format didn’t work especially well with the writing style — it’s simply not believable to think someone would write letters like this — but ultimately did work extremely well in conveying what it was trying to convey.

I knew this about myself in advance, too: that I was just the sort of woman who had the capacity, however ghastly, to rue even so unretractable a matter as another person.

There was a lot to say about gender roles and expectations surrounding women, particularly the pressures to have children and how the experience is built up to be so much. There’s also some decent commentary on how women can be treated less like people and more like property once they become pregnant. The main character is clearly following the script she feels she should, rather than building the life she wants to. There’s also plenty of commentary on nature vs nurture that I won’t even begin to get into.

A boy is a dangerous animal.

If unlikeable characters are not your deal, you will not like this book. Eva herself is absolutely insufferable: she’s condescending and rude, and even though you root for her to a certain extent and see what she’s seeing, it’s easy to see her husband’s perspective as well. On the flip side, Franklin is a terrible husband. My internal monologue was saying “girl, dump him” the whole time I read this. He’s sexist, controlling, and completely stops seeing his wife as her own person. Please, do not even get me started on Kevin. It’s clear from the outset that he’s not a character we will like.

“You know, it is different when it’s yours. You can’t go home.” Indeed, my yearning to go home had grown recurrent, but was most intense when I was already there.

My biggest issue with this was that the first quarter or so felt dry as hell. While I understand why the slow buildup, I just kept waiting for something to happen. Once the ball gets rolling, though, this is pretty packed with underlying tension and had me waiting on the edge of my seat for what I knew was coming. There were a few moments where I actually brought my hand to my mouth in horror: not because Eva explicitly announced some terrible event, but because she hinted to it so subtly and clearly that it hit even harder. The subsequent descriptions weren’t nearly as impactful as the quiet reveals themselves.

Kevin was a shell game in which all three cups were empty.

I haven’t seen the movie so I can’t make a comparison, but this is one heavy and gripping piece of literature. I assume there’s no way the subtleties and introspective details of this novel could be translated to film, so I’m expecting a more surface-level story once I do watch the adaptation. Regardless, I definitely recommend this to those who feel they can work through the more dense literary fiction to get to the thriller within.


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Gideon the Ninth [review]

Gideon the Ninth (The Locked Tomb #1) by Tamsyn Muir
Published by Tor.com on September 10, 2019
my rating: ★★.5
Goodreads avg:
4.26 (as of 2020-02-11)
Spoiler-free review

Goodreads IndieBound | Author Website

Brought up by unfriendly, ossifying nuns, ancient retainers, and countless skeletons, Gideon is ready to abandon a life of servitude and an afterlife as a reanimated corpse. She packs up her sword, her shoes, and her dirty magazines, and prepares to launch her daring escape. But her childhood nemesis won’t set her free without a service.

Harrowhark Nonagesimus, Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House and bone witch extraordinaire, has been summoned into action. The Emperor has invited the heirs to each of his loyal Houses to a deadly trial of wits and skill. If Harrowhark succeeds she will become an immortal, all-powerful servant of the Resurrection, but no necromancer can ascend without their cavalier. Without Gideon’s sword, Harrow will fail, and the Ninth House will die.

Of course, some things are better left dead. 


“Don’t go down there solo. Don’t die in a bone. I am your creature, gloom mistress. I serve you with fidelity as big as a mountain, penumbral lady.”
Harrow’s eyes flickered open. “Stop.”
I am your sworn sword, night boss.”
“Fine,” said Harrow heavily.

No one is more disappointed than me that I didn’t love this, but there seems to be a pretty firm divide among my Goodreads friends. Some of them love it and some of them seem quite disappointed by it. I hate that I fell into the latter camp on this one. Part of it is probably that this just wasn’t the best time to read it; I just started grad school and have been massively distracted and stressed. But I’m not sure I would have loved this even if I had read it at the best of times.

Gideon is certainly a divisive character and you’ll probably either love her or hate her. She’s obnoxious, annoying, and honestly kind of endearing. It took me a while to warm up to her snark, which had me rolling my eyes at the start of the book but later had me smirking. She’s unapologetically gay as hell and wholly herself and I adore that. Harrow also took a while to grow on me, but I came to love her as well. Their scenes together had me dying after a bit.

The real trouble here for me was the enormous cast of characters. I could not for the life of me tell the necromancers and their cavaliers apart. It didn’t help that everyone was narratively referred to by like four or five different names. There’s a little guide in the front of the book, but that wasn’t much help to me and I would’ve had to take extensive notes had I wanted to really understand. Because of this I was lost so much of the time! I had no idea what the significance of so many events were in part because I had no idea who the hell was participating in each event. I would love certain scenes and feel sure my rating was creeping upward and then would be hit again with something that lost me and made me realize I was not having a great time reading it.

The world-building had me struggling as well. What are the other Houses up to? Where is the Emperor? Who is this big, giant war against? We are clearly seeing the tiniest bit of a giant universe that I know nothing about. I assume that’s in part because Gideon doesn’t know much — that’s why I didn’t have much of a problem with the lack of explanation around magic, which she just kind of knows exists but doesn’t know anything about — but clearly she knows enough to want to go fight in this war against… who?

I dunno y’all, I can easily see how people love this but it was decidedly not for me.


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