Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

The Art of Escaping [review]

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The Art of Escaping by Erin Callahan
To be published by Amberjack Publishing on June 19, 2018
320 
pages.
my rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️
Goodreads avg: 
4.25 (as of 03/11/2018)
cw: statutory rape, ableism, homophobic slurs, alcoholism, depression

Spoiler-free Review of an eARC Provided by the Publisher via NetGalley

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author’s Website

Seventeen-year-old Mattie is hiding her obsession with Harry Houdini and Dorothy Dietrich from everyone, including her best friend Stella. When Stella takes off to boarding school for the summer, all of Mattie’s anxieties bubble to the surface, leaving her feeling adrift. To distract herself, she seeks out Miyu, the reclusive daughter of a world-renowned escape artist whose life and career were snuffed out by a tragic plane crash.

With Miyu’s help, Mattie secretly transforms herself into a burgeoning escapologist and performance artist. Away from the curious eyes of her peers, she thrives in her new world of lock picking, straitjackets, and aquarium escapes. But when Will, a popular varsity athlete from her high school, discovers her act at an underground venue, she fears that her double life is about to be exposed. But instead of outing her, Will tells Mattie something he’s never told anyone before and the two of them find out that not all secrets can remain secret forever.

Told through the perspectives of the witty main characters, this funny and fresh debut explores the power of stage personas and secret spaces, and speaks to the uncanny ways in which friendships transform us.

This ended up being a relatively cute contemporary read that I worked my way through pretty quickly. The writing was good, the plot itself was very original, and the characters were well-developed. I enjoyed it, but I didn’t love it, and I think that’s because I didn’t feel invested enough in the story itself. At no point did I feel any concern that things wouldn’t turn out okay.

Maybe I’m just too distanced from high school now, but Mattie’s problems just… didn’t feel like real problems to me. She’s training to be an escapologist — a death-defying badass — but she’s terrified that people will find out and post something mean about her on LifeScape (this world’s version of Facebook). I feel like a story that focused more around her struggling through the training itself and less around her fears of exposure would have been more compelling for me.

There were actually more things (Mattie’s training aside) that didn’t feel fully fleshed out to me. Near the beginning, Mattie randomly has a nightmare about… LifeScape. This struck me as bizarre, but what struck me as more bizarre was that these (allegedly regular) nightmares didn’t come up again. Sure, her fear of being ridiculed on LifeScape came up a few more times, but it seemed more like an afterthought than anything else. I’m hoping this ends up more fully developed or pulled altogether from the finished copy.

The implication that Mattie’s secret double life and Will’s sexuality were on a similar level of potential life-destruction also made me uncomfortable. This is touched upon, but placing them side-by-side and making Mattie’s problems the main focus really felt to me like it was inadvertently minimizing the very real issue of coming out. I don’t think this was intentional by the author at all, but that was still the impact that I personally felt.

It also really caught me off guard and really upset me that Mattie is constantly disgusted by her brother’s inability to do anything when the narrative makes it clear that he is depressed and an alcoholic. To be fair, the author did note that the final copy clears up some ableist language, but I’m not sure how thoroughly this part of the plot was changed — the implication is that Mattie thinks she can inspire her brother to pull himself together, or something? When it seems like he really needs help and everyone is just… letting him languish.

Besides that, there were a few other things that made me cringe. Mattie sleeps with her older brother’s drunken friend — but she was 16 or 17 at the time, and he was in his mid-twenties. She also has hella “not like other girl” vibes. I think it’s fine to be different and quirky, but this treads dangerously on “I’m better than other girls because I do alternative things” territory. There are a couple other things, but mentioning them would be spoilers and I’m going to avoid that for now.

Overall, it was a fun, enjoyable read, but I worry about some of the content and hope things were cleaned up for the final copy.

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(Blurb and cover courtesy of Goodreads.)

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Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

Unwifeable [review]

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Unwifeable by Mandy Stadtmiller
Published by Gallery Books on April 3, 2018
my rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️
Goodreads avg:
3.78 (as of 2018-05-29)
cw: alcoholism, drug use, sex, kink, statutory rape, incest, animal death

Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author’s Website

From the popular, “candid and bold, tender and tough” (Cheryl Strayed) dating columnist for New York magazine and the New York Post comes a whirlwind and “gutsy” (Courtney Love) memoir recounting countless failed romances and blackout nights, told with Mandy Stadtmiller’s unflinching candor and brilliant wit.

My story is not unique. Single girl comes to New York; New York eats her alive. But what does stand out is my discovery that you can essentially live a life that appears to be a textbook manual for everything one can do wrong to find love—and still find Mr. Right.

Mandy Stadtmiller came to Manhattan in 2005, newly divorced, thirty years old, with a job at the New York Post, ready to conquer the city and the industry in one fell swoop. Like a “real-life Carrie Bradshaw” (so called by Jenny McCarthy), she proceeded to chronicle her fearless attempts for nearly a decade in the Post, New York magazine, and xoJane.

But underneath the glitz and glamour of her new life, there is a darker side threatening to surface. She goes through countless failed high-profile hookups in the New York comedy and writing scene. There are soon too many nights she can’t remember, and the blind spots start to add up. She begins to realize that falling in love won’t fix her—she needs to fix herself first.

Unwifeable is a New York fairytale brought to life—Sex and the City on acid. With hysterical insight, unabashed sexuality, and unprecedented levels of raw, honest pain, Unwifeable is a “blisteringly candid” (Sarah Hepola, New York Times bestselling author of Blackout) book that you can’t help but respond and relate to—perfect for fans of Amy Schumer and Chelsea Handler.

This was a really difficult read for me. It felt like rubbernecking, like witnessing someone else’s painful life-changing crash and not looking away even though you know you should. This memoir was unbelievably candidly honest, peeling back the layers none of us want to see. It was awkward and filled with secondhand embarrassment, it was graphic and showy, I had no idea how to feel about it and I honestly still don’t.

I never played games at all with men. Ever. Unless the game was to act like the kind of nightmare who hysterically cries at the drop of a hat and replies on a man for all manner of self-validation, self-worth, and approval to fill that giant gaping hole inside.

This memoir details Mandy’s life in New York City and her experiences with alcoholism — and addiction of all kinds. It details her relationships with men, most of which crash and burn. It’s hard for me to evaluate how to feel about this, because I know in general people tend to be much harder on women when it comes to being frank about raunchy behavior. The thing is, I just don’t love reading about raunchy behavior.

As an adult, I can have all the alcohol I want, anytime I want. Which, when you have no boundaries, is a dangerous combination.

It would feel more like someone’s life journey if it weren’t for the incessant name dropping. She lists maybe every celebrity she’s ever had an encounter with, and makes sure to emphasize the particularly unsavory encounters. This makes it feel more showy than anything else and it’s hard to take her accounts more seriously than a continued cry for attention. I don’t know Mandy and I’m not going to pretend to know anything about Mandy, but she talks a lot about how oversharing in her writing has done her so much harm in her past, and I guess it’s hard for me to understand how this isn’t just a continuation of that.

Is it fun? I don’t know. Is self-harm fun? You be the judge.

Regardless, this is a pretty worthwhile read. Mandy is an incredibly good writer, and it’s easy to cruise through this book — if you don’t have to keep putting it down every time a particularly embarrassing scene pops up. I think a lot of good topics are discussed, I just wish there had been more of an emphasis on recovery than detailing every dirty encounter she ever had.

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(Blurb courtesy of Goodreads.)

Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

Borne [review]

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Borne by Jeff VanderMeer
Published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux on April 25, 2017
my rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️
Goodreads avg:
3.91 (as of 2018-05-26)

Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author’s Website

In a ruined, nameless city of the future, a woman named Rachel, who makes her living as a scavenger, finds a creature she names “Borne” entangled in the fur of Mord, a gigantic, despotic bear. Mord once prowled the corridors of the biotech organization known as the Company, which lies at the outskirts of the city, until he was experimented on, grew large, learned to fly and broke free. Driven insane by his torture at the Company, Mord terrorizes the city even as he provides sustenance for scavengers like Rachel.

At first, Borne looks like nothing at all—just a green lump that might be a Company discard. The Company, although severely damaged, is rumoured to still make creatures and send them to distant places that have not yet suffered Collapse.

Borne somehow reminds Rachel of the island nation of her birth, now long lost to rising seas. She feels an attachment she resents; attachments are traps, and in this world any weakness can kill you. Yet when she takes Borne to her subterranean sanctuary, the Balcony Cliffs, Rachel convinces her lover, Wick, not to render Borne down to raw genetic material for the drugs he sells—she cannot break that bond.

Wick is a special kind of supplier, because the drug dealers in the city don’t sell the usual things. They sell tiny creatures that can be swallowed or stuck in the ear, and that release powerful memories of other people’s happier times or pull out forgotten memories from the user’s own mind—or just produce beautiful visions that provide escape from the barren, craterous landscapes of the city.

Against his better judgment, out of affection for Rachel or perhaps some other impulse, Wick respects her decision. Rachel, meanwhile, despite her loyalty to Wick, knows he has kept secrets from her. Searching his apartment, she finds a burnt, unreadable journal titled “Mord,” a cryptic reference to the Magician (a rival drug dealer) and evidence that Wick has planned the layout of the Balcony Cliffs to match the blueprint of the Company building. What is he hiding? Why won’t he tell her about what happened when he worked for the Company?

I had started reading Borne for the Reddit /r/books book club. I had been intending to read it anyway, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity. I first read VanderMeer when I picked up Annihilation in January, and then Authority in March, and I really enjoyed his writing style. I was impressed by how he was able to pull readers into such bizarre environments and weave such strange tales.

The first half of the book went by pretty quickly for me. There wasn’t much of an introduction to the world itself and as a reader you found yourself thrust into it pretty quickly. It’s a confusing environment — decimated city, giant flying bear, you get the idea — and it’s difficult to orient yourself, but VanderMeer does a pretty good job of immersing you within it and revealing the context slowly.

The pacing was a bit off and I sort of lost interest in the second half of the book, which caused me to finish it a lot slower than I had intended. I became a bit too confused and it was hard to be invested in the story when I didn’t understand what was going on. I really didn’t understand the cause and effect of certain events, so I spent more time trying to figure out what had happened than I spent reacting to them emotionally.

The end pulled things together pretty well, but I had already been lost for long enough that it didn’t redeem things for me. I was disappointed because it didn’t really feel comparable to the first two thirds of the Southern Reach trilogy to me, but I think I also wasn’t in the mindspace to read this kind of book right now, so take that with a grain of salt.

I definitely recommend this for other lovers of VanderMeer and sci-fi lovers in general, but it just didn’t do it for me this time around.

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(Blurb and cover courtesy of Goodreads.)

Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

Mini-Review Compilation #6

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Emergency Contact
cw: alcoholism, racism, sexual assault, parental neglect.

This was exactly the kind of fluffy contemporary romance I’ve been needing in my life. Watching Penny and Sam’s romance blossom via text was heartwarming and anxiety-inducing and so, so relatable. I loved both of the MCs so much and literally could not put this book down. Unfortunately, I tore through it so fast that I didn’t really take enough notes for a proper review and all I can do is gush about how cute and wonderful it was. The writing was excellent and I enjoyed the plot. There were serious topics, which were all good to see and which were handed well, in my opinion. I loved loved loved this book and cannot recommend it enough if you’re looking for a cute NA contemporary.

Rating:⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Quiet Rumours: An Anarcha-Feminist Reader

I’m pretty new to anarchism and political theory in general, so this was my first foray into a book dedicated to the subject. I found it really informative and a good jumping-off point, it helped me to compile a list of further reading materials. It was sort of loosely put together and probably could have used a little more context for each of the essays/pamphlets and seemed a bit outdated, so that’s why I knocked off one star. I definitely plan to check out some more AK Press releases, though!

Rating:⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Gone Girl
cw sexual assault, domestic abuse, many many many things

I almost DNFed this, but everyone told me to hang in there. I hated both of the MCs, but things really picked up after a plot twist about halfway through. It was worth reading, but I still didn’t end up loving it. [SPOILERS] I can appreciate unlikable characters, but I can’t get behind anything that reinforces the stereotype that women lie about being raped and/or abused just to punish or get back at men. A small thing, but Amy also states as fact that she doesn’t get catcalled at all after the gains weight and there’s no way that would be true and is really telling of what the author thinks of fat women. [/SPOILERS] Yeah, anyway I didn’t really find this very special and thought it was fine.

Rating:⭐⭐⭐

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(All covers courtesy of Goodreads.)

Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

Awayland [review]

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Awayland by Ramona Ausubel
Published by Riverhead Books on March 6, 2018
224 
pages.
my rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️
Goodreads avg: 
3.89 (as of 2018-04-06)
cw: suicide, familial death, incest, pedophilia

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author’s Website

An inventive story collection that spans the globe as it explores love, childhood, and parenthood with an electric mix of humor and emotion.

Acclaimed for the grace, wit, and magic of her novels, Ramona Ausubel introduces us to a geography both fantastic and familiar in eleven new stories, some of them previously published in The New Yorker and The Paris Review. Elegantly structured, these stories span the globe and beyond, from small-town America and sunny Caribbean islands to the Arctic Ocean and the very gates of Heaven itself. And though some of the stories are steeped in mythology, they remain grounded in universal experiences: loss of identity, leaving home, parenthood, joy, and longing.

Crisscrossing the pages of Awayland are travelers and expats, shadows and ghosts. A girl watches as her homesick mother slowly dissolves into literal mist. The mayor of a small Midwestern town offers a strange prize, for stranger reasons, to the parents of any baby born on Lenin’s birthday. A chef bound for Mars begins an even more treacherous journey much closer to home. And a lonely heart searches for love online–never mind that he’s a Cyclops. 

With her signature tenderness, Ramona Ausubel applies a mapmaker’s eye to landscapes both real and imagined, all the while providing a keen guide to the wild, uncharted terrain of the human heart.

Where she had once been a precise oil painting, now she was a watercolor.

I’ve been looking forward to this for a while. I’ve been really into short story collections, particularly “””weird””” ones, for a while now and had Awayland on my TBR for a couple months prior to its release. I was actually stoked when I opened up my library copy and realized that Ramona had also written A Guide to Being Born, which has been on my TBR for ages and just looks gorgeous and great.

She grew up with the feeling that children must simply appear, unbidden. Who would want to make any more of them? It was as if they hatched in some dirty, neglected corner like so many baby cockroaches and the grown-ups had had no choice but to try to raise them.

This particular collection was sorted into four sections, each with its highs and lows. I had a couple I vibed with particularly strongly and others that didn’t really stand out to me. I’ll list the sections, stories, and individual ratings below:

I remember being sixteen and feeling so in love with my friends that it seemed like they would be enough to sustain me for the rest of time.

A. Bay of Hungers
You Can Find Love Now  ⭐⭐⭐
Fresh Water from the Sea  ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5
Template for a Proclamation to Save the Species  ⭐⭐⭐⭐

B. The Cape of Persistent Hope
Mother Land  ⭐⭐⭐
Departure Lounge  ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Remedy  ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

C. The Lonesome Flats
Club Zeus  ⭐⭐⭐
High Desert  ⭐⭐⭐
Heaven  ⭐⭐

D. The Dream Isles
The Animal Mummies Wish to Thank the Following  ⭐⭐
Do Not Save the Ferocious, Save the Tender  ⭐⭐

She was too tired now, too worn through to love anyone back.

My average rating was 3.32 stars, which I rounded down to 3. As you can see I had a few favorites toward the beginning but the second half fell a bit flat for me. I still recommend this book, particularly to lovers of literary fiction, and I’m looking forward to picking up more of Ramona’s work!

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(Cover and blurb courtesy of Goodreads.)

Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

The Sea Beast Takes a Lover [review]

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The Sea Beast Takes a Lover by Michael Andreasen
Expected publication by Dutton Books on February 27, 2018
240 pages.
my rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️
goodreads avg: 
3.95
cw: see review

Spoiler-free Review of an eARC provided by NetGalley.

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GoodreadsIndieBound 

Bewitching and playful, with its feet only slightly tethered to the world we know, The Sea Beast Takes a Lover explores hope, love, and loss across a series of surreal landscapes and wild metamorphoses. Just because Jenny was born without a head doesn’t mean she isn’t still annoying to her older brother, and just because the Man of the Future’s carefully planned extramarital affair ends in alien abduction and network fame doesn’t mean he can’t still pine for his absent wife. Romping through the fantastic with big-hearted ease, these stories cut to the core of what it means to navigate family, faith, and longing, whether in the form of a lovesick kraken slowly dragging a ship of sailors into the sea, a small town euthanizing its grandfathers in a time-honored ritual, or a third-grade field trip learning that time travel is even more wondrous–and more perilous–than they might imagine.

Andreasen’s stories are simultaneously daring and deeply familiar, unfolding in wildly inventive worlds that convey our common yearning for connection and understanding. With a captivating new voice from an incredible author, The Sea Beast Takes a Lover uses the supernatural and extraordinary to expose us at our most human.

From the instant I saw the cover, I knew I just HAD to read this book. It had already been on my TBR when I stumbled across it on Netgalley and slammed the request button reflexively. I love bizarro short stories, I love cephalopods, and I love anything with an octopus on the cover.

Unfortunately, these stories just didn’t mesh well with me. It wasn’t a bad read, it just wasn’t anything over-the-top outstanding. If you’re interested, I’d say give it a shot regardless. Michael Andreasen is a talented writer and I’m intrigued to see what else he comes out with!

Below I’ve rated and provided content warnings for each of the individual stories.

Our Fathers at Sea ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Bodies in Space ⭐️⭐️⭐️
The Sea Beast Takes a Lover ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
The King’s Teacups at Rest ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
He is the Rainstorm and the Sandstorm, Hallelujah, Hallelujah ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Rockabye, Rocketboy ⭐️⭐️ 
(cw porn, pedophilia, stalking)
The Saints in the Parlor ⭐️⭐️⭐️
Andy, Lord of Ruin ⭐️⭐️⭐️ 
(cw animal abuse/animal death)
Jenny ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 
(cw assault)
Rite of Baptism ⭐️⭐️
Blunderbuss ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Avg: 3.36 rounded down to 3

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(Covers and blurb courtesy of Goodreads.)

Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

Text Me When You Get Home [review]

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Text Me When You Get Home by Kayleen Schaefer
To be published by Dutton on February 6, 2018
288 
pages.
my rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️
Goodreads avg:
4.15

Spoiler-free review of an eARC provided by the publisher via NetGalley.

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author’s Website

From Girls to Parks and Recreation to Bridesmaids, the female friendship has taken an undeniable front seat in pop culture. Text Me When You Get Home is a personal and sociological perspective – and ultimately a celebration – of the evolution of the modern female friendship.

Kayleen Schaefer has experienced (and occasionally, narrowly survived) most every iteration of the modern female friendship. First there was the mean girl cliques of the ’90s; then the teenage friendships that revolved around constant discussion of romantic interests and which slowly morphed into Sex and the City spin-offs; the disheartening loneliness of “I’m not like other girls” friendships with only men; the discovery of a platonic soul mate; and finally, the overwhelming love of a supportive female squad (#squad).

And over the course of these friendships, Schaefer made a startling discovery: girls make the best friends. And she isn’t the only one to realize this. Through interviews with friends, mothers, authors, celebrities, businesswomen, doctors, screenwriters, and historians (a list that includes Judy Blume, Megan Abbott, The Fug Girls, and Kay Cannon), Schaefer shows a remarkable portrait of what female friendships can help modern women accomplish in their social, personal, and work lives.

A validation of female friendship unlike any that’s ever existed before, this book is a mix of historical research, the author’s own personal experience, and conversations about friendships across the country. Everything Schaefer uncovers leads to – and makes the case for – the eventual conclusion that these ties among women are making us (both as individuals and as society as a whole) stronger than ever before.

I was stoked when I saw this book on NetGalley, a feminist book about how important female friendships are? It was right up my alley. Unfortunately, I ended up being somewhat disappointed by the content. Overall, the book is well-written and makes a lot of important points. But these points are surrounded by a meandering narrative that ultimately seemed without purpose.

This is because women who say, “Text me when you get home,” aren’t just asking for reassurance that you’ve made it to your bed unharmed. It’s not only about safety. It’s about solidarity. It’s about knowing how unsettling it can feel when you’ve been surrounded by friends and then are suddenly by yourself again.

There were also a couple of points made that I didn’t agree with. First and foremost was the idea that a woman could not have a man as a best friend, “it just doesn’t work that way.” I disagree wholeheartedly. While I see where the author is coming from, I have several male best friends who I’m just as close to as my non-male best friends. There’s nothing I don’t feel comfortable sharing with them, and while they may not have gone through all the same experiences as me, they’re still my best friends.

For something so widely believed, the idea that girls are mean is relatively new.

The majority of the book is anecdotal, with references to pop culture. There’s a bit of historical research mixed in and very little, if any, current research. It’s the author talking about her friendships with women, and interviewing other women about their friendships. All these stories seem to come from a very limited subset of women — upper-middle class straight women. At least, that was the vibe I got. I didn’t mark down details about every single woman she interviewed, but this seemed to be the pattern I saw.

There were a few other things that gave me some serious “yikes” vibes. The author made jokes about strokes, and put in jokes about stalking quotes from an interviewee. There was also one line that really irritated me. The author is talking about a pair of best friends, one straight and one gay. She shared that the friends would go to gay bars together, which is fine, but that “Susanna liked being the only straight girl.” Being queer myself, I’m pretty sick of straight women co-opting gay spaces as their own and I found this inclusion completely unnecessary.

Additionally, the author shared that she didn’t really care about feminism at all until Trump was elected. I think this goes to show the kind of privilege she has lived with, and that she isn’t really qualified to speak for women at large. I was surprised that she even admitted to this, but I think that just means that she doesn’t see any issue with it.

I will note again that I am reading an unfinished copy, so it would be interesting to know if any of these things were left out of the final copy.

Overall, Text Me When You Get Home was an enjoyable read. It was nice reading about relationships between women, but I didn’t feel like I was learning anything. I would be interested in seeing a book written about relationships between women that goes more in depth than this one, and that discusses women from different backgrounds. I won’t tell anyone not to read this book, but I think it’s good to go into it not expecting it to be a gamechanger.

All quotes have been taken from an unfinished copy and may be changed prior to publication.

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(Cover and blurb courtesy of Goodreads.)

Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

Ready Player One [review]

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Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Published by Crown Publishers on August 16, 2011
374 
pages.
my rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️
Goodreads avg:
4.31
cw: transphobia

Spoiler-free Review 

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author’s Website

 

In the year 2045, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines, puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them. When Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade’s going to survive, he’ll have to win—and confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.

Obviously, Ready Player One is one of the most hyped books at the moment. While it was published in 2011, the movie releases in just a few short weeks. Since I’d never read it, I figured now was the perfect time to. I’ve seen many conflicting reviews from many people I trust, and wasn’t sure what to expect when going into it.

At the beginning, I found the story fun and endearing. The world Cline had created was interesting, as was the way OASIS had taken over as the both dominant means of interaction between people and the most common form of escapism. I found Wade (aka Parzival) to be a bit of a cringey, although fairly realistic, character and enjoyed becoming immersed in his day-to-day life.

Anyone with a penchant for 80s nostalgia will love the pop culture references in this book, as they hit hard and heavy. Even though a lot of the stuff referenced was over my head, I still enjoyed following Wade as he solved the puzzles — and I thought the DnD-related bits were great. There were also a lot of humorous moments peppered throughout the book, which were nice.

There were also some not-so-great aspects. For one, I felt very uncomfortable with a lot of the ways Wade spoke about and to his love interest. He joked about cyberstalking her, and actually did cyberstalk her, which I don’t consider to be a funny topic. During one conversation where they talk about how he only knows her through OASIS and has no idea what her real-life identity is, he makes a comment about how as long as she’s a “female human who hasn’t had a sex-change operation,” he still wants to date her. Glad to know transphobia is alive and well in 2045 (/sarcasm).

Avoiding specific spoilers, there is one point during which Wade puts the integrity of the hunt over the actual lives of actual human beings, which kind of ruins his integrity as an empathetic human being in my eyes. The second half of the book as a whole kind of made me lose interest. Things continually drop into Wade’s lap in increasingly unbelievable ways, until it hits a point where the stakes don’t really feel like they matter anymore. No matter how dire things become, as a reader you just kind of assume he’ll figure it out and don’t really care how, because the solution will just turn out to be absurd anyway. For me, it ruined any suspension of disbelief I had and was a large part of why this didn’t receive a higher rating from me.

Clearly Ready Player One is a much-beloved book with a large fanbase. I definitely think it was worth reading, and I definitely expect a lot of the people going into it to like it. It just didn’t hit expectations for me and really does read like a debut novel, particularly in the second half. I’m interested to see what Cline does in the future and will certainly pick up other books by him. If you think Ready Player One sounds like it’s in your wheelhouse, I would recommend you give it a shot.

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(Cover and blurb courtesy of Goodreads.)

Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

Oliver Loving [review]

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Oliver Loving by Stefan Merrill Block
To be published by Flatiron Books on January 16, 2018
400 
pages.
my rating: ⭐️⭐️.5
Goodreads avg: 
3.85
cw: school shootings, pedophilia, domestic abuse

Spoiler-free Review of an ARC provided by the publisher as part of a giveaway.

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author’s Website

​From a celebrated literary talent comes a brilliant, propulsive novel about family, the traumas and secrets that test our deepest bonds, and the stories that hold us together. 

One warm, West Texas November night, a shy boy named Oliver Loving joins his classmates at Bliss County Day School’s annual dance, hoping for a glimpse of the object of his unrequited affections, an enigmatic Junior named Rebekkah Sterling. But as the music plays, a troubled young man sneaks in through the school’s back door. The dire choices this man makes that evening —and the unspoken story he carries— will tear the town of Bliss, Texas apart.

Nearly ten years later, Oliver Loving still lies wordless and paralyzed at Crockett State Assisted Care Facility, the fate of his mind unclear. Orbiting the still point of Oliver’s hospital bed is a family transformed: Oliver’s mother, Eve, who keeps desperate vigil; Oliver’s brother, Charlie, who has fled for New York City only to discover he cannot escape the gravity of his shattered family; Oliver’s father, Jed, who tries to erase his memories with bourbon. And then there is Rebekkah Sterling, Oliver’s teenage love, who left Texas long ago and still refuses to speak about her own part in that tragic night. When a new medical test promises a key to unlock Oliver’s trapped mind, the town’s unanswered questions resurface with new urgency, as Oliver’s doctors and his family fight for a way for Oliver to finally communicate — and so also to tell the truth of what really happened that fateful night.

A moving meditation on the transformative power of grief and love, a slyly affectionate look at the idiosyncrasies of family, and an emotionally-charged page-turner, Oliver Loving is an extraordinarily original novel that ventures into the unknowable and returns with the most fundamental truths.​

Let me start off by saying: this is not a bad book. But I have put off writing this review for over a month now because I just didn’t like it at all. There are people out there who will probably love this book. Unfortunately, I just wasn’t one of them.

But you were a boy who had developed a nearly anaphylactic aversion to prolonged eye contact, and you looked away, gaped awkwardly up at the sky: a poor decision.

The Good: Stefan Merrill Block is an incredible writer. The writing in this book is just so lyrical, so beautiful. I had to stop to reread passages several times because they struck me just so. There’s even a queer character! Nice!

The tragedy of love, you had learned from ten years spent looking up at your mother, is that it is only possible to love perfectly a person who is lost to you…

Unfortunately, everything felt far too scattered for me. The book tried to cover a plethora of topics and in doing so, didn’t really pay justice to any of them. I didn’t find myself connecting to any of the characters, they all felt too flawed, in a way. Rebekkah felt like a cardboard cutout of a teenage girl. Oliver didn’t actually care about any of the bad things happening to her as long as he got to be the white knight that saved her. I also had an issue with the way assault victims were portrayed that I can’t really get into without spoiling anything.

So, for me, there was just too much bad to outweigh the good. If it sounds like something that would interest you, I think it’s worth a shot! But if you don’t find yourself enjoying it, I think it’s also worth DNFing.

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(Cover and blurb courtesy of Goodreads.)

Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

These Violent Delights [review]

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These Violent Delights by Victoria Namkung
Published by Griffith Moon on November 7, 2017
243 pages.
my rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️
goodreads avg:
3.77
cw: 
eating disorders, suicide, sexual assault, pedophilia

Spoiler-free Review of an eARC provided by NetGalley.

Goodreads IndieBound |  Author’s Website

At Windemere School for Girls, one of America’s elite private schools, Dr. Gregory Copeland is the beloved chair of the English Department. A married father with a penchant for romantic poetry—and impressionable teenage girls—he operates in plain sight for years, until one of his former students goes public with allegations of inappropriate conduct. With the help of an investigative journalist, and two additional Windemere alumnae who had relationships with Copeland as students, the unlikely quartet unites to take him down.

Set in modern-day Los Angeles, These Violent Delights is a literary exploration of the unyielding pressures and vulnerabilities that so many women and girls experience, and analyzes the ways in which our institutions and families fail to protect or defend us. A suspenseful and nuanced story told from multiple points of view, the novel examines themes of sexuality, trauma, revenge, and the American myth of liberty and justice for all.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when going into this book. I loved the cover and when I skimmed the blurb, it definitely seemed like something up my alley. While the book had several positive points, it was overall underwhelming for me and kind of fell in the middle of the road as far as enjoyment went.

Overall, the message in the book was great. It was extremely supportive of survivors from all over the spectrum — the MC often feels guilty and like her assault wasn’t “bad enough” and is quickly disagreed with by the other characters. I also like how all of the survivors were their own people, they had different experiences, different histories, and different reactions. It demonstrates that anyone can be a survivor and that there isn’t one “right way” to deal with things.

I felt like the writing itself could have used some more work. I didn’t feel emotionally connected to any of the characters, and so the book wasn’t as hard-hitting for me as it should have been. There was a romance that felt largely out-of-place to me and I wasn’t sure why it had been included. There was some stuff toward the end that I felt was mostly for the sake of shock value and that added very little to the story, for me anyway.

I wouldn’t steer anyone away from this book if they’re interested, but I also don’t see myself recommending it to anyone. I feel like there are better portrayals of assault survivors out there to read.

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(Cover and blurb courtesy of Goodreads.)