A DNF Round-up{9}

A DNF Round-up{9}

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DNF Round-Up is a feature in which I talk about my latest books I marked as did-not-finish and reflect upon why they didn’t work for me.

1. Scarlett Undercover by Jennifer Latham

 Scarlett Undercover

source: I received an advanced reader’s copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affected my final opinion of the work.
Where I stopped: 36%

Summary:

A voice-driven mystery perfect for fans of Veronica Mars.

Meet Scarlett, a smart, sarcastic, kick-butt, Muslim American heroine, ready to take on crime in her hometown of Las Almas. When a new case finds the private eye caught up in a centuries-old battle of evil genies and ancient curses, Scarlett discovers that her own family secrets may have more to do with the situation than she thinks — and that cracking the case could lead to solving her father’s murder.

Jennifer Latham delivers a compelling story and a character to remember in this one-of-a-kind debut novel.

Why I DNF-ed:

Man, this one makes me so sad. I was so excited for this book because diversity + mystery? It sounded wonderful! And for some readers, it probably will be, but I wasn’t one of them. I had two main issues that kept me from really getting into this one. First, what I read of this book read really young for YA, but the protagonist is an older teen(actually, I’m not sure if we’ve ever told her age, but that was definitely the impression I got). This could be great for readers who want to read on the younger side of YA, but it just didn’t jive for me.

My second issue was with the voice. Whenever I begin to consider putting a book aside, most of the time I do a cursory glance over the current reviews on Goodreads and see if anything sways me one way or the other. So many reviewers brought up how vibrant the voice was and how they loved it, but I could never really get into it. I also felt like nothing had really happened when I stopped more than a quarter of the way through. This book does has a strong voice, though, and the characterization seemed great from what I could tell. Just not my thing, sadly.

2. Vanished: When Lightning Strikes & Code Name Cassandra

Vanished

source: Bought. I think. Several years ago.
Where I stopped: page 45

Summary:

A gift…or a curse?

Jessica Mastriani has never liked attention. All she wants is to make it to high school graduation like any ordinary girl. But when Jess is struck by lightning, she becomes anything but ordinary: suddenly she has the ability to locate missing children.

Now Jess is getting noticed in all the wrong ways and by all the wrong people. The media is obsessed with her and her story. The FBI is tapping her phone. And what’s going on with sexy senior Rob? Soon Jess learns the hard way that not everyone who is lost wants to be found….

With no one to trust, it’s up to Jess to decide what to do with her new power—before it’s decided for her.

Why I DNF-ed:

This is a bind-up of two of Meg Cabot’s books previously published under a pen name. I was a bit skeptical, but I decided to give these books a try. As far as I can tell, the earliest publication date of the first book, When Lightning Strikes, was published in 2001, and I don’t think the book has aged well. What I read has a very ’90s feel(which yes, I realize 2001 is not the ’90s, but it’s pretty close). The main character’s best friend uses “gay” as an insult twice within three pages(the main character does sorta reflect on this internally, but more about how in that particular incident it doesn’t really work rather than the insult in general). I know it’s a product of it’s time & all that, but eh. Then a page latter the main character gets into “I’m not like other girls” mode(and not because she’s been struck by lightning, which I would accept, but because of all those “girly” things that are seen as lesser). It also kinda read like a Buffy episode, which. . . I mean, that can be a pretty high bar.

3. The Symptoms of My Insanity by Mindy Raf

Symptoms of my Insanity

source: Bought at library sale
Where I stopped: early. Page 25, I think.

Summary:

 When you’re a hypochondriac, there are a million different things that could be wrong with you, but for Izzy, focusing on what could be wrong might be keeping her from dealing with what’s really wrong.

I almost raised my hand, but what would I say? “Mr. Bayer, may I please be excused? I’m not totally positive, but I think I might have cancer.” No way. Then everyone at school would know, and they would treat me differently, and I would be known as “Izzy, that poor girl who diagnosed herself with breast cancer during biology.”

But Izzy’s sense of humor can only get her so far when suddenly her best friend appears to have undergone a personality transplant, her mother’s health takes a turn for the worse, and her beautiful maybe-boyfriend is going all hot and cold. Izzy thinks she’s preparing for the worst-case scenario, but when the worst-case scenario actually hits, it’s a different story altogether—and there’s no tidy list of symptoms to help her through the insanity.

Why I DNF-ed:

Here is a fact about me: it’s tough to make me laugh. I have high standards for my humor. One time at a parent-teacher conference, a teacher told my dad that “I know my joke is good when I make Stormy laugh”. Everyone in my immediate family uses me as a standard for when a joke or comment is really, really funny. So you can see how this book, which is suppose to be funny and portrayal the awkwardness of adolescence, had a tough hill to climb. It started off promisingly enough with a bra fitting. I mean, that’s awkward, right? Especially when you’re in high school and developing so quickly and rapidly. Like, I’ve been there. It is SO. AWKWARD.  Then I read the second chapter and I could tell that promising beginning aside, this book and I were not going to jive. The voice felt like it was trying to hard, and I knew there was no way I was going to make it through without rolling my eyes multiple times.

 

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Book Review: Anything Could Happen by Will Walton

Book Review: Anything Could Happen by Will Walton

Anything Could Happen

by Will Walton

Anything Could Happen

Expected Publication Date: May 26, 2015
Length: 288 pages
Publisher: Scholastic

Obtained Via: I received an advanced reader’s copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affected my final opinion of the work.
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Tretch lives in a very small town where everybody’s in everybody else’s business. Which makes it hard for him to be in love with his straight best friend. For his part, Matt is completely oblivious to the way Tretch feels – and Tretch can’t tell whether that makes it better or worse.

The problem with living a lie is that the lie can slowly become your life. For Tretch, the problem isn’t just with Matt. His family has no idea who he really is and what he’s really thinking. The girl at the local bookstore has no clue how off-base her crush on him is. And the guy at school who’s a thorn in Tretch’s side doesn’t realize how close to the truth he’s hitting.

Tretch has spent a lot of time dancing alone in his room, but now he’s got to step outside his comfort zone and into the wider world. Because like love, a true self can rarely be contained.

ANYTHING COULD HAPPEN is a poignant, hard-hitting exploration of love and friendship, a provocative debut that shows that sometimes we have to let things fall apart before we can make them whole again.


mythoughts

Maybe a sitcom about my life. About a kid growing up in a small town, figuring out he’s got a crush on his best guy friend, figuring it out while he’s in church, no less. I wonder if that would even make it on TV. Wonder if anyone would want to know about a story like that. It would be sad but not any more than it had to be. I mean, my life isn’t sad. My life is good, with some sad, hard things scattered around it.

Anything Could Happen is a sweet little book about Tretch Farm and his unrequited crush on his best friend. When I started reading this book, I was immediately enamored with the characters in Tretch’s world. The story takes place mostly over winter break during Tretch’s freshman year of high school. It’s definitely on the younger side of YA, which is not something I usually enjoy reading, but I thought it worked well for this story. There was something so charming about it all, from the small town bookstore Tretch frequents to his grandparent’s farm to his family, even when the story itself was bittersweet.

Tretch himself is definitely a charming and loveable main character. I think most readers can relate to the feeling of an unrequited crush and remember the pain of it, even when you might be further along in your life and have more perspective to go with that type of heartbreak. What I love about Tretch, though, was that he was endearing while still being painfully awkward at times. He has difficulty navigating his relationships with his friends at times in small, subtle ways, which I thought was so on-point. Sometimes in life relationships of any kind blow up in our faces, but it’s more likely the mistakes we make when interacting with others are small and things we might not think about in five years, but in the moment they feel so huge and important.

I also thought Anything Could Happen with great secondary characters. I understood why Tretch had a crush on Matt, and I liked that while Matt overall was a great character, he wasn’t held up on a pedestal as is so often the case when characters in YA books have crushes. Matt is often kind, but he’s just as often thoughtless. He’s still learning how to navigate life as well. I very much enjoyed the additions of Amy, a girl Matt had a crush on, and Lana, a girl who had a crush on Tretch. Despite the intermingling various crushes between the four of the characters, it never felt too dramatic or intense. It just felt real. The families were also great, and totally included more of the types of families I’d love to see more of in YA. They weren’t super prevalent, but I enjoyed the additions of Matt’s dads and Tretch’s grandparents.

Anything Could Happen is a character-driven novel if there ever was one, meaning there’s not a whole lot of plot development so to speak. It works, because the book is so short, but more than anything, this is a glimpse into a short period of time in one boy’s life and his feelings at the time. It’s often a little bittersweet, but it’s mostly hopeful. It deals with an unrequited crush, but it’s not angst-filled at all. It’s the kind of book you finish and you just have the sense that the characters you’ve grown to love are going to be better than fine.

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Anything Could Happen is a sweet character-driven book. It’s hopefully while being honest and I enjoyed spending a few hours getting to know the characters.  4/5 cupcakes.

 

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4 Stars

Book Review: The Ruining by Anna Collomore

Book Review: The Ruining by Anna Collomore

The Ruining

by Anna Collomore

The Ruining

Original Publication Date: February 7, 2013
Length: 336 pages
Publisher: Razorbill

Obtained Via: Bought
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thestory

Annie Phillips is thrilled to leave her past behind and begin a shiny new life on Belvedere Island, as a nanny for the picture – perfect Cohen family. In no time at all, she falls in love with the Cohens, especially with Libby, the beautiful young matriarch of the family. Life is better than she ever imagined. She even finds romance with the boy next door.All too soon cracks appear in Annie’s seemingly perfect world. She’s blamed for mistakes she doesn’t remember making. Her bedroom door comes unhinged, and she feels like she’s always being watched. Libby, who once felt like a big sister, is suddenly cold and unforgiving. As she struggles to keep up with the demands of her new life, Annie’s fear gives way to frightening hallucinations. Is she tumbling into madness, or is something sinister at play?

mythoughts

Psychological thrillers, especially YA female POV psychological thrillers, are often some of my favorite books. There’s just something about digging down deep into people and what they’re capable of that intrigues me like nothing else. I hadn’t heard a lot of buzz around The Ruining, which is part of what inspired me in the first place. Let me tell you, that was $3 at the used book store well spent.

The Ruining follows the story of Annie, a girl from a poverty-stricken family in Detroit. She’s been admitted to college in California, and to pay for it she finds a gig as a nanny for the wealthy Cohen family. It feels perfect at first, especially since Libby, the mother, seems to take a shining to her. Soon, however, it’s like living in a different world and Annie’s not sure if the Cohens are taking advantage of her or if she is legitimately losing her sanity. The descent into madness is well-portrayed and kept me turning the pages like nothing else.

Collomore did an excellent job in portraying Annie as an isolated, slightly scared eighteen-year-old girl. Annie has gone out on her own to get away from her stepdad, which is commendable, but it also means she has literally no one to turn to. She’s on the opposite side of the country and floundering without a support system. As her job as a nanny becomes more and more bizarre, it’s not like Annie has the option to leave without losing everything. Without the job at the Cohen’s, Annie can’t afford school at all, but even with it she’s barely able to pass her classes. That portrayal of helplessness and “I’ll do anything to stay” was what really struck me.

The main question of The Ruining becomes: Is Annie losing her mind, or is Libby toying with her? Even though I had a strong guess, there were multiple passages that made me change my mind. I did see the big reveal coming early on, though. This happens 90% of the time I read a psychological thriller, so I’m used to it, but I’m always searching for that elusive book where I really am taken by surprise. That being said, I think guessing the twist ruined my enjoyment only slightly, because the much more interesting part of the book was trying to figure out how unreliable Annie’s narration really was.

The romance in this one is fairly predictable, but there’s some interesting moments. I liked how Owen, the love interest, was often a connection to the outside world for Annie, but yet he still wasn’t always enough to tether her to reality in the face of the strange family that was the Cohen. For me, that made it all the more eerie. Owen’s such a normal, boy-next-door type that it just served to show the reader how not normal Annie’s situation was, and just how much she was isolated.

The Ruining had such potential to be a 5-star book. It didn’t quite get there in the end, because of a few things in the last few chapters that made me raise my eyebrows, but overall I thought it was still an excellent psychological thriller.

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 If pyschological thrillers are your thing, I definitely recommend picking up The Ruining. It’s fantastically creepy. While it had a few rough spots here and there(it could have used just a little more polishing, I think), it’s well worth a read. 4/5 cupcakes.

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Tuesday Tunes (4)

Tuesday Tunes (4)

Tuesday Tunes is a feature I do whenever I decide to skip on Top Ten Tuesday, and, as you may guess, it’s pretty self-explanatory. I just like sharing what I’ve been listening to lately.

Tuesday Tunes

 

St Jude by Florence + The Machine

I think this might actually be my favorite Florence song, actually. It’s so atmospheric.

Stay Gold by First Aid Kit

I’m actually not a huge fan of all of First Aid Kit’s music–it’s really touch-and-go–but this one is an A+ for me. There’s just something about it that makes me want to listen to it carefully EVERY time I hear it.

 

Swoon by Emily Wolfe

I’m not even sure how to describe this song, and I love it. It makes me think of hazy days.

 

We Are in Love by Cider Sky

Cider Sky is quickly becoming one of my favorites, and this is just such a happy song. It’s also really well done, and more than once I’ve grabbed my large headphones and just listened to it over & over.

 

Wait and See by Monogem

I’ve put pretty much all of Monogem’s stuff on my monthly playlist for May, but this is definitely my favorite. It always gets me in a writing mood, too, because it’s a great song for my WIP.


LET’S CHAT: What have been your tunes lately?

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Book Review: An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

Book Review: An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

An Ember in the Ashes

by Sabaa Tahir

An Ember in the Ashes

Original Publication Date: April 28, 2015
Length: 453 pages
Obtained Via: Bought
Publisher:
Razorbill
Sold as standalone, potential series
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Laia is a slave.
Elias is a soldier.
Neither is free.

Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.

It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.

But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.

There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.

mythoughts

Several bloggers I followed loved this book, but I’m going to be upfront and say that not only did I not get the hype, it’s been a long time since I remember having so many issues with a book that made me see red. After reading this book, I went on a frenzy of link-gathering, and trust me, I plan on sharing.

So, An Ember in the Ashes. It’s a pretty basic story, plot-wise. The two point of view characters are Laia and Elias. Laia is a Scholar, a group of people oppressed by the Martial Empire that overpowered the scholars before the start of the story. When the book begins, Laia’s brother is captured by the Martial Empire, and so she joins the Scholar resistance movement and goes undercover as a spy, in the position of a slave, for a powerful figure in the empire. Elias has just completed the Martial training school at the beginning of the book and is tasked to become one of four Aspirants, or potential emperors, that have to undergo a series of task to show themselves worthy to rule. Their paths, naturally, intersect, and from the there the story is supposedly born.

The plot was the best part of An Ember in the Ashes. It was compelling and kept me reading more than anything else. Laia and Elias lacked a certain spark that made me care about either of them, but I will grudgingly admit that they were complex characters with understandable motivations and desires. The beginning moments of romance between them felt lackluster, but I understood where they were coming from.

I’d say that there are love triangles, but none of the characters managed to convince me of their affections, so it mostly flew under my radar. Laia and Elias both toy with the idea of love interest besides each other(Elias more so–his is a pretty big deal, plot-wise. Laia’s is much smaller), but it mostly just left me thinking: “meh”.

HOWEVER, if I had just found this book blander than everyone else seemed to, I could deal with that. I would have been disappointed, but I’m not a stranger to being a black sheep. What really got me was the world-building. On a more innocent level, I just found it severely lacking. I would have never known this book was supposed to be based on an ancient Roman-esque world if I hadn’t seen that around the blogosphere. Hardly anything is ever described with detail. There are countless references to all these mythological creatures, and sometimes they show up on the page, but I even forced myself to read closely and I have NO idea what they look like.

There’s also a great deal of brutality in An Ember in the Ashes, *most* of which didn’t bother me. Students at the academy get killed for desertion, okay, I can buy that. But there came a point where the brutal scenes ceased making sense in the world. There’s a particular bloody scene that felt absolutely gratuitous, not because of the amount of violence but because of the reasoning behind it. It involves a forced situation by the people in charge, and the collateral damage of that violent situation made no sense. It may have felt shocking, sure, but it also felt illogical by the rules of that world. It was highly inconsistent. Yet, that still did not bother me as much of the casual treatment of rape and rape threats(trigger warning: from here on out I’m going to talk about this a lot).

Within the first fifty or so pages, I noticed female characters had been threatened with rape twice, so I started keeping a tally. By the end of the book, the female characters(mostly the Laia and a secondary female character) have been threatened with rape TEN times, including one instance in which a character actually does attempt to rape a female character, who is then saved by the hero.

NOPE

I am not here for this, guys. That is also a conservative count–I only included instances in which characters were threatened with rape on the page, which does not include times when the rapes of other characters are referred to or when female characters reflect upon threats in the past. That is on-screen, right there.

“But Stormy,” You might say, “This book is based on an ancient Roman culture where rape threats would be a certainty.”

Were there Jinn in ancient Rome? Because those show up here. This book is not historical fantasy in the sense that is a fantasy which takes place during historical times in our world–it’s simply loosely based upon one civilization. If there can be mythological creatures, rape does not need to be included as a statement of fact. I am not saying that a fantasy world that includes rape or rape threats is always bad. There can be a way to do that properly. But its use in An Ember in the Ashes was excessive and callous. Yes, this world is brutal. But if these characters were male, they would have not received the same treatment. The world in this novel in one in which many, many people are powerless and are threatened by all kinds of things, but only the women are threatened with rape. It’s used often as an excuse to move the plot forward, and not only did I find that unacceptable, it’s shoddy world-building. If the only way a world can be shown to be so cruel is to constantly level rape threats against the women characters any time they exhibit agency male characters have, then the world is not defined enough.

Many people better at articulating this issue than me have spoken up about this, and I was serious when I said I did some link-gathering earlier. Maggie Stiefvater’s post about literary rape is an excellent one and a post I almost always start with while discussing this topic, and here are some more I recommend:

Most of the content in this novel may be threats and not actual assault(though there’s that too, at least an attempted one), I still found the way it was used so casually to be a large problem. A plot shouldn’t need to depend upon the constant stream of rape threats any of the female characters got(except the female villain), any time they got the slightest agency. Indeed, I’m not actually sure what most of the women in the world of An Ember in the Ashes do besides exist for rape fodder. Over the course of the novel, we get Laia’s grandmother, killed in the first chapter along with her grandfather, female slaves, a female villain, one female military recruit–because there can only be one at a time, apparently, for a reason that’s never explained or addressed–a few resistance members, and mentions of prostitutes. I wouldn’t mind the misogynistic society so much if it was ever addressed, but considering so much of the plot gets by on rape threats, that didn’t happen. If a sequel is acquired, I highly doubt I’ll be reading it.

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An Ember in the Ashes has been hyped to be “the next Harry Potter” by some places, but I’ll stick to the wizards and skip all the rape threats leveled against female characters as a plot device. 1/5 cupcakes.

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