Review: Eliza and Her Monsters, by Francesca Zappia

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Eliza and Her Monsters, by Francesca Zappia

Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary

Rating: ✮✮✮✮

There are monsters in the sea.

Warning: This is a slightly personal review.

Eliza and Her Monsters is extremely relatable. It deals with social anxiety, which is something that a lot of people suffer with. It shows how, despite all logic, our minds can twist our biggest fears around and turn them against us.

I relate with Eliza on a lot of levels, but my personal experience reading this book might be a little different. See, I used to be exactly like Eliza. I didn’t realize it, but throughout high school, I didn’t talk to my peers very often. I purposely avoided working in groups or attending any of the events, including prom. I ate lunch in the library, even though I wasn’t supposed to, because I hated the idea of sitting in the cafeteria. I tried to hide as much as I possibly could, all because I was terrified of talking to my classmates and having them either ignore me or shut me down. I didn’t want them to even look at me.

My senior year of high school brought a lot of changes to my life, and I started to open up a bit more. By the time I graduated, I had gained some confidence. I wasn’t popular, but I wasn’t invisible, and I was comfortable with that.

I have mostly overcome my social anxiety – mostly. I’ll admit that sometimes I get extremely freaked out whenever I have to talk to someone that I have a crush on, and my best friend will attest to this, because she’s had to listen to me fret and whine for years. I didn’t realize how far I’d come until I read Eliza and Her Monsters and I saw in Eliza who I used to be.

I was so frustrated with her. A lot of the time, I thought Eliza was being extremely immature, especially when she shut out her family. Every time her parents would try to approach her and get her to spend time with them, she would throw a fit, like she was twelve years old. She was abrasive, disrespectful, and selfish. She gave no thought to how others felt or what their problems were.

I used to be just like that. I used to do all of those things, and reading them through different eyes – from the outside looking in – completely sucked. It was also an eye-opener.

Every time Eliza’s parents talked to her about how private she was and how she needed to be more sociable, I saw reflected in them my own parents, saying the exact same thing. I remembered how much those kinds of words irritated me – but, reading them again, I wasn’t. It was like I was finally understanding what it was my parents had been trying to drill in me for so many years.

I am still pretty introverted. I detest parties. I hate being by myself in a group of strange people – but I’m not as afraid to talk anymore. As a matter of fact, the right person would probably say that I have a harder time shutting up.

The best part about Eliza and Her Monsters was Eliza’s maturity. She learns how to conquer her anxiety and keep herself from getting worn out, and that is important to every person who has ever suffered from social anxiety. It has some nerd culture, yes, and quite a bit of the Francesca Zappia charm – of which I have grown fond of since I read Made You Up – but the most important aspect, and the one that will appeal the most, is how Eliza overcomes her fears – how, essentially, she slayed her monsters.

Review: The Eternity Cure, by Julie Kagawa

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The Eternity Cure, by Julie Kagawa

Genres: Young Adult, Dystopian, Paranormal

Rating: ✮✮✮✮ +½

“Run. The end draws nigh, and the sun will soon set for all your kind. How long can you evade the dark, I wonder?”

Well, holy shit. Julie Kagawa took everything that I wanted from The Immortal Rules and delivered it in The Eternity Cure on a silver platter. I don’t know why I’m so surprised.

The Immortal Rules was good, but I still found it wanting. I couldn’t stand the girl-hate, and due to the extensive traveling, a few parts were slow. It also didn’t feel nearly as dark as it could’ve been, with Allie a very unconvincing narrator when it came to describing her struggles with her “demon”. Because I love Julie Kagawa’s writing so much – plot-driven, dynamic, and straight-forward – I still enjoyed it, but there was something missing.

Whatever it was, The Eternity Cure shoved it down my throat. For one, it’s a blood festival. Not only is there more action, but the battles are more gruesome. The world that Allie and Zeke live in becomes more twisted, and that’s something that I’ve never seen from Julie Kagawa before. It was a delight. Sarren, who was mostly just a distant memory in The Immortal Rules, appears more often and reveals his true psychopathic nature. This series was originally marketed as dystopian, but the further it goes on, the more it skewers into horror – especially where that ending is concerned.

Allie has also matured. No longer hiding her true nature, her melodrama is kept at bay, and since she is also no longer quarreling with Ruth, there isn’t any girl-hate – and I can’t tell you enough how big of a relief that is. The worst part about The Immortal Rules was the feud between Allie and Ruth over Zeke. It was a gigantic obstacle that kept getting tripped over, preventing the story from flowing smoothly.

Additionally, there’s Jackal. Jackal appeared at the end of The Immortal Rules as the raider king hunting down Zeke’s family, and he reappears early on in The Eternity Cure. He adds the sarcasm and wit that I remember in The Iron Fey series, with Puck. It’s an element to Julie Kagawa’s writing that I’ve grown found of, and while Jackal is a gigantic asshole and his sense of humor is much blacker, he’s so endearing. He’s the icing on top of the cake.

“Well, I have good news and bad news,” he announced. “The good news is that the jeep is still where we left it, and I got the damned thing working again.”

“What’s the bad news?” I asked.

“Something took my fuzzy dice.”

I’m starting to grow really fond of this series, the same way that I did with The Iron Fey. It delivers the creepy, bloody, vicious vampire story that I had been craving for.

Review: Hate List, by Jennifer Brown

7893725Hate List, by Jennifer Brown

Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✮

We all got to be winners sometimes. But what he didn’t understand was that we all had to be losers, too. Because you can’t have one without the other.

Jennifer Brown’s Torn Away was the very first book that I ever reviewed on The Grumpy Librarian. It’s almost kind of surreal that, about a year after this blog began, I’m reviewing another one of her books.

The topic of school shootings is a very sensitive one. It’s multi-layered and complex. You look at the situation, and at face value, you see the victims; you dig further, and you consider the shooter’s mental state, what put them in that position in the first place. This makes both parties simultaneously innocent and guilty, and when people are murdered, everybody wants it to be black and white. What Jennifer Brown shows in Hate List is that it isn’t. It’s so multi-colored that you can’t tell where one fades into another.

In the end, Nick – the shooter – is a monster and a victim. He is his own victim; he destroyed himself. The message that Hate List portrays is that, even though Nick was bullied relentlessly, his anger and pursuit of revenge don’t equal the damage he caused – not even a fraction of it. That’s because – and as someone who just recently graduated, I can say this with absolute confidence – those things will come and go. Though I can’t speak for everyone, teenagers mature and come to regret what they’ve done and who they used to be. It was Nick’s inability to contain his anger – deal with it, find a source for it, see past it – that caused him to explode.

And although what Nick did was unforgivable, what Jennifer Brown doesn’t let the reader forget is that he was a human being. She peeks into the kind of person he used to be, before his mind became clouded with violence. She shows how kind he was and how much he loved those he cared about, and how even after what he’s done, Valerie can still grieve for him.

Valerie is a great protagonist, because when Nick blew up, she caught most of the shrapnel. She has to deal with so much guilt: over not noticing Nick’s behavior, for causing her family grief, for starting the mess in the first place. She has to look at the faces of all of the people that she used to blame for her suffering, but were actually innocent, and at what she did to them, indirectly. She has to find ways to make amends, even when people won’t let her. Hate List shows her maturity from beginning to end.

I was completely absorbed by this book. The emotions were all so tangible. One of the qualities of Jennifer Brown’s writing that I love is how she pulls out the flaws in human beings and uses them to shape her books. She shows how even the people we love the most can turn into the people we hate; how even the nicest ones we know can turn cruel. That’s what makes her books so realistic, so engrossing, and so hard to put down.

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: A Gathering of Shadows, by V.E. Schwab

A Gathering of Shadows, by V.E. Schwab

Genres: Adult, Fantasy

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✮

“Everyone’s immortal until they’re not.”

(Spoiler-free review for both the first and the second book! There’s a couple of minor things, but for the most part, I have exempted all spoilers.)

Dear Victoria Schwab:

I already thought that A Darker Shade of Magic was fantastic, but A Gathering of Shadows is incredible. It manages to pull off the impossible: it is a middle book that is obviously a middle book, and yet it is still entertaining from beginning to end.

I’m sure many of you have encountered “middle-book syndrome”, when the second book in a trilogy (or perhaps more, depending) suffers due to the fact that nothing monumentally important happens. There isn’t a sense of urgency or danger, and as a result, there’s this sense of idling, and the book suffers from a slow pace. A Gathering of Shadows feels like one of those books, those “spaces between”, as I like to call them, and yet, it is never boring at all.

This is probably due to the fact that in A Darker Shade of Magic, the world is being introduced to us even as the plot moves forward, but in A Gathering of Shadows, we have settled in comfortably, and the pace picks up. It’s still a magnificent world full of magic that continues to surprise and excite, and V.E. Schwab doesn’t let it grow dull. Everything is still developing. We begin to learn about the different countries that neighbor Arnes, about what’s inside of Black London, about magic itself. It’s a world that continues to grow and grow.

The characters are getting more complex as well, and I love it. Kell’s dark side is revealed, showing him a bit more hot-headed and temperamental; Lila, though still reckless, is learning to control her magic; and even Rhy, my precious ray of sunshine, is multiplying, exposing different sides to himself. He’s still the flirty boy that I remember, but he’s darker around the edges, and I didn’t realize how much I needed to see him as a flustered schoolboy until Alucard arrived.

Rhy hesitated, unsure what to say next. With anyone else, he would have had a flirtatious retort, but standing there, a mere stride away from Alucard, he felt short of breath, let alone words. He turned away, fidgeting with his cuffs. He heard the chime of silver and a moment later, Alucard snaked an arm possessively around his shoulders and brought his lips to the prince’s neck, just below his ear. Rhy actually shivered.

“You are far too familiar with your prince,” he warned.

“So you confess it, then?” [He] brushed his lips against Rhy’s throat. “That you are mine.”

Dear Victoria Schwab:

My poor fujioshi heart.

I tend to hate it when books save most of the action for the end, then leave me hanging on until the next book, since it feels like bait, but A Gathering of Shadows did just that – with the best cliffhanger ever, I might add – and yet, it doesn’t feel like it was misplaced, or all shoved into one area. The danger is being built up behind the scenes, and as the ending draws closer, it builds a sense of dread, which is a far more effective method than just having everything blow up in the last few chapters. If I didn’t have A Conjuring of Light waiting for me on my bookshelf, I would be screaming. But I do. So ha.

Dear Victoria Schwab:

Your books are the work of gods.

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: A Darker Shade of Magic, by V.E. Schwab

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A Darker Shade of Magic, by V.E. Schwab

Genres: Adult, Fantasy

Rating: ✮✮✮✮ +½

“I’d rather die on an adventure than live standing still.”

The third book in this trilogy came out recently, and as I always do with popular series of any kind―including, most recently, BBC’s Sherlock―I wait until it’s almost completed before getting into it. It’s usually by accident, or because it’s shoved into my face―as A Conjuring of Light was, all over Goodreads―and since I’d read Vicious not that long ago, I thought the timing was perfect.

Oh, was it good. It was spectacular. Though its setting is historical, this book is pure fantasy, full of elemental magic, seals, and curses―though the concept is very unique. There is a great structure of the different Londons, the terms for magicians and their powers, and how their world came to be with the sealing off of the doors and Black London. I don’t have much experience with parallel universes, but I love the way they’re written in this book.

There’s plenty of death and heartache to keep me occupied―the crueler, the better―and not only that, but we have the perfect villains to simultaneously love and hate in the form of Athos and Astrid Dane.

“I’m going to let you keep your mind,” said Athos. “Do you know why?” The blade’s tip bit in, and Beloc gasped. “So I can watch the war play in your eyes every time your body obeys my will instead of yours.”

God, how I hated them―and yet I loved them, too, because they were written so well. V.E. Schwab has a knack for writing bad guys, not just in her adult novels, but in her young adult books as well. Vicious may not have been as gruesome as I’d have liked it to have been, but I’m not going to deny that V.E. Schwab writes my favorite villains.

And also, my favorite supporting characters. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I adored Rhy. He reminds me of Wesley from The Archived, and if this is a character type that Schwab plans to continue using for the rest of her novels, then sign me the hell up.

“A fine idea,” said Rhy. “But no. We must go out, you see, because we’re on a mission.”

“Oh?” asked Kell.

“Yes. Because unless you plan to wed me yourself―and don’t get me wrong, I think  we’d make a dashing pair―I must try and find a mate.”

He’s flirty, funny, loyal, kind, probably bisexual, and I love him. He needs more screen time. I do love Kell―he’s charming and gentle, and he doesn’t even need to go out of his way to show it―and after a while, I did grow to love Lila, though I thought she was extremely reckless; but characters like Rhy need more appreciation. Cast away all of the brooding princes, the tall, the dark and the handsome. Give me a character that can make me laugh.

Ms. Schwab, I raise my glass to you. This book was fantastic, and I’m dying for more.

Review: The Five People You Meet in Heaven, by Mitch Albom

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The Five People You Meet in Heaven, by Mitch Albom

Genres: Literature, Contemporary

Rating: ✮✮✮✮

“All endings are also beginnings. We just don’t know it at the time.”

This was a book I had to read for class. I’ve enjoyed assigned books in the past, but to be honest, I didn’t expect to eat through this book so quickly. It’s tiny – not even 200 pages – but it wasn’t so much the length as my inability to put it down.

I am an atheist. I have little to no knowledge about many religions, particularly orthodox ones. I have tried multiple times to stretch my beliefs a little, to believe in a deity, but I can’t. It’s not how I think. Despite this, if there is a heaven, I would want it to be exactly like it is depicted in this book. Many if not all individuals worry about living a pointless life, of not affecting anything, and wondering why they’re even alive, and The Five People You Meet in Heaven is based around the idea that when you die, you meet five different people – some you know, some you might not – that drastically changed your life, and explain to you the significance of their encounters and what they mean. It’s a way of understanding how you mattered during the time you were alive, something we all crave to know.

It’s very easy to see how, from our perspective, we would feel worthless, whereas from an outsider’s point of view, we understand how important we are. Eddie believes he was very insignificant, that due to the war and his leg injury he didn’t live as fulfilled a life as he’d dreamed – but when he glances through it with his five people, he comes to understand that he did in fact serve his purpose, that his life wasn’t as gray as it appeared.

This is such an emotionally-packed book. Many of the lessons that Eddie learns are things that we’ve all heard before, but the way they are woven through adds a deeper sentimentality. There are quotes in here that are worthy of being put in pretty fonts on rainy backgrounds and pasted all over Tumblr.

“Strangers,” the Blue Man said, “are just family you have yet to come to know.”

This is a book that is easy to fly through, that is over and done with in a matter of hours, but might stay with you forever, just because of how deep it is. It’s a tiny reminder that no matter how we perceive ourselves, we are not as transparent as we seem.

Review: Strange the Dreamer, by Laini Taylor

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Strange the Dreamer, by Laini Taylor

Genres: Young Adult, High Fantasy

Rating: ✮✮ 

“Enlighten me, Strange. In what version of the world could you possibly help?”

This book started out at five stars. Then it became four. Then it almost became one. I’m giving it a middle rating because I’m having a hard time making up my mind.

Laini Taylor is an author that, even if I’m not the biggest fan of her work, I admire with the utmost respect. Her writing is exquisite, and her stories explode with a creativity that I wish I could harness for my own. However, whenever I read her books, they always follow the same pattern: I am at first mesmerized, and then I am greatly disappointed. Then the ending is an explosion that makes up for some of that disappointment, and I’m tempted to read the second one.

The story itself is rich and wonderful. There’s a mystical city that lost its name and a young librarian named Lazlo Strange, who’s been obsessed with it since birth. Lazlo was orphaned and ended up at the Great Library by chance, and has spent his days obsessing about the Unseen City, diving into books and enriching himself with stories. For this reason, he has been dubbed “Strange the Dreamer”, and he has always believed that his dreams will never come true and he will never get to see the city he loves, the one that has become “Weep”. Of course, that’s not the case.

To dive into what the rest of it is about would, in a way, be like spoiling it for you. It’s one of those books that keeps secrets, and you have to read on to discover what they are. There are gods, and there are goddesses, and there is magic, and there is carnage, and that’s really all you need to know to get excited about it.

My low rating is due to one thing that ended up becoming many: the romance. I got sick of it. Laini Taylor’s style is very theatrical, and this is all well and good until people start smooching, because she drags it out so much that it starts to bore me to death. One kiss lasted seven pages. I’d have to use both of my hands to count how many times Lazlo described Sarai’s lips, and my toes for how many times he mentioned how beautiful her blue skin is. Not to mention the fact that it’s very instantaneous – Sarai appears in Lazlo’s dreams a couple of times, and they talk some shit about the moon and the sun, and just like that, they’re in love. I don’t get it.

It affected the pacing. This exact same thing happened in Daughter of Smoke and Bone: tons of magic and action that made the pages fly by, and then we’re slammed with a vending machine. (If you get that reference, I love you.) I started to fall asleep while reading, and at first I thought it was because I was simply tired. It’s not like it hasn’t happened before – but when it kept happening, over and over again, even after a decent night’s rest and a good dose of caffeine, I knew that it wasn’t me. I like romance, but it blighted the book so much in parts that it became nauseating.

Also, where was their chemistry? At first, I thought this was going to be an LGBTQ+ fantasy because there was tons of tension between Lazlo and Thyron, and I was eating it up. I’ll admit that I ship everything gay under the sun, but it felt like something was going to happen between them, and then nothing did, and then Sarai showed up and stole Lazlo away. I swear to god, if the next book doesn’t have Thyron at least pining for him, I am going to lose my shit.

Laini Taylor’s books are received really depends on the reader, and I don’t think I’m ever going to be the type of person that is infatuated with them. I love how she writes, and I love the way she thinks, but the way she executes them leaves something wanting.