Monday, July 31, 2017

Starfish--ARC Review!

StarfishStarfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

TW: emotional abuse, childhood sexual abuse, anxiety/panic attacks

There aren't words to describe how much this book meant to me and how much I absolutely loved it. If anything, this book is the best contemporary book that I've ever read, and it deserves all the stars and all the love in the world. It was both beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time.

We follow Kiko, an artist who is all about drawing and painting. To her, it's not only simply a hobby, but a part of her soul goes with every piece that she creates. Her biggest ambition is to get into the prestigious art school, Prism because it will left her escape from her abusive home life into the world of art. She runs into her childhood best friend who moved to California at a party, and once they reconnect she decides to take an important trip to California and meets inspiring talented people who guide her along the way.

There is so much intricate family dynamic that I could go into, and is discussed at length and in detail in the book. I think to fully understand this (because I can't explain it that well). It's just best to read the story and understand who Starfish is and how they work.

This books isn't afraid to tackle things such as anxiety, biracial identities, what it means to truly embrace yourself and all that you are. I love how at the end of every single chapter there is an image that Kiko paints to express herself after what happened in the day, or what she's feeling.

Also the writing is so lush and beautiful; even a five word description could be so vivid and go so deeper. I think some authors sometimes have problems with capturing the voice of a teenage girl, but Bowman does is perfectly and masterfully. While reading this book, every couple of pages I kept of thinking: "this is how I would sound/think/feel."

“I don’t have to be white to be beautiful, just like I don’t have to be Asian to be beautiful. Because beauty doesn’t come in one mold.”

Also, Kiko struggles with insecurity and low self-esteem because her single mom, who believes that the "all american beauty" blue-eyed blonde haired is the definition of beautiful (aka how Starfish looks like). She constantly puts Kiko down as being "different,exotic, and even calls her ugly." Kiko comes to her own realization, that beauty isn't one thing like she's been told to believe, and it's a beautiful thing to see her accepting herself and coming into her own beauty.

‘Beauty isn’t a single thing. Beauty is dreaming – it’s different for everyone, and there are so many versions of it that you mostly have no control over how you see it.’

There was a subplot of romance, but be warned, the book wasn't about the romance; and Kiko didn't get better because of any boy. She got better because of herself and the effort she put into trying to understand and change her perceptions about things. Jamie and Kiko have a very healthy relationship, although she does love him very much, she realizes that she's been dependent on him, or using him as a social crutch so she steps away/hits pause on that relationship for a few weeks. He's not some perfect idealized guy, but he tries to understand and help her with her anxiety at times, and she feels safe in his world. I thought that the romance was adorable, yet healthy in the way that I rarely see it in YA, and so that was very appreciated.

I felt so personally attached/connected to Kiko on a deeper level, like we were almost kindred spirits. I'm not half as artistic as she is, or look like her, but I feel like she's gone through some universal experiences and coming-of-age struggles that I can really relate to. This book is life-changing for me in the sense that it forced to see the world in a different perspective and live my pain along with Kiko's figuring things out, and the outcome was truly magical.

**Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.**

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Saturday, July 29, 2017

The Rules Do Not ApplyThe Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

There is no doubt in my mind that Ariel Levy is an excellent writer, I just found too many of these essays disconnected and unfocused. While I could appreciate the way she told some specific stories from her lifetime, there wasn't anything else that I could appreciate.

Everything else is DRIPPING with entitlement and privilege. As a 30 something year old rich white women who is living in NYC, she lives the type of life where she actually believes that she can control everything. There is lots of self-pity and bad decision making filled throughout this book, and I couldn't believe some of the things that I was reading:

"We [Ms. Levy and her female friends] lived in a world where we had control of so much. If we didn't want to carry groceries up the steps, we ordered them online and waited in our sweatpants on the fourth floor for a man from Asia or Latin America to come panting up, encumbered with our cat litter and organic bananas. [...] Anything seemed possible if you had ingenuity, money, and tenacity." (page 10)

One specific thing that bothered me in this passage was when she said "waited...for a man from Asia or Latin America to come to pant up." Gee, Levy thanks for pointing out one thing about all food delivery people that are "apparently" one of those ethnicities-(this also implies that they're all service jobs people) There is such white privilege showing here, that at some parts I actually couldn't stand it.

"I wanted what she [my mother] had wanted, what we all want: everything. We want a mate who feels like family and a lover who is exotic, surprising. We want to be youthful adventurers and middle-aged mothers. We want intimacy and autonomy, safety and stimulation, reassurance and novelty, coziness and thrills." (page 90)

If you didn't know, I'm asexual and aromantic and there is very blatant aro/acemisia in the text there I was just straight out cringing at.I've never wanted a mate/lover, I've never wanted to be middle-aged mother, so making this sweeping generalization is simply inaccurate at the least, and infuriating at the most. Why does Levy assume that this is everyone's universal desires at the expense of erasure for other people who don't want these things?

She also has a very misguided definition of feminism, that isn't inter-sectional at the very least but that she twists to serve her own points and purposes. At some point I literally had to book this book away for my mental health because it was bothering and hurting me that much.

In my opinion, the strongest chapters were those where she vividly describes her miscarriage in grotesque detail. They way that she knows how to write grief in such a blunt and honest way is truly astounding. However, lots of the other content, whether Levy realizes or not, she painted herself in a very bad light because of the things that she says or tries but fails to explain.

**Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.**

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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Mask of Shadows- ARC Review

Mask of Shadows by Linsey Miller
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The whole premise of this book was that there was a competition of assassins and the last one standing is to become one of the four Queen's assassins that went out and did her biding/dirty work to protect the Kingdom. Haven't we seen this exact storyline before? That's what was bothering me throughout the book but I quite couldn't put my finger on. I've seen this exact trope dozens of times in thinly-veiled YA fantasy novels, and at some point in time they stop becoming interesting to consume.

Not only that, but this was one of the most predictable plot-lines that I had read in a very long time. Meaning that you knew what the outcome was going to be even before you finished Chapter one, or from a mile away. It's not that I've even read some spoilers about what would happen, it's just a cliche that you know is coming, and I wish that the author could have thrown us for some sort of surprise curveball, instead of the plot being so straightforward.

Do you know what else I really expected from this novel? I wanted the political intrigue and worldbuilding to be much more developed. I'm writing this review roughly four hours after finishing this book and I couldn't tell you the name of the main kingdom in which Sal resides. I couldn't tell you the players on the political chessboard. I couldn't tell you much about the world at all, and coming up with these type of major blanks is not supposed to happen in a well-developed fantasy setting.

Further, you know when a character just gets in easy, or learns all of the world's talents in a week? That's how it felt like the author was writing the development of Sal, after they got accepted in the audition, they suddenly had all sorts of fighting skills and physical strengths developed in an instance, which is so utterly ridiculous and unrealistic that I cringed during displays of Sal's talent that weren't practiced enough.

The only side character who I cared about, as the other seemed like stereotypes of assassins, was Maud, who was the servant in Sal's quarters. Maud is very determined get paid so that she could save her triplet siblings from being scattered and sold by the orphanage. In my opinion she is the shining, yet quiet heroine in this novel.

Another thing is that I wasn't on board with the romance at all. Whenever there is a teacher-is-lover-with-student, I feel all icky because a boundary is crossed and in every situation it makes me not want the two characters to end up together at all.

I don't want to discount that this book could mean a lot to someone objectively, because I identify as a non-binary person and this was the first genderfluid characters that I have ever seen represented on page. Even though I don't have the same experiences as Sal did, I still feel like there was adequate emphasis on explaining their pronoun preferences and who they were interacting with. Also as a note there was a bisexual/pansexual love interest, which made me appreciate the various sexuality that was represented in here.

**Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.**

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The Epic Crush of Genie Lo-ARC Review

The Epic Crush of Genie LoThe Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F.C. Yee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Going into this book, I had the highest of expectations because all of my fellow bloggers have given it the five stars. Because of the hype, I was fully ready for this to be one of my favorites of the year, but disappointingly there were just some things that didn't work for me. In the end though, I felt that choosing the 4 star rating was the right choice, because although it wasn't my cup of tea, it is such an important piece of literature that should get in as many readers hands as possible.

We start out with Genie Lo, a high school student who is trying her hardest to get into an ivy-league school. Then her stalker/romantic interest Quentin comes to her asking for help with slaying demons from supernatural realms. She than embarks on this whole journey of trying to protect the people that she loves, her hometown, and herself. What's the most fascinating thing about this is that's it's based on Chinese mythology, something that I knew nothing about so I felt like I was in for a treat.

One of the things that bothered me is how long it took to explain the rules of the otherworld, because for most of the beginning parts we didn't get a chance to dive in deeper into the world of reincarnation, heaven, hell, etc. I tried to forced myself to care about any of the characters, but there wasn't any connection that I could grasp because of one trope that I absolutely hate being played out in any book.

The stalker one turning into the love interest makes me feel so uncomfortable. Especially in this book, because of their strange set-up/forced partnership there were lots of beginning scenes of Quentin hardcore stalking Genie and it made my skin crawl and so I started to skim those section.

On another note, I am so amazed how well Yee can capture the voice of a teenage girl, and not make it sound awkward or stilted. One of the highlights of this book was seeing how both Genie and Yee was in writing such an apologetically fierce hella angry female warrior. We need more of that, and this is the perfect example of how it should look like.

However, all of this rambling above is just my subjective preferences, right? I truly see the value of exploring the diaspora and what it means to be a Chinese-America by an ownvoices author. I would still recommend you picking this up to read, going in with a clean slate, because in every aspect of representation it is so brilliantly done. I'm sure that there are many Chinese people out there who would like to see themselves in book, and this is an excellent choice to pick up.

**Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.**

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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Girl in Snow-ARC Review

Girl in SnowGirl in Snow by Danya Kukafka
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Let me tell you something about my reading taste, I thirst after thrillers, but when one is a flop I spare no mercy on my many criticisms. With this book, I don't even know where to start telling you much of a flop it was in my eyes. The story starts out with Lucinda Hayes, a beloved and popular high schooler being murdered at the local school playground.

From the premise that the summary described, it sounds like it has the potential to be a whodunit, especially since there is a POV from the local police officer thrown in there. In reality, this story is about three individuals, the boy who stalked her, the police officer that had personal ties, and the girl who wanted a perfect life. It was the most boring life stories, as dull as the dishwater in your sink. Seriously, if you want to write character driven stories (which are my favorite usually) you should take some time into putting some personality and distinction between every person so that there's actually some substance.

There was an overuse of sex in this book, and so throughout it I couldn't stop cringing and skimming throughout those passages. During the actual reading time of this book, I had 0 inclination to go and pick it up, usually the experience of not being able to put down a quality thriller, this was definitively a red light.

Another thing that got on my nerves was how juvenile and not well done the writing was. I do understand that this author is a debut novelist, however her writing not at all what I had expected from a thriller, and I think that has to do that it seems she can't pull off writing from a young adult's perspective. For most of the book, there was much oversimplification because I felt like the author didn't understand and couldn't get into the headspace of the main teenagers in this story, which just detracted from the general intent of the story.

If there was more focus on the murder investigation, if we had known the dead girl better, if I was invested in the three main characters lives, this would have been a much better story. As it stands, I would say that this book was one of my least favorites that I have read this year, and I would not recommend it to anyone because of the way that it lacked character development, an exciting plot-line, and the bad writing found within it.

**Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.**

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The Idea of You--ARC Review

The Idea of YouThe Idea of You by Amanda Prowse
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

TW: miscarriages

This book so beautifully sums up motherhood, the pains, losses, and joys that come along with it. Lucy Carpenter, newly remarried to her wonderfully loving husband, Jonah, and feels like her biological clock is running out at thirty nine. She has a fabulous career that anyone couldn't help but be envious of. However, all she wants most desperately is to become pregnant and carry to term a baby, so that she could complete her family.

When Camille, the rebellious teenager, who's the daughter from Jonah's first marriage, comes to live with them, Lucy feels like her world is starting to tilt out of orbit. There are so many new things that she has to deal with, all of the teenage drama and woes, and also the fact that Camille being the only and favored daughter starts creating a wedge between her and Jonah.

From there the story takes it to a roller-coaster of ups and downs that made you cry your eyes out or laugh until your stomach hurt so much that you can't breathe. Probably the most emotionally touchy thing was when the letters were revealed at the end of the story, it made me actually ugly cry. All in all it's a beautiful and poignantly written of a women's journey to motherhood. While I have no personal experience in that area, I just couldn't tear my eyes away from all of the hormones that were going on (ha!)

One of the fascinating contrasts that I noticed was the extremely slow budding relationship between Lucy and Camille compared to the whirlwind of a romance between her and Jonah. Fast forward to the ending though, I thought that it tied loose ends and wrapped up perfectly, which is always an added bonus.

The only problem is, I can't quite decide if this book was my cup of tea. It was great while I was reading it, but after I felt the acute disappointment that this just isn't my type of story afterall. I think that's an important realization that I needed to make personally, but I still would hope that this book gets into the hands of someone who needs it.

**Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.**

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The Good People--ARC Review

The Good PeopleThe Good People by Hannah Kent
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“Some folks are forced to the edges by their difference. (...) But 'tis at the edges that they find their power.”

This book reminds me so much of "The Wonder" by Emma Donoghue, so if you were a fan of that one you will love this one as well! This one is set in 1820s Ireland, where the author is extremely well-researched into the Irish folklore, various superstitions, and herbal treatments that these village people believe in. The book opens with the death of our protagonists husband on a stormy foreboding night. Nora's deep down in the hole of grief and so she decides to hire a nanny to the grandson that was misplaced under her roof.

Except there may be whisperings that this boy is a changeling-not fully a human, since he often have fevers or seizures and is a sickly child. So Nora enlists the help of Nance, a magic "healer" who's hated by most of the villagers but is said that she can save Michael from his evil sickness. The book then embarks on a twisted path that is fascinating to watch play out, because you know what could inevitably happen, but the road to the ending conclusion is what makes it worth the read.

The atmosphere, a sense of time and place, is a feeling that's so thick that you could almost palpably touch it. That was definitively Kent's strong point, having a detailed description of the settings-not too overboard, not lacking-just striking that perfect balance in between. This is something that I always appreciated in a literary story that is so focused on the base of history.

There's also a deep dive into the contrast between folklore and the law of the land, what people believe in vs. what they see, which makes me genuinely enjoy the book even more. For me, the only reason why it wasn't a memorable favorite is because the middle part of the book dragged so slowly, that I began to count the times that I was actually yawning. Hint: it was a lot, and almost put me off of finishing this story, which would have been unfortunate.

**Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.**

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The Gypsy Moth SummerThe Gypsy Moth Summer by Julia Fierro
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

In my opinion, it felt like this book was trying to do too much, and in that process feel completely short of everything it set out to accomplish. There are so many things going on here (TW for: Animal cruelty, profanity, drug use & alcohol abuse,racial prejudice, an abused wife) that sometimes it was too painful to read what was going on that I had to put the book down and just take a breather for the intense conflict.

There are bugs overtaking this isolated island, most literally and metaphorically. Leslie is the daughter of the esteemed Navy commander who isn't who he seems, and moves in with her black husband and biracial children to a house called "The Castle". It's has a mysterious maze and is an enchanting place to all of the other islanders.

Than there's Maddie, trying to be a full-on teen drama queen, and yet just experiencing first love for the first time with the new black boy in town, Brooks. Ah to be in young and in love, but it wasn't romantic to me, instead it became stilted and fell flat. The sexual situations were overused, there was no many sensual details. It awkwardly started to detract from the story and I thought the majority of it was unnecessary.

Usually, I'm such a sucker for hints of star-crossed lovers but in this book it just didn't work. Sure, there were secret trips to see eachother in the dark, both sets of parents disproved, they came from completely different backgrounds, but it was missing every excellent point that I genuinely enjoy in that trope. And in the end that was one of my biggest disappointments with this one.

**Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.**

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Sunday, July 16, 2017

Hum If You Don’t Know the WordsHum If You Don’t Know the Words by Bianca Marais
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book, ahh where to even begin.

In it, we follow two different perspectives, a nine year old girl Robin, whose parents were shot by activists, and Beauty, a Xhosa woman living in a village that comes to try to find her daughter, and ends up being the nanny for Robin. Their lives collide and tangle, and neither of them will ever be the same after their shared experiences.

This book is set in South African apartheid, and I don't have any expertise on how accurately this was researched. Although this book was a bit enjoyable, if you want to open your eyes more the all of the horrors of apartheid, I would direct you to Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

As a book that struggles with hard topics such as race, privilege, oppression, activism, etc. I thought that it had some solid passages where Beauty is trying to explain to Robin about how not all black people are the same "bad", how even though her parents were killed, she now has to deal with the fact that they were evidently racist. It's just an interesting journey of a nine year old who has had past good and bad experiences with black people, and how she comes to grapple with the loss of her parents.

Lots of things in the book were so unrealistic and so implausible. There were risky things that Robin did for redemption, which I personally didn't appreciate how it was played out. If you read the book, you'll know what I'm talking about because it's obvious that this would have never happened the way that it did.

The ending was also pretty unsatisfying, in the sense that the author left everything partially resolved. We have no way of knowing what exactly happened to either of the storyline and so it's not what I was waiting for nor was it what I expected. Overall, my rating scale is tipped over to the lower side of things considering the many lacks that I found with the story itself.

**Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.**

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