Book Review

The Boring Side of Beauty

Wild BeautyWild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore

My rating: 2.25 of 5 stars

Thank you, Macmillan, for sending me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

There were two kinds of Nomeolvides hearts, ones broken by the vanishings, and one who counted themselves lucky to have seen the back of their lovers as they left.

Cheers, dear Brittney (Reverie and Ink)! We finally finished this tedious journey! I had fun exchanging thoughts about our love-hate relationship with this book. xD

I cannot believe how accomplished I feel after finishing such a dragging novel. I practically forced myself to do so because it was kindly sent by a publisher and I also do not DNF books. Wild Beauty‘s Feminist content was cool, but I cannot honestly say that I recommend the book. Beautiful cover, utterly boring story.

Essentially, Wild Beauty is a magical realism novel that follows five girls from the Nomeolvides family: Estrella, Dalia, Gloria, Calla, and Azalea. All of them are both gifted and cursed. They can make flowers bloom literally anywhere, but it is impossible for them to leave La Pradera, the estate gardens that have been their family’s home/prison for generations. To make things worse, it is said that the lovers of each Nomeolvides woman are fated to disappear. When a boy suddenly appears in the gardens, dangerous secrets are uncovered and freedom starts to loom just over the horizon.

Like most people, I was beguiled by the beautiful cover and premise of this book. I started the first chapter with an excited smile on my face, ready to have the time of my life. Little did I know that Wild Beauty would be my own literary lullaby. I blamed the writing, which was too…lyrical for my taste. I usually have no problem with flowery writing, but in the case of this book, there were more vivid descriptions than lively dialogue. Plus, I was so confused because there were so many characters to get to know. I couldn’t even pronounce their family name, Nomeolvides, for crying out loud! NO-MEEYO-VEE-DES??? I asked Brittney, but she also had no idea. Hahaha. xD

Examining the plot, I found it to be uneventful. The pacing didn’t pick up until around 80% of the book, and the conflict was bland and easily resolved. I had fun learning about the truth behind La Pradera and the Nomeolvides curse, but that wasn’t enough to captivate my interest. Only God knows how many times I yawned and blinked away tears of drowsiness. 😦

The last catalyst behind my low rating had something to to with religion. Estrella and her family prayed and read the Bible, so I was disturbed when they sardonically questioned the character of God, particularly His ability to forgive people for their sins. In light of my personal beliefs, I admit that this complaint is very subjective. Hence, I wouldn’t be surprised if you ignored it.

Despite it’s flaws, I couldn’t bring myself to give Wild Beauty 1 star because of its excellent take on Feminism/gender politics. It definitely uplifted the standpoint of gay, lesbian, and bisexual people. Furthermore, it was my first time to encounter bisexual/lesbian romance in literature. The “love hexagon” in this book took me by surprise; Estrella and her cousins were in love with one girl. Thankfully, it wasn’t emphasized to the point of creating unnecessary drama. The “central” romance was the one between Estrella and the mysterious boy named Fel. Their relationship was interesting in that Estrella seemed to be the one taking the lead and Fel didn’t feel emasculated or undermined. Also, I was glad that what they had wasn’t instalove. 🙂

It might sound strange that my favorite character was La Pradera. The gardens were indeed the setting of the story, but they were actually depicted to be sentient. In retrospect, La Pradera was somehow one of the antagonists, deliberately causing pain and heartbreak in the Nomeolvides family. I really liked how La Pradera delineated the paradox of Mother Nature; she can give life, but she can also take it away.

To sum up my thoughts, Wild Beauty did have virtues in regards to its empowering content. Nevertheless, for the most part, it was utterly slow. It nearly gave me a reading slump every time I picked it up. Who knew beauty could be boring?

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Book Review

Dancing with Master Cuckoo

The Midnight DanceThe Midnight Dance by Nikki Katz

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thank you, Macmillan, for sending me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

She shouldn’t miss the touch of this man who had done such despicable things, a man who forced people to serve under his control.

After giving meh ratings to two Swoon Reads titles (Kissing Max Holden and Just Friends), I was a little hesitant to read this book. However, as usual, the cover was so attractive that I just had to go beyond the title and copyright pages. Thankfully, I did not regret my decision.

Before you proceed, be warned that this book isn’t a typical YA contemporary novel. It is actually a mild psychological thriller about twelve ballerinas who live in an isolated finishing school owned by a dashing man named Master. Penny, the heroine, is strangely Master’s favorite student. She feels intoxicated in his presence, but a voice in the back of her mind tells her to stay away from him. When Master’s secrets are divulged by the gradual resurfacing of Penny’s lost memories, the Grand Teatro becomes less like a finishing school and more like a creepy dollhouse.

Those of you who are familiar with my reading tastes probably know that I rarely read thrillers. I don’t necessarily dislike them; I just don’t gravitate towards them like I do to fantasy or sci-fi novels. With that in mind, reading The Midnight Dance was somehow a refreshing experience. Even though it wasn’t so scary, Master’s psychopathic behavior triggered a sour taste in my mouth. The things he did to Penny and the other ballerinas were twisted as heck. I often feared for Penny’s safety (and sanity), and I was overwhelmed by the desire to know how and why Master became so…incongruous. He was gorgeous on the outside yet malevolent on the inside. If you’ve read Shadow and Bone, you might compare Master to the ever mysterious Darkling.

Since this book was published by Swoon Reads, I was delightfully surprised that romance wasn’t the highlight of the story. There were no too cheesy scenes nor an abundance of instalove. Penny and Cricket’s relationship did add a touch of sweetness and intrigue, but I liked that the author was more focused on telling about their attempts to escape from Master’s clutches. In this regard, The Midnight Dance is a rare gem among other Swoon Reads titles.

Penny was the most significant catalyst behind my 4-star rating. She was an empowered female in light of her constant craving for the truth. In fact, her mind was so strong that Master couldn’t control it completely. If Penny were thrown into a dystopian world, she would get along with Cassia Reyes (Matched) or America Singer (The Selection), heroines who always take something with a grain of salt.

My main problem with this book was it’s rationale for Master’s mental condition. I simply couldn’t accept that he became a control freak because of his Cinderella-like childhood. Also, I didn’t fully understand Master’s supposedly scientific process of mind control. The latter ideas were very promising, but their execution was unsatisfactory. Hence, by the end of the book, my mind was still shrouded in a mist of confusion.

Nonetheless, I had fun reading The Midnight Dance. I recommend it to booknerds searching for a moderately thrilling book to read this fall. Since I still have some unanswered questions, I hope that a sequel is in the works.

P.S. I read this book with the smart and pretty Brittney (Her Bookish Things). You can check out her review here.

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Book Review

Beyond the Gorgeous Cover

The Book JumperThe Book Jumper by Mechthild Gläser

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s the same everywhere in the book world: Readers are not allowed to intervene. Under no circumstances. You must always stay in the margins, between the lines. —Shere Khan

Raise your hand if you also bought this book because of its absolutely gorgeous cover! I love everything about it: the old-fashioned font, the smooth texture of the jacket, and the whimsical illustration. If I were to judge this book by its cover alone, I would happily give it five stars! ❤

In regards to its content, The Book Jumper is practically fan service for bookworms. How so?
Amy Lennox, the main protagonist, has the wonderful gift of literally jumping into books. I’m sure all of us here wish that we could visit or live in the books we enjoy and love. What we wouldn’t give to be able to interact with our favorite characters, who are as real to us as people outside the book world. Raise your hand again if you are also jealous of Amy. Hahaha.

Unfortunately for Amy, the book world is gradually entering a state of chaos. Someone is stealing the ideas of the stories she visits, causing major plot holes and even killing a number of characters. With the help of a Scottish lad named Will and her new fictional friends, Amy hunts for the villain before literature becomes messed up for good. The plot does seem juvenile or middle-grade, but the content as a whole is more appropriate for us young adults. 🙂

Since The Book Jumper was originally written in German, I cannot evaluate the author’s writing style. However, I can say that the translator did a fantastic job. Romy Fursland’s written voice was very descriptive but easy to comprehend. In fact, it was one of the reasons why I finished the book relatively quickly. I can’t speak German, but I want to believe that Romy Fursland was able to retain the essence of Mechthild Gläser’s work.

Even though I was inevitably jealous of Amy, I genuinely enjoyed this book because it was so relatable. I loved that Amy and the rest of the characters lived and breathed literature. I loved that they wanted to protect literature at all costs (as silly as it sounds). If I had their gift, I would jump into this book and make them my best friends. I’m sure that I’m not the only bookworm who has no bookish friends outside the Internet. Ugh. I hate the geographical distance that separates us. xD

I also enjoyed this book because it was predominantly unpredictable. It definitely kept me on my toes. Actually, I lost patience when I couldn’t find out the identity of the villain; I became restless enough to read the last chapter and spoil myself. And lo and behold, all of my guesses were wrong! Harharhar.

I would have given this book five stars if the ending weren’t unsatisfying and quite convenient. Something unfortunate happened, but I immediately had a hunch that it was only a false alarm. Hence, it didn’t affect me that much. Furthermore, some of my questions about Amy and her mother’s history remained unanswered. I was a little sad that I didn’t get to know more about their supposedly problematic life in Germany.

Nevertheless, I recommend The Book Jumper to every bookworm out there because it’s the perfect expression of our deepest, bookish wishes. This book really made me happy and wistful, and I hope that it will do the same thing to you.

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Author Interview

Q & A with K. Ancrum

Happy Thursday, booknerds! Today is kinda special because this post is my 10th author interview. I’m so happy because I continue to meet amiable and talented authors in the YA community. Today’s post features K. Ancrum, debut author of The Wicker King. I found this book to be so weird, but it was not in a bad way. If you want to know more about my thoughts on it, check out my reviewThe Wicker King comes out this fall (October 31), and I hope that you will enjoy reading it. 🙂

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  1. Mental health is a prevalent theme in YA books nowadays. With that in mind, what made you decide to write a book about codependency?

“It’s an incredibly under-discussed phenomenon. When we think about toxic relationships, we nearly always categorize someone as the aggressor and someone else as the victim. With codependency, both parties contribute to the issue—acting as aggressor and victim simultaneously—both inflicting damage, whether intentional or accidental. With August and Jack, a primary aspect of the book is the neglect that both of them suffer and their attempt to resolve their emotional needs in each other. They spiral into codependency because they are both taking from one another in volumes that the other cannot satisfy without destroying himself. They take from one another because they are lacking the traditional sources for their needs, and they make poor decisions because there is no real authority around to guide them not to. It’s a sad and dangerous situation and its entirely too common to be as under-discussed as it is.”

  1. August and Jack are not necessarily likable characters. Were they intentionally crafted to be that way?

“Yes. They’re not designed to be liked. They’re more designed to be cared about or worried about. My goal was to make readers feel protective of them—regardless of their faults.
Also, upon finishing the book, I wanted readers to view them with a sort of wary caution and feel more reflective about their circumstances and the topic at hand, than have a ‘favorite’ between them. That unbalanced emotionally conflicted mood you felt after finishing the book was entirely intentional.”

  1. How did your knowledge in literary theory/criticism influence your writing process? (i.e. Did it make it more unique or meticulous?)

“I—as you’ve probably guessed— greatly enjoy queer theory. When I first drafted the manuscript, the relationship between August and Jack was even more subtle because I enjoyed the ambiguity of the situation (as well as its comparison to old queer coded text, in a way that echoes the fairy tale feel of the story). The only hints of interest originally came from secondary characters who verbally assert their observations that August has feelings for Jack to his face—a fact that he’s not ready to recognize until the end of the book. However, as the manuscript grew and matured, I began to value representation over artistic subtlety.   I originally wrote it as a meticulous, queer-coded ode to older braver stories (Like Marie de France’s Bisclavret). But refined it into something that would resonate much stronger with my intended audience. Not everyone has sat through Uni level Arthurian literature and as I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown to respect and value that.”

  1. With whom do you identify the most, August or Jack? Do you love them equally?

“This is so hard.Well. I care about August a lot, but by god, my heart beats for Jack. The manuscript is written from August’s perspective of course—but he’s an unreliable narrator. If you have time to re-read the book from Jack’s perspective (or take a gander at the e-novella which is written in Jack’s perspective which is to be sold separately) the amount of love and sheer terror that he hides behind his teeth, even while he’s shouting demands, is stunning. Even as he twists himself into something terrible to suit August’s terrible needs, you can see him shivering in fear. There is not a second in this book where Jack is not looking at August and begging to be loved.  There is a feral-ness to that kind of hope that absolutely makes my veins sing.”

  1. What message do you want to impart to your research, particularly in regards to mental health, abusive relationships, and sexuality?

“The themes that I wanted to cover are: The negative effects of parental neglect, the devastation as a result of ignoring offered help when you need it, the importance of mental healthcare being appropriately suited to the needs of the patient, the wretchedness of our policing system when dealing with mental health fallout, and how students can slip through the cracks when their school cares more about their grades and classroom behavior than their overall wellbeing.

“As for sexuality, I feel a tenderness towards the ‘Questioning’ stage many people go through when navigating their identity. Jack is just a bi kid being bi. August, on the other hand, takes ages to correctly identify attraction: trying to fit that square block into round holes of ‘responsibility’ ‘duty’ ‘allegiance’ and ‘ownership’, before settling into a wordless yearning Meanwhile, he denies other people’s subtle suggestions the whole way. Sometimes it takes a bit of time and that’s okay. I also wanted the resolution of the feelings they had for each other to be the one good thing they got out of their wretched journey. I’m a sucker for happy endings.”

  1. Between August and Jack, whom would you pick to be your boyfriend/best friend/husband?

“August would be a fun boyfriend. Jack would be steadfast in a way that would make him a good husband. However, I think that separately they are both lacking and in order to have good balance they need to be together. Which, consequently, is exactly what happens: In my next book THE WEIGHT OF STARS (which is set in the same small town, 25 years in the future, about a different group of seniors attending the same school) the Main character’s best friend is Rina, August and Jack’s child. So you’ll get to see a taste of what healthy Polyamory looks like, as well as meeting August and Jack as adults.”

     7. What are the perfect songs to listen to while reading The Wicker King?

IM A HUGE NERD AND MADE A SOUNDTRACK AGES BEFORE THE ARCs WENT OUT SO HERE YOU GO.

You can also find the CD playlists that each of the characters have in the book HERE


 

About the author:

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K. Ancrum grew up in Chicago Illinois. She attended Dominican University to study Fashion Merchandizing, but was lured into getting an English degree after spending too many nights experimenting with hard literary criticism and hanging out with unsavory types, like poetry students. Currently, she lives in Andersonville and writes books at work when no one is looking.

Visit K. Ancrum’s website

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Book Review

There Is No Such Thing as Wrong Grammar

Love Is Both Wave and ParticleLove Is Both Wave and Particle by Paul Cody

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thank you, Macmillan, for sending me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Light was something like human love. How could it be so smooth, so lovely and flowing and warm, the apex of human existence at times, and at other times so gritty, the cause of heartbreak and misery and misunderstanding and even murder?

Even though I was bothered by the author’s fondness for wrong grammar, I cannot deny that this book was so worth my time. It was heartwarming, raw, and so insightful. I particularly loved its unfiltered exploration and discussion of mental health. This inspiring story will stay with me for a long time.

Love Is Both Wave and Particle is basically the life story of two troubled teenagers, Sam and Levon. Both of them attend a private school for people with special needs, and they are asked by one of their teachers to write a biography, aka the story of their lives. Sam and Levon are expected to work on this project together as means of catharsis and self-discovery. Soon, everyone is suddenly intrigued by the gradual changes in Sam and Levon, and one question begs to be answered: is love somehow responsible?

It took me some time to appreciate this book. Since my current profession requires me to be a grammar Nazi, the intentional errors throughout the novel made me flinch occasionally. The dialogues were hard to detect because the author didn’t use quotation marks. Furthermore, the narrative was written in a very conversational style that was characterized by multiple comma splices and sentence fragments. I understood the intention behind such errors. Still, I couldn’t just ignore them even if I prayed. xD

I also had some trouble with the multiple POVs. People who knew Sam and Levon secretly contributed to the biography. Hence, there were many characters to analyze, as well as names to memorize. Honestly, I can’t remember all of them even now. Tee-hee. Looking at the bright side, I did appreciate that the author gave me the opportunity to get to know many of the side characters, whom I initially perceived as insignificant. Also, I genuinely loved that Sam’s and Levon’s parents were able to share their own stories since parents/adults are usually ignorant bystanders in YA.

Setting aside the technical/Formalist problems I had with this book, I am happy to tell you that it made an impact on me. Unlike other contemporary books nowadays, this one was unique and memorable. It dealt with serious topics like depression, self-harm, and sexuality in such a way that was straightforward but not overwhelming. Scientific facts about various things were also given, making the book both enlightening and credible. If you’re a nerd like me, this book will tickle your brain and make you smile.

For me, the most significant message of this book is that mental illness can be a product of nature or nurture. In other words, it can be triggered by your genes or environment (i.e. upbringing). In retrospect, Sam’s and Levon’s personal struggles depicted that mental illness can be a product of both. Of course, other factors may come into play. Nevertheless, it is undeniable that the discourse of mental health is very relevant nowadays, and we should take it seriously.

In conclusion, I really enjoyed Love Is Both Wave and Particle, and I recommend it to anyone looking for a very meaningful book to read. If you want to enjoy it to the fullest, just pretend that there’s no such thing as wrong grammar. 😉

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Book Review

The Messed Up King

The Wicker KingThe Wicker King by K. Ancrum

My rating: 3.75 of 5 stars

Thank you, Macmillan, for sending me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

codependency
noun co·de·pen·den·cy \ˌkō-di-ˈpen-dən(t)-sē\
: a psychological condition or a relationship in which a person is controlled or manipulated by another who is affected with a pathological condition (such as an addiction to alcohol or heroin); broadly : dependence on the needs of or control by another

August and Jack were such messed up characters. I didn’t expect this novel to be so weird. Still, I must say that it was very intriguing. It’s been a long time since I finished a book in three sittings. Overall, three words can be used to perfectly describe The Wicker King: queer, dark, and spellbinding.

Queer

When I picked up this novel, I immediately noticed its strange features. The titles of each chapter were seemingly random, the pages gradually became darker as the story progressed, and morose character portraits appeared every now and then. Thankfully, my fondness for literary theory/criticism enabled me to understand and appreciate the beauty of such organized chaos. For example, I realized that the gradual darkening of the pages was a clever metaphor for the characters’ journey into insanity. I don’t want to spoil anyone further, so I highly suggest that you Google “Modernism” or “stream of consciousness” before you start reading.

As an afterthought, The Wicker King is also queer in that one could question the sexuality of the protagonists. August and Jack’s relationship was predominantly platonic, but I could tell that there was something more between them. Whatever they had definitely blurred the distinction between bromance and actual romance.

Dark

Gleaning upon the definition of codependency supplied above, The Wicker King was a shocking exploration of one of the most controversial topics in YA/NA literature: abusive relationships. I was initially very supportive of August and Jack’s bromance, so I was utterly surprised when things took a dark turn.

Because of a nearly tragic event in their childhood, August firmly believed that he belonged to Jack. August was a “soldier,” and Jack was his “king”. In other words, August was willing to do everything that Jack commanded. Jack, who suffered from vivid hallucinations, obviously had to be hospitalized. However, little did I know that August also had mental issues to deal with. I was rendered speechless by the crazy, unhealthy, and illegal things they did just to fulfill a what-the-heck prophecy.

Spellbinding

Even though this book clearly wasn’t written to evoke positive emotions, it was hard to put down. If I didn’t have to go to work, I could’ve finished it in a few hours. I loved how most of the chapters consisted of only one page because it made the plot incredibly fast-paced. Plus, I was constantly intrigued by the mental health aspect of the book. Until now, the nerdy side of me wants to learn more about codependency. I would like to thank the author for giving me an enlightening reading experience.

The Verdict

I enjoyed The Wicker King because it’s the most unique book I’ve read this year. Still, I can’t confidently say that I loved everything about it. I cared for August and Jack, but their story probably deserves a different ending. (That is always up for debate.) 😉

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Book Review

Cheating with Max Holden

Kissing Max HoldenKissing Max Holden by Katy Upperman

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Thank you, Macmillan, for sending me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Gleaning upon the tenets of Formalism (i.e. “The author is dead”), please note that my thoughts are not directed to the author
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Kudos to my second 1-star read this year. I actually dislike writing negative reviews because it just brings out the mean side of me. Also, I don’t want to waste my time brainstorming about something I didn’t even like. Still, it’s only logical to justify my rating for a book that a publisher kindly gave to me. So here we go. It’s time for a rant. I would like to apologize to my family, who shot me questioning looks after seeing me read such fluff.

This debut novel follows two annoying protagonists, Jillian Eldridge and Max Holden. They were very close when they were children, but a particular tragedy caused a rift between them. Now that they’re hormonal teenagers, Jill can’t help but fall in love with Max. Unfortunately (for Jill), Max has a girlfriend (whose name I can’t remember). When Max visits Jill after arguing with his lover, infidelity and a bunch of drama ensues.

Ever since I watched LilyCReads’s review of Anna and the French Kiss, my attitude towards books with “complicated” relationships changed for the better. I just cannot tolerate that thing called infidelity, aka cheating. I especially hate it when the cheaters try to justify (and escape the consequences of) their actions. The characters in Kissing Max Holden were exactly like that.

Between Jill and Max, I wasn’t sure who was more at fault. However, let me shed a light on Jill first. Max was the one who initiated the kissing sessions, but Jill obliged him even though she herself admitted that she didn’t want to be his Other Woman. To make things worse, Jill sugarcoated everything by hating on Max’s girlfriend, who was supposedly a *****. Man, I just couldn’t handle the hypocrisy. Just because Max’s girlfriend was mean and manipulative didn’t mean that it was all right for Jill to play Querida.

Jill made me roll my eyes a lot, but Max made my temper flare. I couldn’t understand his appeal. He was a playboy, a disrespectful son, and a disgusting alcoholic. I wasn’t surprised that the girls who were attracted to him were similarly…unprincipled. I really disliked him because he was such a bad influence to Jill; he was able to eclipse whatever remained of her conscience. All hail, Max the Tempter. I wouldn’t want to be associated with a person like him.

This might come as a surprise. Are you ready for it? JILL AND MAX WEREN’T THE ONLY CHEATERS IN THIS BOOK. Salt was rubbed into my wounds when it was revealed that someone important to Jill was also unfaithful. I resented that predictable plot twist, and I wished that I could forget it.

Initially, my rating was leaning toward 2 stars. Sadly, my patience reached 0% when Jill’s step-mother, Meredith, justified her infidelity. Apparently, it was okay for Jill to be guilt-free because she only had “good intentions” when it came to Max. In other words, she wasn’t a complete infidel. WHAT THE HECK?!

I’m sorry, I can’t do this anymore. I’m only reinforcing my negative emotions. For the sake of “looking at the bright side,” I shall enumerate the few virtues of this book.

1. You can read it in one sitting. (Probably because you would just want it to be over ASAP)
2. Jill and Max are perfect for each other. (Probably because they’re both so flawed)
3. It will make you laugh. (Probably in a mocking, not-so-delighted way)

Ultimately, I guess reading Kissing Max Holden was not a waste of time because it taught me one of life’s most important lessons: STAY AWAY FROM PEOPLE WHO CAN’T KEEP IT IN THEIR PANTS.

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