Review – Sadie, by Courtney Summers


Sadie
by Coutney Summers

Genre: Young Adult, Mystery

Length: 311 Pages

Release date: September 4, 2018

Synopsis: 

Sadie hasn’t had an easy life. Growing up on her own, she’s been raising her sister Mattie in an isolated small town, trying her best to provide a normal life and keep their heads above water.

But when Mattie is found dead, Sadie’s entire world crumbles. After a somewhat botched police investigation, Sadie is determined to bring her sister’s killer to justice and hits the road following a few meagre clues to find him.

When West McCray—a radio personality working on a segment about small, forgotten towns in America—overhears Sadie’s story at a local gas station, he becomes obsessed with finding the missing girl. He starts his own podcast as he tracks Sadie’s journey, trying to figure out what happened, hoping to find her before it’s too late.

rating

five

“It was a terrible thing, sure, but we live in a world that has no shortage of terrible things. You can’t stop for all of them.” 

Let me start by saying that I listened to this as an audiobook, and the story is so well suited to that format. Sadie’s first person point of view chapters are broken up with excerpts from West McCray’s podcast on the subject of her disappearance. This was recorded with a full cast, so you’re treated to the varying voices of all the people interviewed by McCray and it really lends a sense of realism to the narrative.

GoodReads users have labeled this as “young adult,” but I’d personally place it more in the “new adult” category due to the maturity of some of the themes. Sadie is a fast-paced mystery that almost borders on horror at times, as it explores the depths of human depravity and selfishness.

Mattie once asked me… she’d just come home flush from a crush on Jonah Sweeten and asked me how you know when you like someone, and if I liked any boys like she did, and I didn’t know what tot tell her. That I tried not to think about that kind of stuff, because it was painful, because I thought I could ever have it, but when I did end up liking someone, it always made me ache right down to my core. I realized pretty early on that the who didn’t really matter so much. That anybody who listens to me, I end up loving them just a little.

As fun as the “podcast” chapters were, I often spent them looking forward to hearing from Sadie again. This was partly because we get to untangle the mystery through her perspective, but mainly because I found her to be a really interesting and sympathetic protagonist who fails to fall into the pitfalls and cliches common in YA novels. Sadie’s story does not hinge on finding love with a boy or on finding a sense of identity as she ventures into adulthood.

Sadie’s story is a single-minded hunt for revenge against the person who took her sister’s life. This is complicated by her young age, her gender, and a stubborn stutter which causes people to underestimate her at every turn. Essentially, this unassuming girl has been given a storyline you’d expect in a male superhero origin story. But she has a car and a knife and she’s pretty sure she can handle it. Besides, she spent most of her childhood learning how to be stronger than the world had any right to expect of her, mainly in service of keeping her little sister safe; now that Mattie, the center of her world, has been taken from her, the only thing she has left is the hope for justice.

Part of what I love about Sadie is that she’s so angry in a way we don’t often get to see in young female heroines. While there’s a plethora of teenage angst when it comes to characters in her age group, this is different. This is a deep, simmering rage at a sense of powerlessness and injustice on the most personal scale, and it’s heavily gendered. This is resentment at being underestimated, absolute fury over having devoted her life to one thing only to be sabotaged by a predator.

Sadie expertly handles harsh realities such as sexual abuse, addiction, and poverty. This novel gives us a protagonist who, despite the fact that circumstances have made her a victim, has such fierceness and agency, such determination to be in control of her own story.

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Review – My Lady Jane

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My Lady Jane
by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

Genre: Historical Fiction, Young Adult, Fantasy

Length: 491 Pages

Release date: June 7, 2016

Synopsis: 

Edward (long live the king) is the King of England. He’s also dying, which is inconvenient, as he’s only sixteen and he’d much rather be planning for his first kiss than considering who will inherit his crown…

Jane (reads too many books) is Edward’s cousin, and far more interested in books than romance. Unfortunately for Jane, Edward has arranged to marry her off to secure the line of succession. And there’s something a little odd about her intended…

Gifford (call him G) is a horse. That is, he’s an Eðian (eth-y-un, for the uninitiated). Every day at dawn he becomes a noble chestnut steed—but then he wakes at dusk with a mouthful of hay. It’s all very undignified.

The plot thickens as Edward, Jane, and G are drawn into a dangerous conspiracy. With the fate of the kingdom at stake, our heroes will have to engage in some conspiring of their own. But can they pull off their plan before it’s off with their heads?

rating

four

This is a ridiculously fun novel, emphasis on the “ridiculous.” It’s an “alternate history” of England, where the driving conflict is between the Eðians (shapeshifting humans who can turn into animals) and the verities (who oppose the Eðians on religious grounds and denounce them as unnatural savages.) The novel is intensely humor-driven, with a splash of romance. If the humor doesn’t work for you, the novel as a whole will not, as it’s very much in your face for the majority of the story.

Our protagonist, the Lady Jane Grey (based on a real historical figure, like many of the major players in the book) is married off to Lord Gifford, who happens to be, much to her surprise… a horse. The two are married for political convenience at their first meeting, and there isn’t the slightest spark of affection between the two at the start. Jane is (understandably, I should think) upset at being married off to a horse without her knowledge; Gifford is similarly disappointed in the match, as Jane seems far more concerned about spending time with her books than with anything or anyone else. Their verbal sparring provides a good deal of the humor for the early portion of the book.

“No horse jokes,” he said.
“My lord, I apologize for the horse joke. If you put down the book—unharmed!—I will give you a carrot.”
He brandished the book at her. “Was that a horse joke?”
“Neigh.”
“Was that a horse joke?”

The characters are largely caricatures without a lot of depth, although that feels intentional. The novel as a whole has the feel of a humorous play. We aren’t meant to empathize with these characters (for the most part, anyway) so much as we are meant to laugh at them. Jane’s sole personality trait seems to be her undying love of books. Gifford spends half his time as a horse, so that doesn’t exactly give us a lot of time to explore his emotional depths. King Edward is defined primarily by his ambivalent feelings towards the throne and his desperate need to kiss a girl. The villains are a bit Disney villain-esque.

All in all, this is a fast-paced and intensely fun adventure, but it may make serious historians weep with the liberties with authors have taken with British history.

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Review – Muse of Nightmares, by Laini Taylor


Muse of Nightmares
by Laini Taylor

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Length: 528 Pages

Release date: October 2, 2018

Synopsis: 

In the wake of tragedy, neither Lazlo nor Sarai are who they were before. One a god, the other a ghost, they struggle to grasp the new boundaries of their selves as dark-minded Minya holds them hostage, intent on vengeance against Weep.

Lazlo faces an unthinkable choice—save the woman he loves, or everyone else?—while Sarai feels more helpless than ever. But is she? Sometimes, only the direst need can teach us our own depths, and Sarai, the muse of nightmares, has not yet discovered what she’s capable of.

As humans and godspawn reel in the aftermath of the citadel’s near fall, a new foe shatters their fragile hopes, and the mysteries of the Mesarthim are resurrected: Where did the gods come from, and why? What was done with thousands of children born in the citadel nursery? And most important of all, as forgotten doors are opened and new worlds revealed: Must heroes always slay monsters, or is it possible to save them instead?

Love and hate, revenge and redemption, destruction and salvation all clash in this gorgeous sequel to the New York Timesbestseller, Strange the Dreamer.

rating

five

“Once upon a time there was a silence that dreamed of becoming a song, and then I found you, and now everything is music.” 

Reading a highly anticipated sequel is a somewhat scary prospect, in a way. Will it live up to the first book or will it ruin the series for you? Laini Taylor delivers a worthy followup to Strange the Dreamer with Muse of Nightmares. Taylor has the rare talent of crafting a story which hinges on some extremely dark themes (including but not limited to rape, slavery, and the murder of children) without the overall tale feeling overwhelmingly dark. Strange the Dreamer and Muse of Nightmares are both imbued with a magical sense of light and hope.

Taylor introduces two new major characters in Muse of Nightmares, Kora and Nova, which makes the story feel fresh. It’s difficult to say much about this aspect of the story without getting into spoilers, but suffice it to say that the two are sisters with a deep, unbreakable bond. Like many characters in the world of Strange the Dreamer, their lives were thrown into turmoil by Skathis.

Arguably the most interesting character in this installment is Minya, however. Strange the Dreamer left us with a somewhat one dimensional image of the vengeance-driven little girl. This book introduces more nuance to her character and explores how the responsibilities of caring for the other godspawn as a child herself and in the wake of a hugely traumatic event has warped her emotions. Strange the Dreamer shows Minya has wrathful, perhaps irredeemable; Muse of Nightmares asks us to sympathize with her. Minya has some of the best character development in the duology in this book.

As in Strange the Dreamer, the world building in this novel is enchanting and immersive. The last page will leave you wishing to spend more time in this magical universe of Taylor’s creation.

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Review – An Absolutely Remarkable Thing, by Hank Green


An Absolutely Remarkable Thing
by Hank Green

Genre: Science Fiction, Young Adult

Length: 352 Pages

Release date: September 25, 2018

Publisher: Dutton

Synopsis: 

The Carls just appeared. Coming home from work at three a.m., twenty-three-year-old April May stumbles across a giant sculpture. Delighted by its appearance and craftsmanship–like a ten-foot-tall Transformer wearing a suit of samurai armor–April and her friend Andy make a video with it, which Andy uploads to YouTube. The next day April wakes up to a viral video and a new life. News quickly spreads that there are Carls in dozens of cities around the world–everywhere from Beijing to Buenos Aires–and April, as their first documentarian, finds herself at the center of an intense international media spotlight.

Now April has to deal with the pressure on her relationships, her identity, and her safety that this new position brings, all while being on the front lines of the quest to find out not just what the Carls are, but what they want from us.

rating

four

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing is seriously… remarkable. This book was ridiculously fun and I got through it in a day. It’s one of those books where you’re ready for a sequel the moment you finish it.

Let me start with the negative; this was a debut novel and, of course, has some flaws. For starters, holy heavy-handed delivery of the moral, Batman. This book is not subtle in how it deals with the concepts of xenophobia, partisanship, and extremism. These themes were woven pretty seamlessly into the narrative itself, and they weren’t helped by the main character monologuing  about them straight to the reader. Hank Green, please realize that your audience can get your message loud and clear without you beating them over the head with it.

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing is also heavily imbued with modern “internet culture,” and while it was fun, I do think it will suffer for it and feel very dated not terribly far into the future. I think readers 15 years from now will pick this up and have the same general type of reaction that I had to Ready Player One, which was more or less “Good Lord, I get it, you like the 80’s, dude. Enough.”

That being said, I loved this book. The protagonist, April May, was quirky and intensely likable, despite being kind of a hot mess. (Side rant: I saw another reviewer on GoodReads label her a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. PSA: this is a very specific term; can people please stop slapping that label on any quirky female character they happen to dislike? A crucial part of the MPDG definition is that the character exists solely to inspire the broody, male MC to find a new appreciation for life. You can’t label a main character whose only romantic relationships in the narrative are with other women a MPDG. It doesn’t fit.)

April is 23 years old and a recent college graduate at the start of the story. She is thrown into the spotlight accidentally and isn’t really equipped to deal with it. While the specifics of her situation are extraordinary, I feel like a lot of younger Millennials and older Gen Z kids will relate to her. April’s struggles mirror the way a lot of us feel about adulthood in general.

I also really liked the way Green used April’s character to tackle the issue of biphobia, which is something rarely addressed in fiction; more often than not, it is simply lumped in with homophobia if it’s directly addressed at all. But the fact is that biphobia often manifests in different ways than homophobia does in real life, and it was refreshing to see a writer acknowledge that.

While it’s awesome to see a novel tackle important social issues, it’s also important that they’re woven into an interesting story, and Hank Green definitely delivers on that front. The novel felt very well-paced, and the mystery surrounding the “Carls” was really engaging and hinges on interesting puzzles and attention to detail. April’s emotional journey and struggle to maintain a sense of identity in the face of crafting a public persona were executed really well, and April came across as flawed and stumbling without ever being alienating. Such a strong debut has me dying to see what Hank Green writes next.

“Even on this most terrible days, even when the worst of us are all we can think of, I am proud to be a human.” 

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Review – The Rule of One, by Ashley Saunders & Leslie Saunders

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The Rule of One by Ashley Saunders & Leslie Saunders

Genre: YA, Dystopia

Length: 258 Pages

Release date: October 1, 2018

Publisher: Skyscrape

Synopsis: 

In their world, telling the truth has become the most dangerous crime of all.

In the near-future United States, a one-child policy is ruthlessly enforced. Everyone follows the Rule of One. But Ava Goodwin, daughter of the head of the Texas Family Planning Division, has a secret—one her mother died to keep and her father has helped to hide for her entire life.

She has an identical twin sister, Mira.

For eighteen years Ava and Mira have lived as one, trading places day after day, maintaining an interchangeable existence down to the most telling detail. But when their charade is exposed, their worst nightmare begins. Now they must leave behind the father they love and fight for their lives.

Branded as traitors, hunted as fugitives, and pushed to discover just how far they’ll go in order to stay alive, Ava and Mira rush headlong into a terrifying unknown.

rating

fourI received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and are not influenced by the publisher.

I was immediately intrigued by the concept of this book: identical twin sisters written by identical twin sisters. Ava and Mira are closer than most twins are, though not entirely by choice. The one child rule in this dystopian, near-future America means that they take turns going out into the world each day, and their struggle to maintain the facade of being a single person requires that they keep each other informed about every detail of their lives.

The lack of an ability to obtain a sense of individuality takes a toll on each of them, and the mixture of love and resentment between the sisters was a highlight of the novel. What must it be like when the person you love the most is also the reason you’re unable to live a full live, the reason you’re in constant danger? The Saunders sisters explore that ambivalence in this novel. On a similar note, I loved that this was a YA dystopian novel with no romance or (God forbid) a love triangle shoe-horned in for no discernible reason. The primary relationship in this book was between two sisters, which I found really refreshing.

That being said, some of the plot twists felt a bit too predictable, though maybe this is a product of reading a young adult novel as an adult. A lot of YA novels feel like they have the ability to appeal to a broader audience, but this one felt very YA. Teenagers will probably find this super compelling; older readers who have read more than a few dystopian novels will recognize the tropes and perhaps wish for something a bit more original.

The Rule of One was good for what it was: a novel that will hold a lot of appeal for teens. It was fast-paced with just enough twists to keep the reader engaged. I loved the concept of identical twins living as one person by necessity and the emotional consequences of that. The parts of the novel that addressed this issue were very strong, but I do wish there was more time devoted to it. Although it looks like there will be a book two; perhaps there will be more time to reflect on this in the second installment.

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Review – One of Us Is Lying, by Karen M. McManus

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One of Us Is Lying 
by Karen M. McManus

Genre: YA, Mystery

Length: 361 Pages

Release date: May 30, 2017

Blurb via GoodReads: 

The Breakfast Club meets Pretty Little LiarsOne of Us Is Lying is the story of what happens when five strangers walk into detention and only four walk out alive. Everyone is a suspect, and everyone has something to hide.

Pay close attention and you might solve this.

On Monday afternoon, five students at Bayview High walk into detention.
Bronwyn, the brain, is Yale-bound and never breaks a rule.
Addy, the beauty, is the picture-perfect homecoming princess.
Nate, the criminal, is already on probation for dealing.
Cooper, the athlete, is the all-star baseball pitcher.
And Simon, the outcast, is the creator of Bayview High’s notorious gossip app.

Only, Simon never makes it out of that classroom. Before the end of detention, Simon’s dead. And according to investigators, his death wasn’t an accident. On Monday, he died. But on Tuesday, he’d planned to post juicy reveals about all four of his high-profile classmates, which makes all four of them suspects in his murder. Or are they the perfect patsies for a killer who’s still on the loose?
Everyone has secrets, right? What really matters is how far you would go to protect them.

ratingfour

One of Us Is Lying is cheesy, tropey, and immensely fun. The Breakfast Club meets Pretty Little Liars description feels seriously apt, and you’ll want to pop a bowl of popcorn to watch this story unfold.

The heavy use of tropes can be a huge pitfall for a novel, but it’s part of the appeal here. The novel seems self-aware about this and characters stop just short of breaking the fourth wall to poke fun at it, particularly Simon, who refers to himself as the “omniscient narrator.”

“She’s a princess and you’re a jock,” he says. He thrusts his chin toward Bronwyn, then at Nate. “And you’re a brain. And you’re a criminal. You’re all walking teen-movie stereotypes.”

McManus makes some effort to play with these character archetypes in unexpected ways. While none of these developments are terribly shocking as they unfold, there is a certain fun in having your suspicions gradually confirmed, and I won’t spoil them here.

One thing I particularly liked was what McManus did with what could have been a typical disastrous YA romance. Brownyn, the Ivy league-bound good girl, gets paired up with Nate, the criminal. Good girl / bad boy pairings in YA are so often seriously problematic, with an insecure girl mooning over a boy that treats her like garbage and the whole thing being held up as the height of romance. Nate and Brownyn seem to have genuine chemistry and affection, built upon years of growing up together, and while Nate isn’t perfect, his flaws come from an understandable place and are paired with a genuine desire and willingness to improve.

This novel was fast-paced, fun, and weirdly cute for a story that starts out with a mysterious death. One of Us Is Lying is a lighthearted, simple book sure to get you out of a reading slump.

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Strange the Dreamer – Review

Strange the Dreamer, by Laini Taylor

four
Lazlo Strange is a foundling with no family, a junior librarian, but most of all, a dreamer. He believes in magic and ghosts, and that every fairy tale has a grain of truth. His greatest obsession is the lost city of Weep, cut off from the rest of the word 200 years ago. Until now.

What mysterious problem has caused the people of Weep to search for outside help? And how will Lazlo, junior librarian with a dream, convince them to let him come along?

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I adored this book. I think the only thing that keeps me from giving it a solid 5 stars is that certain plot elements felt a bit more predictable than I’d like, but the story was so much fun that it made it difficult to mind.

Strange the Dreamer deals with a lot of dark topics (death, child abuse, and rape to name a few), but Taylor’s writing style is so lovely and the world she has built so captivating that the overall experience of reading this book never feels overly gloomy. There is always just enough light and hope to drown out the darkness.

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The characters are one of this story’s biggest strengths. Everything about Lazlo is endearing, and his obsession with Weep is contagious. Sarai’s helplessness and insecurity are heartwrenching, and I spent most of the story filled with a sense of protectiveness for her. The secondary characters feel fleshed-out enough to be interesting; Taylor has given enough thought to backgrounds for antagonists that they ring true. They feel like people doing what they feel they need to do, not one-dimensional villains who are evil for the sake of evil. That level of nuance lends so much authenticity to the story.

This book was beautiful. Any fan of fantasy who hasn’t read it yet is missing out on a treat.

The sequel, The Muse of Nightmares, is set to be released October 2018.

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