“Rebel of the Sands” Blog Tour & Review

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24934065Book: “Rebel of the Sands” by Alwyn Hamiton

Publishing Info: Viking Books for Young Readers, March 2016

Where Did I Get this Book: from the publisher!

Book Description: Arabian Nights” meets “Mockingjay” in a world unlike any you’ve ever seen before!

Mortals rule the desert nation of Miraji, but mystical beasts still roam the wild and remote areas, and rumor has it that somewhere, djinni still perform their magic. But there’s nothing mystical or magical about Dustwalk, the dead-end town that Amani can’t wait to escape from. When the gunslinging girl meets Jin, a mysterious and devastatingly handsome foreigner, in a shooting contest, she sees him as the perfect escape route. But in all her years spent dreaming of leaving Dustwalk, she never imagined she’d gallop away on a mythical horse, fleeing the murderous Sultan’s army, with a fugitive who’s part of the secret rebel movement plotting to overthrow the Sultan. And she’d never have predicted she’d fall in love with him . . . or that he’d help her unlock the truth about who–and what–she is. Debut author Alwyn Hamilton weaves this spellbinding story of treason, passion, and magic.
unnamed-authorAuthor’s Bio: Alwyn Hamilton was born in Toronto and lived between Canada, France, and Italy until the was three, when her family settled in the small French town of Beaune. She studied History of Art at King’s College, Cambridge, graduated in 2009, and lives in London.

Review: I am so excited to participate in this blog tour! Not only because I simply love blog tours (following them, being in them, whatever!), but because of the book that I got to read for this one. “Rebel of Sands” is one of those stories that has been on my TBR pile forrrevveer. And I really have no excuse as to why I haven’t gotten to it before. But now I can just smugly feel that my procrastination was just divine providence for my being able to review it now with fellow bloggers.

There was a lot to love about this book, and the story wastes no time in laying it all out before you. If there is one word that I would use to describe this book it would be “fast-paced” (hyphens make it one word!). The story starts out with us quickly meeting our heroine, Amani, and getting a brief overview of the life she’s been leading, one that has been restricted by her gender, her status as an orphan, and her complete lack of funds to get herself the heck out of dodge. Wham, bam, a few pages later, Amani has gotten herself caught up in things over her head and found herself in the company of the roguish, Jin, who is now her best bet out into the wide world. From there, the adventure is just getting started, with mythical beasts and action around every corner.

I very much enjoyed Amani as a leading character. Her narration is witty, but believable, never falling into any of the too-easy cliches for smart-mouthed heroines. Further, her banter with Jin also walked this line well. Their romance was a nice addition to the story, but didn’t overwhelm the action or Amani’s character arc on her own.

I also loved the Persian setting for this story. I’ve been on a bit of a kick of this kind (along with the rest of the YA community it seems), and have enjoyed other books with a similar setting to this (“Wrath of Dawn” & “City of Brass” come to mind). The desert setting and the mythology of the region are always appealing, and I enjoyed them just as much in this version as I have in others. This story was also more action packed than some of the others, which I thought played well laid upon this desert setting.

My one critique comes in the middle of two positive aspects. I liked the setting, as I’ve said, and I like Amani’s special skill of being a sharp shooter. My only problem was the combination of the two sometimes lead the book towards feeling more like a Western than anything else, which I felt like took away from the Persian culture and setting. It almost managed to re-focus the story back to the more common Euro-centric fantasy books that are so predominant. This was a bit unfortunate as it ended up shooting (ha!) itself in the foot, taking out one of its own creative strengths a bit.

But, other than that, I very much enjoyed reading “Rebel of the Sands!” It was a quick read, full of action and adventure, and featuring a relatable heroine whose story I’m eager to continue following.

Rating 8: A action-packed romp with strong country Western themes and a witty heroine!

Next Stop on the Blog Tour: I Fangirl About Books

HERO AT THE FALL TOUR SCHEDULE
REBEL OF THE SANDS SCHEDULE
WEEK ONE
1/30 – Spinatale Reviews – Review
1/31 – Library Ladies – Review
2/1 – I Fangirl about books – Review
2/2 – Aimee, Always – Quote Wallpaper
WEEK TWO
2/5 – Opalsbookjems – Review
2/6 – Mundie Moms – Review
2/7 – As Told By Michelle – Review
TRAITOR OF THE THRONE SCHEDULE
WEEK THREE
2/12 – YA and Wine – Review
2/13 – Adventures of a Book Junkie – “5 Reasons to Read the Series”
2/14 – ReadingAnyone – Review
2/15 – The Clockwork Bibliophile – Booklook + Photo Feature
WEEK FOUR
2/20 – The Lovely Books – Review
2/21 – Never Too Many To Read – Creative
2/22 – Sisters Who Read – Creative Post
HERO AT THE FALL SCHEDULE
WEEK FIVE
2/26 – Writing is Hard – Review + Social Media Promo
2/27 – Mike the Fanboy – Fun Recap of Series
2/28 – My Friends are Fiction – Review
3/1 – The Young Folks – Review
3/2 – Lisa’s Lost in Lit – Creative
WEEK SIX
3/5 – The Reader Bee – Review + Bookstagram Post
3/6 – Seeing Double in Neverland – Review + Creative Insta Post
3/7 – A  Book and A Cup of Coffee – Playlist
3/8 – Fiction Fare – Moodboard
WEEK SEVEN
3/12 – The Eater of Books – Moodboard
3/13 – Love Is Not a Triangle – Review + Bookstagram Picture
3/14 – Tales of the Ravenous Reader – Creative Content
3/15 – Forever Young Adult – Review

Kate’s Review: “S.T.A.G.S.”

35248505Book: “S.T.A.G.S.” by M.A. Bennett

Publishing Info: Penguin Teen, January 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an ARC from NetGalley.

Book Description: Seventeen-year-old Greer, a scholarship girl at a prestigious private school, St Aidan the Great School (known as STAGS), soon realizes that the school is full of snobs and spoilt rich brats, many of whom come from aristocratic families who have attended the institute throughout the centuries. She’s immediately ignored by her classmates. All the teachers are referred to as Friars (even the female ones), but the real driving force behind the school is a group of prefects known as the Medievals, whose leader, Henry de Warlencourt, Greer finds both strangely intriguing as well as attractive. The Medievals are all good-looking, clever and everyone wants to be among their circle of friends. Greer is therefore surprised when she receives an invitation from Henry to spend a long weekend with him and his friends at his family house in the Lake District, especially when she learns that two other “outsiders” have also been invited: Shafeen and Chanel. As the weekend unfolds, Greer comes to the chilling realization that she and two other “losers” were invited only because they were chosen to become prey in a mad game of manhunt.

Review: I want to extend a thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an ARC of this novel!

As someone who loves boarding school stories and as someone who loves the evergreen trope of People Hunting People, I OF COURSE was basically stoked to try and get my hands on an advanced copy of “S.T.A.G.S.” by M.A. Bennett. You take themes from “The Most Dangerous Game” and add it to a bunch of rotten rich kids who no doubt deserve a horrific comeuppance, and what do you get?

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Am I just holding a serious grudge towards kids at my private high school because of the way they treated me? Maybe. But “S.T.A.G.S.” has a lot going for it beyond petty revenge fantasies for this blogger. To give it a little bit of background, it was originally published in England in August of last year, and it had already secured a potential movie deal by the time that it did. Clearly, my pettiness and predilections are just part of a bigger hype train, and I can tell you now that the hype is pretty well deserved.

Greer is our first person protagonist, a girl from Manchester who loves movies but has no clue what the wealthy elite at her school live like. She lives with her filmmaker father, and has no memory of her mother, who left them both when Greer was two. This innate and early rejection has given her a bit of a complex, and her isolation at her new posh school really just adds to it. I liked Greer as a main character, because her insecurities felt incredibly realistic and relatable. Sometimes her propensity to refer to various movies and actors and actresses got a bit grating, but her identity is so tied to her one stable relationship she has with her father now I was ultimately able to look past it. We see everything through her eyes, and while we are a bit more able to see through the facade that The Medievals, the popular clique who has invited her out for a weekend of “huntin’, shootin’, and fishin'”, her dreams of acceptance and popularity feel very real as they blind her to the underlying danger. While the Medievals are pretty much two dimensional villains (though I will concede that Henry, the ring leader, is pretty fleshed out), the other ‘targets’, Chanel and Shafeen, are fairly well explored. With Chanel trying to fit in in spite of the fact she’s “New Money”, and Shafeen always having to deal with his race in the eyes of the lily white students around him even though he’s as Old Money as they are, the themes of race and class are interwoven in subtler ways than I expected. Though it’s not likely that wealthy teenagers are luring their disenfranchised peers to their deaths vis a vis promise of a fun weekend in the country, the metaphor is there and it is very real.

Themes and characterizations aside, the plot itself was fine tuned and unfolded at the perfect pace. Bennett slowly lays out clues and moments that make the tension go up and up at a snail’s pace, until you are so wound up that you dread for the moment that it comes to a head, lest you snap. The pristine perfection of the manor and the countryside sounded seductive, but there was also an underlying sense of unease and displacement along with it. Though it’s modern times, the modernity is stripped from Henry’s home, and from his social circles. While a cell phone call could solve a lot of problems in this book, the fact that the Medievals deliberately shun and forbid technology acts not only as a way to prevent easy ways out, but also as a symbol for the dangers of the upper classes who long for the old days. After all, it is becoming more and more clear that those who wish we could turn back time have little care how that time turn would affect people who aren’t like them. Or perhaps they do, and that’s the point.

“S.T.A.G.S.” ended on a note that could make way for more books. I am both pretty pumped for it, but I also kind of snorted at where things ended. But I do think that if M.A. Bennett has more to say about this school and the wretched people who inhabit it, I would probably continue down the path until it reached its conclusion. I had a hard time putting it down and I foresee that others will have the same problem. And believe me, it’s going to feel like a good problem to have. We have a new reference point to “The Most Dangerous Game”, and “S.T.A.G.S.” fits right in with those that came before it.

Rating 8: A tense and well built thriller that addresses deeper issues, such as class and race. If this is the first in a series, I am definitely hoping to get my hands on more.

Readers Advisory:

“S.T.A.G.S.” is new and not included on any relevant Goodreads lists, but I think that it would fit in on “Let The (Deadly) Games Begin!”, and  “Boarding Schools, Camps, and Private Academies”.

Find “S.T.A.G.S.” at your library using WorldCat!

Not Just Books: January 2018

While we do love us some books, believe it not, we do have a life outside of reading. So to highlight our other pop culture interests, on the last Monday of each month, we each will highlight three other “happenings” from the last month. Big events on favorite TV shows, new movies we’ve watched, old movies we’ve “discovered,” etc. Pretty much whatever we found of particular interest outside of the book world during the last month. Share your own favorite things in the comments!

Serena’s Picks

mv5bmjq1mzcxnjg4n15bml5banbnxkftztgwnzgwmjy4mzi-_v1_ux182_cr00182268_al_Movie: “Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi

Look, this is by no means a perfect movie. But, being of the “prefer Star Trek anyways” mindset, lack of perfection in Star Wars is nothing new to me, and I’m just there for the fun characters and the sci-fi action. And this had plenty of both! I do think the movie was overly long and I questioned some of the decisions they made with some of the main character (hard to like Poe now; Finn’s storyline was functionally unnecessary). But I loved all of the parts of the story that, you know, actually focused on the Jedi. Rey, Luke, and Kylo Ren’s arcs were all compelling and their performances were by far the strongest of the entire movie. In the end, I had a fun time watching it and am curious to see where things go next, and that’s pretty much all I ask of most movies.

mv5bmzjkyzg3mjqtodfhns00m2rlltgzndmtndrkodi1otdmy2u5xkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymjq1njeynze-_v1_uy268_cr40182268_al_TV Show: “Wallander”

I’ve always loved British crime dramas, but somehow had missed this one featuring the always-amazing Kenneth Branagh. And when I say “British,” I mean “British actors speaking with a British accent but pretending that they’re Swedish living in Sweden and speaking Swedish and all the written things you see are in Swedish, but please ignore that the actors are totally still speaking English in a British accent.” But once you get over the weirdness of that decision, the show’s pretty great! Wallander is definitely of the “brooding & brilliant” character type, so if you’re looking for a lot of jokes and pep, this might not be your thing. But if you like character-driven, beautifully shot, detailed crime dramas, than this might be for you!

indexComputer Game: “Civilization VI”

I remember playing the very first “Civilization” game when I was a kid with my sister and Dad back in the 90s. Really, my Dad played while we watched since we were still pretty little. And ever since, every few years or so, I’ll remember how much I love this game series and download the most recent version and disappear off the edge of the earth for a month or so. And now my poor husband is being exposed to his first round of this habit life-long habit. In the few weeks, I’ve literally spent entire days playing this and doing nothing else. Have to win a Cultural Victory! Now a Science Victory! Now I must conquer the world! It’s an obsession. But, as always, this newest iteration is as enjoyable as the first, and for those who like strategic games, “Civilization” is probably one of the biggest ones out there. Plus, they may have just released a new expansion. My poor husband…

Kate’s Picks

mv5bndk3ntewnjc0mv5bml5banbnxkftztgwnzyxntmwmzi-_v1_uy1200_cr9006301200_al_Movie: “Call Me By Your Name”

With all the awards season buzz going on right now, “Call Me By Your Name” is getting tossed around as a serious contender, as it absolutely should be. I went to see it with my friend David, and we were absolutely blown away with how touching and moving it was. This coming of age romance about Elio and Oliver, his father’s grad student, is so beautifully filmed and told, with excellent performances by both Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet. Their romance is touching and bittersweet, and the vistas and scenes of Italy made me feel like I was there in the moment. You will absolutely get lost in this movie, as it’s imagery and locales are completely intoxicating. I will say that you should probably bring a box of tissues with you, however, as by the end I was basically sobbing into my hands I was so emotionally rung out. Just ask David, I was a total mess. But it was worth it.

i-tonya-posterMovie: “I, Tonya”

I was in fourth grade when the whole Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan scandal happened, and totally remember the media frenzy surrounding it. Nancy Kerrigan was the injured ice princess, and Tonya Harding was the conniving bitch who arranged to have her knee cap broken. “I, Tonya” puts forth the notion that Harding was vilified unfairly in the media, ignorant to the means her husband and his friend went to. It addresses her horrific background of being a victim of classism from the skating community, and physical and emotional abuse from both her mother and her husband. Margot Robbie plays Harding with the perfect combination of defensive petulance and desperation, and Sebastian Stan plays her piece of shit husband Jeff to a T. But it’s Alison Janney, who plays her abusive mother with both the blackest of black humor and terrifying cruelty, who really stands out. It has made me rethink a lot of things about Tonya Harding and the trial by media she endured.

rsz_5a2385b56c9a0TV Show Rewatch: “Monk”

So about sixish years ago I went through a rough spell of getting a bad bad case of norovirus, and the show that I watched while wanting to die was the delightful detective dramedy “Monk”. It went off Netflix shortly thereafter, and I didn’t think much of it. But then near the holidays this past year I got a nasty case of the flu/maybe walking pneumonia(I think? I’ve had it before and boy was it similar), and was bedridden with no energy for a few days. So what did I find on Amazon Prime around that time? “Monk”! This series follows Adrian Monk, an OCD and highly anxious private investigator whose fabulous detective skills make him the best in the game, even if he’s emotionally a bit stunted. Tony Shalhoub is a gem as Monk, and the supporting cast is a real joy with lots of great chemistry. Namely, Ted “Buffalo Bill” Levine who plays police Captain Stottlemeyer, Monk’s best friend and colleague. True, it’s a bit dated now after being off the air for ten years, but I greatly enjoyed my rewatch.

Serena’s Review: “A Study in Scarlet Women”

28588390Book: “A Study in Scarlet Women” by Sherry Thomas

Publishing Info: Berkley Books, October 2016

Where Did I Get this Book: Christmas present from Kate!

Book Description: With her inquisitive mind, Charlotte Holmes has never felt comfortable with the demureness expected of the fairer sex in upper class society. But even she never thought that she would become a social pariah, an outcast fending for herself on the mean streets of London.

When the city is struck by a trio of unexpected deaths and suspicion falls on her sister and her father, Charlotte is desperate to find the true culprits and clear the family name. She’ll have help from friends new and old—a kind-hearted widow, a police inspector, and a man who has long loved her.

But in the end, it will be up to Charlotte, under the assumed name Sherlock Holmes, to challenge society’s expectations and match wits against an unseen mastermind.

Review: While this has been on my TBR list for QUITE a while, I’ve also been incredibly nervous by the entire concept. I mean, let’s be honest, their is definitely “Sherlock exhaustion” in the air. I can think of several adaptations that came out in the last few years off the top of my head, all with “new” twists on the character. Many of these “new” twists are all very similar and have something to do with a female Sherlock, either a modern relation of him, or a modern relation of Watson who is a young woman, something! So, on the face of things, this book falls solidly in the same category. However, it has also been hugely popular and several reviewers whom I trust raved about it. But the credit in this case for me finally getting to reading it goes to Kate for getting it for me for Christmas. And man, suddenly all of my seemingly good reasons for being hesitant about this read went immediately out the window!

As stated, this is yet another re-imagining of Sherlock Holmes. In this version, Charlotte Holmes takes on the role of the brilliant detective, and the surrounding classic characters all get a revamp too. We have a newly imagined Watson, a new take on Mrs. Hudson, and a few references to the Myrcroft of this world. What’s particularly brilliant about them all is how much license the author gave herself to completely re-think these characters, their histories, and their relationships to each other. All too often, “unique” retellings only switch one basic fact and then try to simply re-tell the same story. Like, let’s just make Sherlock a woman, but change nothing else about the character, regardless of the massive impact that this one change would have on everything else. In a case like this, that change makes all the difference, given the very different worlds that men and women inhabited at this time. Often, this leaves these retellings feeling not only hollow, but anachronistic.

But Thomas takes it a step further: not only is Charolette a woman, but she is a woman who, while just as brilliant as Sherlock, is also distinctly her own person. We would expect a female Sherlock (indeed, we’ve seen this play out many times before) to be described as a thin, willowy woman, not only in an attempt to mimic the original character’s height and thinness, but because when wasn’t the young female lead thin and willowy? (but of course she’s insecure about it…) Charlotte is none of these things. A large focus of her day is spent thinking about food, and she has a strict number of chins that she’s decided are allowable before she much cut back. She’s blonde, cherubic, and society regularly uses the word “darling” to describe her. So right off the bat, this is a welcome change! At one point in the story, one character says something along the lines that it is God’s little joke that the most brilliant mind is housed in a body least likely to be suspected of having it. It’s awesome.

Further, Charlotte is written as a believable young woman would be, brilliant mind aside. Her intelligence is on display at all times (particularly her insights into people’s minds based on their clothes choices, as garish fashion is another of her pet loves), but she’s also a young woman who has been raised as a member of the gentry. She’s not automatically amazing at everything (a trope that is far too common for almost all Sherlock iterations nowadays). There are people in her life whom she respects who share with her these skill sets. I loved this attention to realism, and it helped make Charlotte feel like a more believable young woman. And it’s great fun to watch her build towards the “woman of all trades” that she will ultimately become.

Beyond Charlotte, the other characters were exceptional. As I said, their relationships with her and their own personal histories are much changed from the original, but somehow Thomas manages to perfectly capture the essence of each and re-create the roles they play in Charlotte’s story. There are little clues scattered throughout that were immensely fun to put together with my knowledge of the originals.

Further, Thomas introduces new characters, most notably, a beloved sister for Charlotte, Livia. Through Livia, we get an insight into Charlotte’s childhood and family life. Livia, too, serves the purpose of humanizing Charlotte. This was another aspect of this take on Sherlock Holmes that I loved. All too often, because he is brilliant, he’s simply allowed to treat others terribly and it seems as if he truly doesn’t care for anyone around him. Livia impresses upon Charlotte how important it is to learn how to function socially, and we never question Charlotte’s humanity due to her unfailing love for her sisters, particularly Livia.

All of this and I haven’t even covered the mystery! I can barely even sum it up, because, man, it was complicated. And this is one of the biggest compliments I can give it! I love mysteries that are challenging for the reader, and I loved piecing it all together after the reveals towards the end. But I can also see how this might be a turnoff for readers who don’t particularly enjoy mysteries. As I said, this one is pretty complicated, and with the huge cast of characters/suspects, I had to page back and forth a few times to make sure I was keeping track of everything. I didn’t mind this, but it may prove frustrating for other readers.

Beyond all of this, I loved the exploration of what it meant to be a woman in this time, and the underlying feminism at the heart of the story. Never does it bash you over the head, but instead, meticulously, carefully, and graciously, it lays out the case that women are just people, people who have their own thoughts, desires, ambitions, and loves. None of this taking away from the men around them, but simply existing alongside them. There was one scene, in particular, between Inspector Treadles (Charlotte/Sherlock’s connection in the police force) and his wife that really strikes upon this fact. Mrs. Watson, too, was a lovely force of will in this way. And, obviously, Charlotte herself who was ever practical about the limitations of her sex and how best to manage them towards her own goals.

I really could just rave about this book forever, but I’ll cut myself off here. I literally stopped reading about halfway through and ordered the sequel, so expect to see a review for that up soon!

Rating 9: A pure delight! THIS is the Sherlock Holmes re-imagining that I’ve been waiting for!

Reader’s Advisory:

“A Study in Scarlet Women” can be found on these Goodreads lists: “Victorian/Regency Female Sleuths/Mysteries” and “Reimagined.”

Find “A Study in Scarlet Women” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Before I Let Go”

33918883Book: “Before I Let Go” by Marieke Nijkamp

Publishing Info: Sourcebooks Fire, January 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an ARC from NetGalley.

Book Description: Best friends Corey and Kyra were inseparable in their snow-covered town of Lost Creek, Alaska. When Corey moves away, she makes Kyra promise to stay strong during the long, dark winter, and wait for her return.

Just days before Corey is to return home to visit, Kyra dies. Corey is devastated―and confused. The entire Lost community speaks in hushed tones about the town’s lost daughter, saying her death was meant to be. And they push Corey away like she’s a stranger.

Corey knows something is wrong. With every hour, her suspicion grows. Lost is keeping secrets―chilling secrets. But piecing together the truth about what happened to her best friend may prove as difficult as lighting the sky in an Alaskan winter…

Review: I want to extend a special thanks to NetGalley for sending me an ARC of this book!

It’s been a cold cold cold January up here in L’Etoile du Nord, and while we weren’t hit with a bomb cyclone of snow our temps were pretty low starting out the month. So whenever I read books that take place in Alaska, I usually think to myself ‘yeah, I feel that’. So the town of Lost Creek in “Before I Let Go” felt pretty darn relatable, at least in terms of climate and temperature. But Marieke Nijkamp made sure that the comparisons stopped there, as she created a community based on secrecy and lies. So when I picked this up I thought that I was getting a weird and creepy story about a town hiding things. Sadly, that wasn’t what Nijkamp gave me, and to be honest I’m not totally sure what exactly she did give me. “Before I Let Go” was a bit of a muddled mess.

The story is told in a couple of ways. The main ways are through flashbacks and moments in the present. We see the relationship that Corey and Kyra had before Corey and her mother moved away, and we also see how Corey is dealing with the loss of her friend, and how the town is dealing as well. And within those two ways, we get a couple of devices. Those devices include phone conversations, written out like transcripts, and then actual letters and correspondence, with notes as to whether they were sent or not. I usually like stories that experiment with the storytelling, and these devices were fine. But there was a third device that wasn’t introduced until halfway into the book, and that was through what appeared to be either screenplay or play directions. This only happened a couple of times, and it was introduced so late that it felt less organic and far more jarring. The first time it happened I was completely thrown for a loop, and it yanked me right out of the story. If you are going to use this device, I feel like it would better serve the story if you do it far earlier than halfway into it.

I also had a hard time getting invested in the characters and the story. The description seemed to imply that this was going be a mystery a la “Twin Peaks”, with a strange town with secrets that culminate with a dead girl who died mysteriously, but I didn’t feel like it ever took the plunge with any of the themes. For example, Kyra, who is bipolar (more on that in a bit), painted to cope with her manic episodes, and it’s implied that she has a bit of a psychic or prophetic ability through her painting. So, of course the town starts to take interest in this, as they want to know what their futures hold. Which is fine, but the psychic angle isn’t explored that much at all. It’s just thrown out there as a reason for the town to latch on, and it’s never said why she has them, IF she has them, or how they manifest. So it feels less like an intriguing plot point and more like a device that could have been achieved in other ways. So what did this story want to be? A small town melodrama? A coming of age/coming home story? A supernatural mystery? I wasn’t certain. If it wanted to be all three, I don’t think they were combined well into a single narrative. While we do get to learn a fair amount about Kyra through Corey’s memories, the letters, and the town people and their recollections, I feel like we know very little about Corey, our actual protagonist. All we know is that she had a deep relationship with Kyra, and wants to find out what happened to her, an obsession that is stoked by her own guilt for leaving her in the first place.

I do have to give props on a few things though. I did think that it was neat that Nijkamp made the choices to make a number of her characters LGBTQIA, as Corey is asexual, there is a gay couple in town, and Kyra was a lesbian. One of the central conflicts that Corey is struggling with is the fact that she and Kyra had a tense moment that they never really addressed, which wasn’t so great because it definitely felt a little ‘bury your gays’ for Kyra. But I do like that Nijkamp did have some ace representation, and doesn’t portray Corey as ‘disgusted’ by intimacy, as the stereotypes can sometimes imply. It also seemed to be that Nijkamp was conscientious to be careful and respectful when writing Kyra and her bipolar disorder. There was a very important moment where Kyra expresses frustration that she is only being seen as her bipolar disorder and not as a person, and I think that with so much stigma around mental illness having characters like Kyra is important for representation.

So while I think the representation and the themes of mental illness were well achieved, overall “Before I Let Go” was a disappointment, story wise. I had higher hopes for it, and while I could see myself recommending it to some, if you are looking for the thriller this might have wanted to be, look elsewhere.

Rating 5: It had some promise and takes a responsible and realistic approach to mental illness, but I felt like it didn’t really know what it wanted to be genre wise, and because of this felt confused and muddled.

Readers Advisory:

“Before I Let Go” is included on the Goodreads lists “YA & Middle Grade Fiction Set in Alaska”, and “Mental Health Book Bingo”.

Find “Before I Let Go” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review & Giveaway: “Shadowsong”

30694168Book: “Shadowsong” by S. Jae-Jones

Publishing Info: Wednesday Books, February 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: ARC from the publisher

Book Description: Six months after the end of Wintersong, Liesl is working toward furthering both her brother’s and her own musical careers. Although she is determined to look forward and not behind, life in the world above is not as easy as Liesl had hoped. Her younger brother Josef is cold, distant, and withdrawn, while Liesl can’t forget the austere young man she left beneath the earth, and the music he inspired in her.

When troubling signs arise that the barrier between worlds is crumbling, Liesl must return to the Underground to unravel the mystery of life, death, and the Goblin King—who he was, who he is, and who he will be. What will it take to break the old laws once and for all? What is the true meaning of sacrifice when the fate of the world—or the ones Liesl loves—is in her hands?

Previously Reviewed: “Wintersong”

Review: I’ll be honest, the only reason I decided to pick this series back up after my lackluster response to “Wintersong” was the fact that the publisher was kind enough to send me an ARC. But, while I still didn’t love this series as much as others have, this book was an improvement on the first, and I found myself enjoying more of it as I went along. As a whole, I can also see why this duology is as popular as it is, even if it wasn’t my cup of tea.

Set six months after the events of the first book, Liesl is trying to set her mind and action on her and her brother’s music. But this is easier said than done and she can never quite shake the memory of her time spent below with the enigmatic Goblin King. Shocking no reader ever, events occur that once again lead Liesl down into the Underground and back into the presence of the Goblin King. Now the stakes are even higher, and Liesl must once again try to puzzle out the truth of her mysterious beau.

First off, I have to give props to the designer of the cover art for both this book and “Wintersong.” Both of these covers are gorgeous, and these are exactly the types of covers that would stop me short in a bookstore and get me to pick up a book. So well done on that front!

As I said, I did end up enjoying this book more than the first and I think this largely has to do with my connecting to the darker tone and topic that was introduced in this book. I still have an ongoing issue with the writing style which I find to be overly dramatic and taking itself too seriously, but at least here, in this book, that style of writing seems to better fit with the tale that is being told. The events and themes are dark and dramatic, so a verging-on-melodramatic tone doesn’t grate up against the story that is being told, but instead can work to support it.

I also appreciated the shift in focus that this book takes, away from Liesl’s relationship with the Golblin King and towards her relationship with her brother. I love a romance as much as the next person (perhaps more, if I’m honest), but these two’s romance wasn’t something I loved the first go around, so for me, a shift to a sibling relationship, something that I often adore in my books, was a welcome surprise. I especially liked the complications in their relationship, the fact that while they could not particularly like each other at times, they were still willing to sacrifice whatever was necessary on the other’s behalf it if was necessary.

However, I still felt that the story moved too slowly, dragging at point. And this was made worse by the lengthy time spent in Liesl’s head as she pined over the Goblin King. But the world building was excellent, and, again, I felt that the author was better able to leverage her strengths in this area this time around to balance out portions of the story that didn’t connect with me as much. There were some nice subtle touches with reoccurring elements throughout the book that did help bring the story to another level.

In the end, I have mixed feelings about this book. For me, it is definitely an improvement on the first story, dealing more fully with some tough subjects, creating a more consistent storyline, and shifting the focus off the romance and onto a sibling relationship. However, some of the issues I had with the writing style are still there, but I know that this is a very preferential opinion and that others enjoy this type of writing more than I do. There’s also the fact that because the story is a departure from the first, I’m not sure how it will be received? Will others who didn’t enjoy the first also find themselves liking this one more because of the changes (will they even read it if they didn’t enjoy the first)? Or will readers who loved the first one be turned off by the shifts in this story? I’m not sure!

But you can decide for yourself because I’m giving away a copy of “Shadowsong!” The giveaway is open to U.S. residents only, and will be running until January 31st!

Click here to enter!

Rating 6: A welcome change for a reader who didn’t love the first book. A darker and more serious story that better matches the dramatic style of writing.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Shadowsong” is a newer book so isn’t on any relevant Goodreads lists, but it should be on “Best Goblin Books.”

Find “Shadowsong” at your library using WorldCat!

 

 

A Revisit to Fear Street: “One Evil Summer”

394305Book: “One Evil Summer” (Fear Street #25) by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 1994

Where Did I Get This Book: ILL from the library!

Book Description: Summer at the beach and Amanda Conklin’s stuck in summer school. Well, at least she doesn’t have to take care of her little brother and sister. That’s Chrissy’s job.

Chrissy seems like the perfect babysitter — so kind and trustworthy. But Amanda soon discovers Chrissy’s terrible secret. Babysitting is Chrissy’s job — but killing is what she does best!

Had I Read It Before: Yes.

The Plot: Amanda Conklin awakens in her bland and cramped room at Maplewood Juvenile Correctional Facility. She’s been there for three days, and is surrounded by other teenage psychopaths and delinquents, and it seems that she may be in there for murder. How did she get there? She’s perfectly happy to let us readers in on the fact that it’s all because of an evil girl named Chrissy, and we start the flashback to earlier in the summer….

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Perhaps Amanda telling the other inmates about her summer up until now. (source)

Amanda and her family and leaving Fear Street and Shadyside behind for the summer in favor of spending it at a rental house in Seahaven, a seaside town that sounds actually pretty fun. Amanda’s dad is a public defender who made sure not to schedule any trials this summer (not sure that’s how it works, Stine) while he catches up on paperwork, and her mom is a reporter who is writing a story about the stresses of today’s youth. Amanda has two siblings, a little brother named Kyle and a little sister named Merry, whose speech impediment is like Cindy Brady and is written out phonetically! Oh joy of joys! Since the Conklins are going to be ‘working’ while on this family vacation I’m just not sure either of them could afford on their salaries, they will need to hire a live in ‘mother’s helper’ to help with Kyle and Merry, as Amanda has to go to summer school for Algebra, as she failed the previous year.

I am immediately calling bullshit for a number of reasons.

  1. If Amanda has to take summer classes, wouldn’t they have to be taken at her school in Shadyside? Would credits from Seahaven transfer to Shadyside?
  2. I’ve done summer school before. It is not a full school day. I think that my classes (also for math) were about three hours a day at most, so Amanda could easily care for her siblings in the afternoon.
  3. How hard would it be for Mr. or Mrs. Conklin to work on their various work projects in the morning while watching the younger kids? Couldn’t they trade off shifts? They’re both working from the beach house, aren’t they?

Anyway, they get to their summer home and it’s isolated and really chic, with a pool and everything. Mom and Dad take Kyle and Merry into town, so Amanda sets up the family canaries in a sunny spot and brings the family cat Mr. Jinx into the house. As she settles in, there’s a knocking on the door. She answers, and sees a blonde and beautiful teenage girl outside. She says she’s here about the mother’s helper ad, and says her name is Chrissy Minor. Amanda tells her that her folks are out at the moment, and Chrissy says that she has another job interview so WHATEVS. Amanda, knowing her folks are kind of desperate to not have to deal with their kids at all that summer, says she can try and get a hold of them. She does, and Mom says they will come right back. Chrissy then has a run in with Mr. Jinx. Mr. Jinx hisses at her, and Chrissy hisses right back, looking like a complete nutbag when she does it. Mr Jinx freaks, and Amanda is immediately wary.

Her parents return and they interview Chrissy. She says she lives with her aunt outside of town, but her cousin is home for the summer and the house is a little cramped, so a live in job for Chrissy would be perfect.

THIS IS A LIVE IN POSITION WHEN SHE WOULD ONLY BE LOOKING AFTER THE KIDS FOR HALF A DAY??? WHY?!

She says she has references and provides the phone numbers, so Mrs. Conklin goes into the kitchen to give them calls. Amanda tells her about the weird interaction with Mr. Jinx, but Mrs. Conklin isn’t phased. She tries the phone numbers and neither work, but Mrs. Conklin says that she has a good judge of character, and so therefore she is going to hire her anyway!! Amanda tells her that that’s totally irresponsible, and her mother basically says NO YOU by saying that AMANDA was irresponsible for failing Algebra. So…. let me get this straight, Mrs. Conklin, you don’t think that you have to get references for the person who is going to be responsible FOR YOUR CHILDREN FOR THE WHOLE SUMMER????

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(source)

Mrs. Conklin goes back to the living room and Chrissy mentions that Mr. Jinx hissed at her, and it was probably because she cleaned a mousetrap that morning. Yeah, okay. They hire Chrissy on the spot, and she goes out to her car to get her things that she brought ‘just in case’. Amanda notices that Salt and Pepper, the canaries, stopped singing when Chrissy was in the room. Amanda helps Chrissy to her room, and when she drops Chrissy’s suitcase a bunch of things spill out, including some old newspaper clippings. Chrissy first hides it, but then thrusts one of the articles at Amanda. It talks about a girl named Lilith Minor, who was in a coma two years prior. Chrissy informs Amanda that Lilith is her twin sister, and that she’s still comatose. Amanda gives her condolences, but Chrissy says not to be sorry because ‘Lilith is EVIL!’

Amanda starts summer classes that Monday, biking into town. While the family has really come to like Chrissy, Amanda is weirded out by the whole Evil Sister Lilith thing. In class she meets a cute boy named Dave, who ends up becoming her partner on the math problems and totally flirts with her. After class she asks him about Chrissy and if he knows her, and he says no, and asks what she’s like. Amanda says she seems okay, but Mr. Jinx hates her and wonders if that’s weird. Dave doesn’t think so, and they part ways. When she gets home, she can’t find anyone, and goes out to the deck with the pool… only to see Merry floating face down!!! She runs out and jumps into the pool to try and help her, but finds out that Merry is fine, and Chrissy was below helping her float and Amanda is crazy! Mrs. Conklin sees the commotion, and calls Amanda out to yell at her!! I’m getting the feeling that Mrs. Conklin is going to be the worse Fear Street Mom by the end of this. Amanda explains, and Mrs. Conklin lightens up a bit. Amanda tells her about the lack of bird singing, though, and the fact that Chrissy said her sister is evil, and of course Mrs. Conklin doesn’t think anything of it. And no, she still hasn’t talked to Chrissy’s references, but she’s perfectly lovely so what’s the problem? This woman. Amanda relents, and goes to let Mr. Jinx out of the house. She watches Chrissy, Merry, and Kyle play in the front yard, when suddenly a car on the road swerves out of control!! It barrels towards the kids, but Chrissy knocks them out of the way just in time, and the car ends up crashing into the family vehicle. The driver claims he has no idea what happened, the car just went nuts on him…. And sadly, Mr. Jinx was a casualty. GOD DAMMIT, STINE. Amanda, devastated, notices that Chrissy is smiling. Amanda goes to bury her cat in the woods by the house, Kyle going with her, and they give Mr. Jinx a proper funeral together. The family plays charades on the deck that night, and Chrissy, being a horrible bitch, does “The Cat in the Hat”.

Amanda has a bad dream and wakes up in the middle of the night. She goes to get a glass of water, but as she passes Chrissy’s room she sees Chrissy laughing evilly. Also, she’s floating in the air. Next thing Amanda knows, she’s waking up on the floor to her worried parents faces, and they tell her she fainted. She tells them what she saw, and they, surprise and shock, don’t believe her. And hey, I don’t think that I can really blame them, even if Mr. And Mrs. Conklin are just the absolutely worst. Amanda tries to prove it, by running into Chrissy’s room to catch her in the act of witchery…. but Chrissy is sound asleep. Amanda attacks her, as this is obviously how to prove that you aren’t crazy. Her parents pull her off and tell her that she’s probably super stressed and sleepwalked/dreamed the whole thing.

So I need to put in another aside here. This book sure seems to take a lot of influence from the classic Lois Duncan teen creep “Summer of Fear”, in which a teenage girl named Rachel suspects that her cousin Julia, who has just moved in with her family after a tragedy, is a witch who is manipulating those around her to garner favor, all the while pushing Rachel out of her life. It was made into a TV movie starring Linda Blair. The parallels seem way too similar and it really takes me out of this book.

Anyway, Amanda tries to fall back asleep, but can’t. She hears Chrissy leave her room and goes to see what she’s doing. Luckily, she’s just going on an Oreo binge in the kitchen, so Amanda takes the opportunity to try and gather evidence in Chrissy’s room. She grabs some of the newspaper clippings, but Chrissy catches her and threatens her. Amanda runs back into the hallway, but lucky for her on the of the clippings blew into the hall. Amanda goes back to her room and reads it. It’s from a place called Harrison County (not where Seahaven is), and talks about a couple named Minor who died in their beds after their car’s exhaust ran into the house. Their daughter Lilith was left in a coma. No mention of a sister/daughter named Chrissy. Before Amanda can think too hard, the clipping bursts into flames!!

The next day Amanda recruits her friend Suzi to go to the Shadyside Library and find any information she can on the Minor family. Suzi’s no nerd and doesn’t sound thrilled, but agrees to do it. Unfortunately, the phone starts to melt in Amanda’s hand, and Chrissy’s voice comes over the line spewing more threats. Amanda runs out of the room hoping to show her parents the melted phone, and notices Chrissy’s reference sheet again. Before she can even bring up the phone, though, she sees that it’s back in tact and in ti’s cradle. Amanda, you are fighting a foe who is far more formidable than yourself. So she goes to school, where she confesses to Dave everything that’s been going on. Dave, for whatever reason, totally believes her, and when she shows him the reference sheet and resume he tells her that the house Chrissy listed as her aunt’s has been long abandoned. They decide to go driving together, and he takes her on a boat ride to an island near shore where he shows her his ‘secret hideout’. Inside, he tells her he and his brother used to come here and have stocked it full of lots of practical things. Then he tells her he knows how she can get rid of Chrissy, and presents a knife to her. When she questions him and his murderous plot, he tells her that he thinks she should just plant it in her room. Not too shabby, Dave. Then they start kissing because aw, love.

Dave brings Amanda home and she introduces him to Chrissy. They ask her about the house she says she lives in, and she tells them she and her aunt haven’t moved in yet, she just bought it. CONVENIENT. Dave opts to distract Chrissy by offering to show her his car, and she probably takes it as some euphemism because she agrees. Amanda goes to plant the knife, but suddenly it’s spraying blood everywhere! Amanda runs out of the room, and then discovers that the family birds have had their throats slit. Her parents run into the room to find her screaming, but they also find her covered in a LOT of blood. Then Chrissy runs in and says she found a knife in her room and all of her things are covered in blood, and all signs are pointing to Amanda. Her parents think she killed the birds and then destroyed Chrissy’s things, but how much blood do they think is in two parakeets, because DAMN it sounds like a deluge. Amanda says Chrissy did this, but her parents decide to try and find her a doctor.

The shrink diagnoses Amanda with a lot of stress because of failing algebra and says that’s what causing this acting out. Amanda pretends to sleep in the car and eavesdrops on her parents, who tell each other they they can’t fire Chrissy because it will just feed Amanda’s delusions. So Amanda decides to stop playing checkers and start playing chess in this goddamn chess tournament. They get home and she ‘apologizes’ to Chrissy, ready to lure her into a false sense of security. Then, randomly, a kitten brushes up against her leg before hissing at Chrissy. Amanda says she’ll take it back to the forest, but instead sneaks it into her room. Then the phone rings, and she’s told that it’s for her. Expecting Suzi, she answers. But its’ actually Carter “The Cheater” Phillips! And she has some bad news. While at the library, Suzi suddenly started bleeding out of her nose and mouth and slumped over, and is now in a coma!!! No one knows what happened!….. Amanda does though.

Amanda decides to call Chrissy’s references herself while the other girl is busy reading to the kids. The first one doesn’t answer, but the second one does and says a whole bunch of gobbledeygook about being a neighbor and a judge and bad things happening, and then when Amanda tells her Chrissy is in the house the woman tells her to get out and hangs up. Reassuring it isn’t. Amanda finds Chrissy making Kyle some milk, but sees her put something in it. Worried she’s poisoning Kyle, Amanda panics, and intercepts the glass. While trying to figure out what to do wtih it, the doorbell rings, and it’s Dave. Amanda tells him her fears, and he knocks it out of her hands, claiming it was a klutz move on his part when Chrissy walks in. Dave eventually asks Chrissy to go to a movie with him as a distraction technique, giving Amanda some much needed snooping time. She finds another newspaper clipping, but this time it’s one with Mr. Conklin’s picture in it! It details a case that he had where he defended a homeless man against arson charges that involved the law offices of Minor and Henry. But what does it all mean?! She is about to go through more, but then Dave and Chrissy come home. Amanda hides under the bed, but when she makes a break for it she’s totalyl seen by Chrissy! She and Dave bolt (Leaving the little ones with a now potentially desperate crazy person with telekinetic powers, good show Amanda), and drive away. Amanda shifts through more clippings and finds out that not only was the homeless man acquitted, but her Dad recommended that charges be brought against Anton Minor…. who must be Chrissy’s father! That’s the good news. The bad news is that when they pull into a parking lot to use a pay phone, Dave suddenly starts bleeding from his nose and mouth and passes out! And the doors won’t open!

Amanda finds a screwdriver to try and break the windows, but then sees CHRISSY!!! Who uses her telekinetic powers to yank her out of the car and start monologuing. Turns out Chrissy’s father indeed burnt his law firm down and tried to pin it on a homeless guy, but when he failed he tried to go Family Annihilator on everyone and pumped car exhaust into his home, killing himself and his wife and Chrissy’s sister. Chrissy is taking revenge, and has already taken out the families of the Assistant DA and the Judge (who were her references), and is now going for the Conklins. She throws Amanda back in the car and then uses her powers to knock it off a cliff.

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She is NOT fucking around. (source)

Amanda survives the fall. Dave does not, may he rest in peace. Amanda finds herself on the bluffs above the ocean that were near the island that Dave pointed out, so she slowly climbs down, and passes out from exhaustion at the bottom.

She eventually wakes up the next day, and decides it’s time to make the long walk home to try and save her family. She gets there, but overhears Chrissy on the phone with her parents, who have evidently gone back to Shadyside to look for Amanda. Amanda sneaks up to her room to get the kitten she’s been hiding the set it free, but then her stomach overrides all rational thought and she has to get some food- Okay, this is just so long and tedious. We’re pulling a “Lights Out” and bullet pointing the rest of this sucker, it’s not worth the depth.

  • Chrissy uses mental powers to tell Amanda she knows she’s alive, and some weird code she’s built for herself makes it so she must kill Amanda before the others.
  • Amanda steals a dude’s wake-runner and takes it out to Dave’s Island to stock up on supplies and weapons.
  • Chrissy has sort of tracked her telekinetically and bounds and gags Kyle and Merry, tossing them in the cabin’s skiff and we are getting ourselves a WATER SHOWDOWN, PEOPLE!!
  • Amanda fights Chrissy powered headaches to ride the wave-runner to the skiff, but is thrown off by Chrissy.
  • She pulls herself up and there’s a fight that ultimately ends with the skiff crashing and Chrissy being thrown into some rocks and knocked out.
  • Amanda, Kyle, and Merry are left on the sinking skiff, but the water is shallow so they can just wade out. And she even brings knocked out Chrissy because she isn’t petty. Or maybe she’s just an IDIOT.
  • They get back to the house and Chrissy comes to and sets the house on fire. She’s about to kill Amanda with her own bare hands but the kitten trips her and she falls into the fire LIKE A DUMMY.
  • Amanda gathers up kitten and siblings and Chrissy has evolved into a fireball, but doesn’t get too far and collapses in a smoky burny heap on the deck and that’s it.
  • We go back to the hospital where we met Amanda, and apparently everyone thinks that she killed Chrissy and that’s why she’s there. But Kyle is talking again after the fire and he’s cleared everything up and she’s FREE TO GO!
  • Also there was no Chrissy, it was always Lilith, and WHO CARES, THAT’S WHY.
  • But as the whole family drives away from the smoldering pit of the summerhome, there’s a girl with blonde hair waving at them, who vanishes. The End.
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We made it. That was a journey. (source)

Body Count: At least 5, three of which are dear pets and I’m still hurt whenever Stine kills animals for shocks in his books. I THINK that Suzi was going to pull through, so it may just be Dave on the human side outside of Chrissy, beyond the bullshit ‘the end???’ twist at the end.

Romance Rating: 7. Amanda and Dave were pretty smoking until Chrissy gave him an aneurysm.

Bonkers Rating: 6. Perhaps you think that it should be higher, but it’s getting points docked for pretty much lifting plot points from “Summer of Fear”.

Fear Street Relevance: 1. Much like “Ski Weekend” and “Sunburn”, it doesn’t even take place on Fear Street. Amanda’s family lives there, but their biggest crisis is at the beach.

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:

“She let out a shrill scream as she saw the enormous eye staring at her. And then Amanda started to slip off the boulder. She almost lost her grip as the gigantic face moved toward her, its gaping mouth open wide as if to swallow her whole.”

… And then it’s not Chrissy doing her best “Attack on Titan” impression, it’s a mural drawn on the cliffside.

That’s So Dated! Moments: Well, nothing really fun, just mentions of Suzi looking at microfilm at the library and the rumor of a pay phone Amanda and Dave want to use.

Best Quote:

“‘Seriously, Amanda, what do you find most stressful about your life?’ Mrs. Conklin asked again. I hate these questions! Amanda replied silently. But she knew her mother wouldn’t give up until she got a real answer. ‘Algebra,’ Amanda replied.”

I HEAR YA ON THAT ONE, SIS!

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(source)

Conclusion: “One Evil Summer” is muddled and confused in a lot of ways, and in other ways it totally rips off Lois Duncan’s “Summer of Fear”. But antagonist wise, Chrissy is fun to hate!