Review: Honestly Ben, by Bill Konigsberg

27230789Honestly Ben, by Bill Konigsberg

Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, LGBTQIA

Rating: ✮✮✮

“We change. We keep changing. We won’t be finished products ’til the day we die.”

This review contains spoilers, and is also a bit personal. Please read with caution!

Openly Straight, this book’s prequel, is very special to me. It’s the book that helped me realize that I was attracted to girls; it is essentially the book that helped me come out to myself. Eventually this escalated to where I’m at today. Without Openly Straight, I don’t think I ever would’ve been honest with myself about my true feelings.

It was not a perfect book, but in a bittersweet way, I liked how it ended. I enjoyed Rafe and Ben’s relationship and wanted them to have their happily-ever-after, but the fight and loss of friendship was more realistic. It felt finite. So all it took was one look at Honestly Ben for me to know what was going to happen.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s not a bad book, just the same as Openly Straight wasn’t. I like the way Bill Konigsberg writes, I like how he characterizes, and I like the silly and sometimes extremely dark humor that he sprinkles in.

“I feel like we already have a truce,” I said. “I’ve placed my imaginary Maginot Line, and there is an uneasy accord along the Western Front.”

“Oh, Ben,” he said, and the gentleness of his voice made me look away. “Wait. Am I Hitler in that analogy?”

I hadn’t thought of it that way. “I guess.”

“So you made the Jewish guy Hitler. Nice.”

I also agree with basically everything this book is about: agape, or unconditional love. It’s a type of love that goes beyond anything physical or material, and can relate to anyone, paternal, sexual, emotional, etc. I strongly believe in this type of love; I don’t believe in soul mates, exactly, but that there is someone, or possibly multiple someones, that are out there and are so right for you that things like sexuality and gender don’t matter anymore. As Ben says repeatedly, he is not gay or bisexual, but he still loves Rafe despite the fact that he’s a boy. A lot of readers seem to be upset by this and claim that this is misrepresenting bisexuality, and as someone who was formally bisexual, I can understand their point of view – but at the same time, I get what Konigsberg was trying to say. I don’t think he was trying to be biphobic; I think he was trying to show that people love who they love without restriction. That is agape.

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Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.

My problems with this book reside in other things, the first and foremost being that Honestly Ben feels like an excuse to give Rafe and Ben the HEA that they were deprived of in Openly Straight. Otherwise I can think of no other significance. There isn’t even a change of scenery; the book literally dumps you in where the previous left off. The result is that I felt like I was reading the exact same book. I would’ve liked something a little different: a new place a few years from now, maybe, but something to give it a change of scene.

This relates to the other thing, which is the advocacy. I want to mention that I have absolutely no opposition about advocacy in books whatsoever, because I think that’ll be the generated idea. I love it. This book touches various subjects, including misogyny, anti-war, gender identity, and of course homosexuality. These topics are very important to me, but when I see them in a book, I want them to be integrated in a way that flows with the plot. I want it to still be a book. Instead, all that it does is prop the book up for its lack of substance. I kept feeling like I’d fallen inside of Tumblr.

I felt the same way about David Levithan’s Every Day. I appreciate and support these things when they are discussed in books, but I don’t want it to be everything. I am still a reader; I still want to be entertained.

A good book all in all, but I wish that it had varied from its predecessor. If there are ever going to be any future books about Ben and Rafe, I’d like them to be experiencing new situations instead of dealing with old ones.

Review: The Immortal Rules, by Julie Kagawa

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The Immortal Rules, by Julie Kagawa

Genres: Young Adult, Dystopian, Paranormal

Rating: ✮✮✮

“You will always be a monster, there is no turning back from it. But what type of monster you become is entirely up to you.”

In her acknowledgements, Julie Kagawa mentioned that she thought she would never write a vampire book. Likewise, I thought I would never read a vampire book. Vampires, for the longest time, have failed to interest me, whether they were sparkly or not. (Especially if they were sparkly.)

Then I saw this:

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And I was like, okay. Vampires.

Julie Kagawa is the author of my beloved Iron Fey series, which I have praised over and over again for its fantasy action, depth, and a heterosexual romance that I can actually get excited about. The Immortal Rules is a completely different ballgame. It’s dark and gruesome, and of course, very bloody. I love the take on vampires, how twisted and cruel they are, and their elitist attitude towards humans. I love the rabids as I love all flesh-eating monsters, and I even enjoyed the gloomy dystopian world. As always, Julie Kagawa never bores me. She allows the characters to go off and develop on their own, but never strays too far from the original storyline.

My hesitation, however, is derived from a couple of things, and the first one is Ruth. Ruth is a member of the group that Allison joins up with that are searching for a city called Eden, which is supposedly run by humans. Her only notable character trait is that she is infatuated with Zeke, the love interest, and gets insanely jealous whenever Allison interacts with him in any way. She verbally attacks Allison and spreads rumors about her to the rest of the group, and whenever she’s in a scene, she is always trying to get closer to Zeke. This character type – the bitchy mean girl – is the reason why I used to avoid paranormal YA books in the first place, because usually their only purpose is to make the heroine look better. However, Allison is fierce and strong all on her own, so I don’t understand why Ruth exists, or why she wasn’t converted into a best friend. (Spoiler) : I could understand if she were carried over into the next book and underwent some massive character development, or perhaps served some higher purpose, but instead she dies – quickly, I might add, and in the last 25 pages – furthermore implementing her worthlessness.

The next thing regards vampires, and that is mainly that I want more of them. Though I agree with some of my friends on Goodreads that it’s strange that only Allison and Kanin – her creator – aren’t viewed as completely evil, I love my vampires that way. I love them villainous. And the thing is, is that Allison may be morally-questionable, but she’s not a monster. She goes on and on about her “demon” and how she struggles to control her thirst, but it seems weak. This is due mainly to Julie Kagawa’s bald, straight-forward writing style, which is fantastic in battle scenes but not so much with emotion. It’s hard for Allison’s angst to ring true when it doesn’t feel like she’s battling with anything, since everything she feels is told up front. Because of this, I’m eagerly anticipating more vampires, and hopefully they’ll be a lot more vicious.

The Iron Fey will still stand as my favorite of Julie Kagawa’s series thus far, though I admit that The Blood of Eden has its charms. Everything that I expected of The Immortal Rules came to me and more – I just wish that a couple of things had changed.

Review: Vicious, by V.E. Schwab

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Vicious, by V.E. Schwab

Genres: Adult, Science Fiction

Rating: ✮✮✮

The absence of pain led to an absence of fear, and the absence of fear led to a disregard for consequence.

Morally ambiguous stories are some of my favorites. I’m drawn to them. I love anti-heroes, and I love the argument between what is right and what is wrong; what is considered to be “good” and what is considered to be “evil”. Vicious does a great job of showing that they can be the same thing, with different people giving it different names.

I loved Victor’s narration, and I was fascinated in his relationship with Eli when they were at university, how driven by jealousy and spite they both were. And even though I found him to be considerably less interesting than Victor, in a very twisted, sideways way, I understood Eli. I don’t approve of him murdering EOs simply because they exist, but—at least in the beginning—he was trying to prevent what he and Victor had started. Vicious carries one of the same themes as Frankenstein, which is that humanity’s greed to evolve can often lead to disaster, and by killing off EOs, he was trying to stop them from being exploited or causing humanity any harm. He just got way out of control, as anybody who treats themselves as God does.

I wish it had been a bit gorier. It’s definitely dark, but I was hoping for more interaction between the two of them, like a game of cat-and-mouse. More action, essentially. I found Eli’s chapters really boring, and I couldn’t stand Serena at all. If she had been removed, then that would mean that Eli and Victor are ensuing this battle while also having to evade the authorities, who were waived onto Eli’s side with her siren abilities. I think that would’ve been a lot more fun to watch. She made everything too safe.

This is the first of Victoria Schwab’s adult novels that I’ve ever read, and I did like it. It wasn’t quite as gruesome as I expected, though it did delight me here and there, especially when Eli and Victor clashed in chapter twenty-seven in the first part, when things went “horribly wrong”. It was definitely vicious, but not enough for me.

Review: Nevermore, by Kelly Creagh

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Nevermore, by Kelly Creagh

Genres: Young Adult, Horror

Rating: ✮✮✮

“Learn to awaken within your dreams, Isobel,” he called after her, “or we are all lost.”

The third star that I give this book is given very, very hesitantly. I’ve been very generous with my ratings lately, and part of me worries that I’m losing my nerve. Still, I always put entertainment above any other factor – because what’s the point in reading fiction if you don’t enjoy it? – and there is no doubt in my mind that I enjoyed Nevermore.

I did not at first. The most negative thing I can say about this book is that the beginning is absolutely terrible. It’s cliché and so “high school” that it’s straight out of a bad fanfiction – and I would know this because I probably wrote it five years ago.

Isobel is so blatantly a cheerleader that it makes her one-dimensional. Every time she said “the crew”, I swear to god, a part of me died. Her friends are the same way. Even Varen is drawn so deeply as The Goth Kid that at first, I had no respect for him whatsoever.

Resigned, Isobel rose and collected her notebook. She fumbled for her backpack strap as her mind repeated all the whispers she’d ever heard linked with his name. There were rumors that he sometimes talked to himself, that he practiced witchcraft and had an evil eye tattooed on his left shoulder blade. That he lived in the basement of an abandoned church. That he slept in a coffin.

 That he drank blood.

After surviving 150 pages of Isobel’s spiral down the Social Food Chain, things gradually started to get better. My favorite thing is how much things develop. Not only does Isobel turn around, but her relationship with Varen progressed steadily and I enjoyed watching them grow close. Barriers start to melt until they are no longer The Goth and The Cheerleader, but Varen and Isobel.

“You’re really a blond,” she said, her tone just short of accusatory.

“And if you tell anyone, I will come to you in the night and smote your everlasting soul.”

The problem is that this is not supposed to be a romance; it is supposed to be a horror story revolving around the mind and works of Edgar Allan Poe, literary rock star and one of my favorite authors, ever. True, Poe is definitely a recurring figure, but what we don’t see a lot of for the first two-thirds of the book are Varen’s nightmares – nightmares that are supposed to be based off of Poe. There are glimpses of them here and there, but for the mostly, Nevermore is split into two parts: Varen and Isobel’s relationship and Varen’s nightmares. The latter feels a bit crammed in, like despite the fact that this book is almost 550 pages long, there wasn’t enough room for it to be squeezed in.

Don’t get me wrong: I think the length is important. Even though I really hate high-school drama – I seriously can’t stand it – I completely understand why it’s necessary in this case. Varen created his nightmares, his dreamscape, inside of his journal which he writes in all of the time as a means of escape. He wants to get away from the people at school and his alcoholic father, and so he writes. It’s all a part of his characterization. In order for the reader to grasp why his dreamscape exists, they need to understand where it stems from. Thus, all of the bullying and ridicule the follows Varen and Isobel’s struggles to be accepted socially are vital because they point back to the heart of who he is.

What I think could’ve been done is more interweaving. Varen’s nightmares are actually gruesome and terrifying – I love it – and they follow Isobel into the real world before she can even see what they are. This, combined with her lucid dreams, I think is supposed to have the same effect as in Michelle Hodkin’s The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer – a book that is complete trash but I love anyway. The aforementioned book does a great job of showing a blossoming relationship between two young people while the protagonist, Mara, is tortured by strange visions and impossible events that make her feel like she’s losing her mind. Nevermore tries for that but never succeeds.

I also want to add that although the writing is excellent, if the whole book had been written the same as in that two-page epilogue – complete, knock-your-socks-off, blow-me-away kind of prose – then this would have been one monster of a book.

I enjoyed Nevermore mostly because it was hard to put down. It’s very fast-paced even for its length, and that’s what pushed me to keep going and see this book through. Even though for the most part, I consider this book to be what I call “bait” – the first book in a series that drags you along when nothing really happens, making it a giant prelude for the second book that you’re not interested in, anyway – it has me tempted for more. Mostly, I’m dying to know about Varen’s feelings for Isobel, when they developed and when she first appeared in his dreams. I also can’t wait to see how Kelly Creagh slips in more of Edgar Allan Poe’s fiction into his nightmares, because she definitely knows her stuff and alluded to many of Poe’s most popular stories – including one notable scene from The Cask of Amontillado. I hope that one of them happens to be The Black Cat, my favorite, because if there is I will completely lose my shit.

Review: Shadow and Bone, by Leigh Bardugo

10194157Shadow and Bone, by Leigh Bardugo

Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy

Rating: ✮✮✮

“There is something more powerful than any army. Something strong enough to topple kings, and even Darklings. Do you know what that thing is?”

I shook my head, inching away from him.

“Faith,” he breathed, his black eyes wild. “Faith.”

I’m going to have to swing with the majority on this one: Six of Crows is considerably better than Shadow and Bone. Six of Crows is what Leigh Bardugo’s skills look like on full volume; Shadow and Bone feels like it’s been cut by half.

That’s not to say it isn’t enjoyable – it is. As a matter of fact, I had a hard time putting it down. The hours just ate away the moment I sat down, and I became absorbed, turning page after page. The story is weak at points, faltering towards the middle before picking up again towards the end, but damn is it entertaining.

The story goes that Alina, an orphan and a soldier in the First Army, suddenly finds out that she is a Grisha, who are ‘Masters of the Small Science’. She’s not just any Grisha, either – she is the Sun Summoner, an Etherealki that can harness the power of sunlight and use it as a weapon. The Darkling, who rules the Grisha and is the second-most powerful man in Ravka, sweeps her back to the Little Palace in order to help her build her strength, hoping to use her powers to destroy the Shadow Fold: a slate of darkness and decay that’s divided the country and doesn’t let many come out alive.

The middle lagged a bit. It was full of training, pretty outfits, and Alina fawning over the Darkling. Their chemistry is pretty flat. Even if the Darkling is deceptive, their should have been a better build-up in their relationship to show Alina’s attraction to him. The best villains, after all, make us consider our moral compass. We despise them, yet we are inexplicably drawn to them at the same time. (Like Loki. Or Ulquoirra. Or, I don’t know…Darth Vader.) The Darkling doesn’t have that pull. I can see where the inspiration for Kaz Brekker came from, but I’m not as taken to the Darkling as I am with him.

He slumped back in his chair. “Fine,” he said with a weary shrug. “Make me your villain.”

Though to be fair, I doubt anyone could match up to Kaz.

I also wish that the world-building was done a little better. Six of Crows was intricate and defined, but Shadow and Bone doesn’t have that same depth. Between the landscape and the war with other countries – vaguely explained, even though it’s been going on for a hundred years – I hardly know what this world looks like. Secondly, the Grisha powers are not very well explained. I’d already read about them, but it wasn’t easy for me to get settled back into the Grisha Universe.

I’m giving this book a hard time, but really, I did enjoy it. I liked the idea of the Shadow Fold and its more literal representation of fear of the dark, Alina’s friendship with Genya, and the different orders of Grisha. I especially loved the twist, though honestly, I figured the Darkling was up to something. It opens up for a fantastic sequel that I will definitely be reading, but before or after Crooked Kingdom, I don’t know. I guess I’m excited for both.

Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany,& Jack Thorne

29056083Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne

Genres: Plays, Fantasy

Rating: 

“Those that we love never truly leave us, Harry. There are things that death cannot touch. Paint…and memory…and love.”

I got into Harry Potter when I was eleven. Most of my sixth-grade year is a blur, because all I remember about it is reading those books. I was engrossed. When I heard that The Cursed Child was coming out, though, I was…skeptical.

I’m not going to deny that a part of me was excited. Harry Potter was not my first favorite series, but it is undeniably what turned me into a gigantic nerd. (And I wouldn’t have it any other way.) But Harry Potter had reached its end nine years ago. When a series that was supposed to have ended gets a new book, it raises a red flag for me—even if it is a series that I love.

I probably would’ve procrastinated on reading it, if my brother hadn’t suddenly come home from work one day with it wrapped inside a Target shopping bag. And gave it to me.

Yes, I was excited. Yes, I squealed a little. Even though I was doubtful, I still, endlessly, love Harry Potter.

But I do not love The Cursed Child.

The story was fine. For the most part, it has everything to do with the format. Because it’s a play, it feels like something was cut out of it. It doesn’t feel like Harry Potter at all. Even the characters don’t feel like themselves—except Ron, bless Ron—and there’s no magic. None at all. That feeling I got when I was swept inside The Sorcerer’s Stone is not there. It could be because it’s a play, and the experience would be better if seen on stage. It could also be because this book was published nine years from the seventh one. But for whatever the reason, this does not feel like it should be a part of the Wizarding World.

Secondly, this script is so hard to read. The writer uses hyphens for pauses in conversation, and it’s really, really strange. I’ve read quite a few plays before—I have a lot of friends who are into theatre, and I’ve helped them practice their lines—and I’ve never seen it like this before. I flipped to a random page for an example, but the one I found is actually perfect:

ALBUS: I’m sorry—about your mum—I know we don’t talk about her enough—but I hope you know—I’m sorry—it’s rubbish—what happened to her—to you.

             SCORPIUS: Thanks.

             ALBUS: My dad said—said that you were this dark cloud around me. My dad started to think—and I just knew that I had to stay away, and if I didn’t, Dad said he would—

            SCORPIUS: Your dad thinks the rumors are true—I am the son of Voldemort?

            Plus, there are so many scenes, so we are constantly jumping around from place to place, never feeling settled, which not only makes the story harder to hold onto, but also makes it seem shorter—which is really not a good thing, considering it feels so thin already.

I love Albus and Scorpius quite a lot. Especially Scorpius. I think I like him even more than his father, which I didn’t think was possible—but it’s so hard not to love him.

SCORPIUS: Albus Severus Potter, get that strange look out of your eye.

            ALBUS: First question. What do you know about the Triwizard Tournament?

            SCORPIUS (happy) : Ooooh, a quiz! Three schools pick three champions to compete in three tasks for one Cup. What’s that got to do with anything?

            ALBUS: You really are an enormous geek, you know that?

            SCORPIUS: Ya-huh.

If I saw the play in person, I might have a different opinion, I don’t know. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t the book everyone had blown it up to be.

Review: The Vanishing Season, by Jodi Lynn Anderson

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The Vanishing Season, by Jodi Lynn Anderson

Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Mystery-Thriller

Rating: ✮✮✮

The living always think that monsters roar and gnash their teeth. But I’ve seen that real monsters can be friendly; they can smile, and they can say please and thank you like everyone else. Real monsters can appear to be kind. Sometimes they can be inside us.

This book is so weird.

I love Jodi Lynn Anderson’s craftsmanship, as I did in Tiger Lily. She thinks outside of the box. She doesn’t follow tropes, like the girl gets the guy in the end. This makes her books unique, a trait that isn’t commonly found among YA anymore.

There’s this thing in YA where a group of teenagers open up their own private investigation, despite authorities’ protests, and end up solving the case on their own. Obviously, this is highly unrealistic, as there are not many teenagers who are intelligent enough to do this, or have the resources available. It’s not going to happen in real life, and I know this—but I don’t really mind, because for the most part, I’m concerned about entertainment. I’m willing to stretch reality for my own enjoyment.

The Vanishing Season has a serial killer. He kidnaps and then drowns teenage girls, and their bodies are found floating in Lake Michigan. This led me to believe this book was a murder mystery, but it’s not. What happens in The Vanishing Season is as real as they come: girls are murdered, an investigation is opened, a guy is arrested and found not guilty, and the real killer is never found.

This is realistic, but not at all satisfying. Why would you put a serial killer into a story if it’s not going to be explored? Why are there ghosts if there’s no ghost story? In real life, there are things you will never know, and I think that’s what Anderson was going for here—but in literature, you find the killer, even if they’re not caught. Not doing so is almost cruel. Readers read mysteries and true crime novels because they want to find out all of the details. That’s why such an open end to the killer made me so furious.

In reality, this book is about Maggie, Pauline, and Liam, three teenagers who live on Water Street in Gill Creek, which is located on the peninsula of Wisconsin. Their friendship starts out strong, but as events occur, it starts to dissipate as romantic feelings are revealed. I didn’t mind reading about them, admittedly; they’re an entertaining bunch.

“I don’t even know if it’s him. I called Elsa, and she said she’d have one of the guys at the Emporium talk to him. She won’t talk to him herself, because she thinks he’s the killer.”

Pauline let out a loud groan. “Everybody thinks everybody is the killer. The lady at the 7-eleven says it’s that guy Sam from the Gill Creek Maritime Museum, because he has sinister eyebrows. I think it’s Liam.”

Liam stared into the fire. “I did it with s’more sticks.”

Anderson’s exceptional writing abilities made this a hard book to put down, which is why I couldn’t rate it two stars. I’m just really disappointed that it wasn’t the book I thought it was going to be.

Review: The Plucker, by Brom

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The Plucker, by Brom

Genres: Graphic Novels, Horror, Fantasy

Rating: ✮✮✮

“Remember what that evil spirit done to you. What it done to your friends, what it’s doing to Thomas. Feel your vengeance. Feed on your vengeance. Become vengeance.”

If I were to venture inside the mind of Gerald Brom, I’m not sure if it would be a wonderful or terrifying place. Probably both.

His stories fascinate me. He writes about concepts that are so clever and twisted that I can’t help but be intrigued. When I read The Child Thief last year, he completely blew my mind with a dark, dangerous retelling of Peter Pan. In The Plucker, he writes about a little boy’s toys that are actually alive, a jester who comes back to life as a vicious, bloodthirsty assassin, and a malevolent spirit who comes out of a doll, creeps out at night and slowly sucks away the boy’s soul.

See, this is why I’m afraid of dolls. And animatronics, at that.

I do think that it needed something. In comparison to The Child Thief, it’s much thinner and so the story is not as fulfilling. Plus, as The Child Thief was written later, it’s safe to assume that Brom grew as a writer and his skills had improved by the time he started writing it.

His art, however, is fantastic as always.

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Brom is one of my favorite artists because he is so good at doing both the sinister and the beautiful. I loved Jack’s design, the Plucker was absolutely disgusting, and those creatures he created were creepy as hell. I loved it.

I liked it overall. I still recommend The Child Thief, but I enjoyed The Plucker as well.

And dolls are terrifying. I’m just saying.