Review: Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson

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I was ready to give Allegedly five stars. It’s a gut-wrenching thriller that hammers with pinpoint precision at the status quo and the intersection of the criminal justice system, bodily autonomy, racism, mental illness, and child abuse, as well as the struggles and roadblocks that prevent the most vulnerable and in need of help from ever getting any. The writing is tight. The plot is gripping. All of the characters have depth beyond their first impression. Also it turned my emotions into a bloody mess.

And then the last five pages happened. And I want to unpack my response.

(This will be a SPOILERY review).

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Review: Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

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It feels a little odd to write a review of a popular, NYT best-selling book published four years ago—not only does my review inherently veer towards obsolescence (what’s the point of reviewing a commercially popular book several years after its publication? Most people have likely already read it or made up their minds whether or not they’re going to), there’s a good chance I’ll compound its obsolescence by not having anything new or worthwhile to say. But hopefully people reading this are interested in my thoughts because they are my thoughts. (And if not, I hope you stick around anyway.)

A good friend of mine has been regularly prodding me to read this book and its sequels for over a year now, and now I’ve finally made a start. (Also I reeaally want to read the Six of Crows series, but I want to have read the Grisha Trilogy first for context.)

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Review: Pasadena by Sherri L. Smith

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Maggie was the glamorous, larger-than-life, shining star all her friends revolved around. Maggie was Jude’s best friend, the only one she told her secrets.

Now Maggie’s dead. Her body was found floating face-down in her family’s pool. Drowning? Overdose? Suicide? No one knows.

No one except for Jude. Jude knows it was murder. And as she investigates Maggie’s friends and family, the facade Jude had built around Maggie while she was alive starts to crack open. And, unwillingly so, does Jude’s armor as she comes head-to-head with her past.

Pasadena is a noir YA novel clocking in at a breezy 228 pages. I’d read Sherri L. Smith’s apocalyptic/dystopia novel Orleans and was a huge fan, but hadn’t read anything of hers since, and so I was curious to see what kind of noir story she would write.

228 pages and a week and a half later, I have little to say about it. It’s engaging overall, and the writing style and atmosphere is suitably noir-y. The scorching-hot, tinder-pile of a city that is Pasadena and the outskirts of L.A. is evocatively rendered, and the over-bright sunniness of the setting is effectively utilized in direct opposition of the hidden, shadowy secrets scattered throughout the book.

I really liked the portrayal of Jude and Maggie’s friendship through Veronica Mars-esque flashbacks. (And if you like Veronica Mars, there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy Pasadena). I especially liked the mystery that was Maggie Kim, a rich, confident, melodramatic glamorous girl, the glue that kept her friends together, the balm that soothed and assured them they mattered and their troubles had answers.

The dealbreaker is the climax—it negates the entire purpose of the story being a noir. (Highlight for spoilers.) Dead people don’t commit suicide in noir—other people kill them. Even though Maggie’s death was aided and abetted by an outside figure, it’s still suicide. All this tension had been built up about what kind of person Maggie was, what secrets of her own she was hiding, the closer Jude gets to solving the mystery of Maggie’s death, and what ended up being the big reveal deflated that tension, big-time. The more I think about it, the more frustrated I am.

My disappointment with the ending has colored my overall feelings towards Pasadena. Other readers may appreciate the book as a contemporary YA exploring friendship, loss, and sexual assault with zero gloss. I picked up Pasadena for the promise of a noir story, and IMO it did not live up to its advertising.

Review: Girl Mans Up by M-E Girard

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I am Pen and Pen is me.

We’re not identical. Yet this is the first time I have read a book with a character whose relationship with their gender and their body  felt relatable for the reason of  OMG I HAVE HAD THOSE SAME EXPERIENCES. Not all of them, but many. The details are different, the essence is the same.

Pen Oleivera is a masculine, butch teenage girl who for all her life has been getting shit from her parents and her peers for being the “wrong” kind of girl, the kind who wears men’s clothes, hangs out with dudes, loves FPS video games, and is an overall un-feminine person. Pen’s never had a problem with herself, with being female, or being into other girls. What Pen does have a problem with are people’s expectations and assumptions. Her traditional, Portuguese-immigrant parents expect respeito from her in the form of acting like an appropriately feminine daughter. Her douchebag-of-a-best friend Colby expects loyalty for his “bros before hos” mentality in return for treating Pen as “just another guy.” All three of them accuse her of trying to be something she’s not, trying to be a man, because why else would she look and act the way she does?

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Review: This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab

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In some far future in what used to be the midwest of the United States, monsters walk the streets of V-City at night. If a human commits violence, a monster comes to life as a result of the crime. The Corsai are violent maulers, and the Malchai are emaciated vampires. The mysterious Sunnai, that most rare of monsters, eat souls. Not only are they the most destructive, no one knows what they look like, and that makes them the most dangerous monsters of all.

Kate Harker is a human who wants to be a monster. The daughter of the crime boss who rules half of V-City, she’s gotten herself kicked out of six boarding schools so she can return to be with her father. She’ll prove one way or another that she’s a Harker, her father’s daughter, and worthy of his time and attention.

August Flynn is a monster who wants to be human. He lives on the other half of V-City, the side where humans decided to fight the monsters rather than pay exorbitant fees for Callum Harker’s protection. August and his two siblings look human but are all Sunnai, and they live with the man who runs the task force dedicated to monster hunting and crime prevention. August is tired of being who he is and the things he’s capable of doing when he doesn’t eat for too long.

Kate and August are two sides of a coin, and they are both able to see the city for what it is, and each other as the people they truly are. As the power structure in V-City teeters and threatens to make collateral damage of Kate and August, the two of them are on the run for their lives to save the city, themselves, and each other.

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Review: Promise of Shadows by Justina Ireland

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Zephyr Mourning is a harpy bred-and-born, albeit not a very good one—her fighting and magic skills are deplorable, she freezes up in the middle of a fight. She was all prepared to live the rest of her life in the mortal realm amidst the humans rather than become a fully-fledged contract killer for the Greek gods, known here as the Exalted, the high Aetherials. And then someone was ordered to kill her beloved older sister. Upon finding her sister’s body, Zephyr killed him right back … except that person was a god, one of the low-ranked Aetherials. Now she’s been condemned to spend the rest of her days in Tartarus, forever known as Godslayer, with no hope of redemption. All that changes when two teenage boys—one of whom used to be her childhood friend—come looking for her. Zephyr has a role to play, one she never would have expected.

While Zephyr is incapable of manipulating the aether, the magic of light, she has long been able to channel erebos, the dark magic of the Underworld, but forbidden to do so. For centuries, shadow vaettir like her—the offspring or descendants of humans and gods who can channel erebos—have been quietly hunted to the point of extinction by the vaettir of the aether and the Aetherials.

Zephyr may be a lousy harpy, but, as it turns out, she is also the reincarnation of the Nyx, a powerful being capable of wielding erebos with greater ability than almost anyone and the prophesied champion of the shadow vaettir. But Zephyr’s positive she’ll fail at being the Nyx, just like she’s never been able to be a proper harpy. What will she do when her entire life has been defined by failing to be what people wanted her to be?

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Review: Gena/Finn by Hannah Moskowitz and Kat Hegleson

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Two girls.

Two social media accounts.

One shared, passionate love of a Supernatural-esque TV show.

One happy, scary, confusing, confounding, life-changing relationship.

Gina/Finn is an epistolary novel in the vein of the AIM-based narratives of Lauren Myracle’s ttfn, ttyl, and l8r g8r, about the power of fandom and fandom-love a la Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl. Gena (_EvinIf) is an East Coast, college-bound fic writer. Finn (finnblueline) is a broke college grad who just moved out to the West Coast with her boyfriend and an on-off fan artist. The two of them run into each other online and bond over their shared love of the TV show Up Below and favorite character Jake and his FULL-OF-FEELINGS relationship with Tyler. What starts out as a friendship based in shared fandom love develops into a whirlwind, terrifying, and meaningful connection neither of them could ever could have predicted and gets put to the test by a life-changing tragedy.

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Review: Charm & Strange by Stephanie Kuehn

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For those who may not have been paying attention to YA trends of late, thrillers are currently the genre du jour. Not my thing personally, but I’m intrigued by the shift away from speculative genres of urban fantasy/paranormal romance and dystopia to a no-less-genre genre but still markedly contemporary kind of story. Charm & Strange, which was published in 2013, is more of an emotional thriller than an action thriller, but heart-pounding, emotions-running-high thriller it is. The best part (for me) is that it does invoke an obviously speculative trope without being kitschy, cutesy, or pandering. It uses fantastical devices the way they’ve been frequently used throughout history—to explain and make sense of the impossible and to provide comfort in the face of horror.

Drew Winters is an angry, whiny, and sickly boy, the middle child of a rich Virginian family. Surrounded by uncaring, inconsiderate, and/or abusive family members, his sole ally his earnestly protective yet fallible older brother Keith, a summer vacation with his extended family becomes the catalyst for a family tragedy, and an obscene consequence of his family’s secrets.

Win Winters is a loner teenage boy at a preppy boarding school in Vermont that he’s attended since age twelve. He has almost no friends, and that’s how he likes it. He’ll do whatever is necessary to push people away so they can stay out of his nexus of tragedy, pain, and violence.

Charm & Strange tells in alternate chapters the stories of Drew and Win, the past and present, and the battle to emerge on the other side as whole … whatever shape that may take.

This will be a SPOILERY review.

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Review: The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow

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I’m disappointed that I didn’t enjoy The Scorpion Rules. Several of my favorite authors blurbed it and the premise is amazing and totally ripe for rich stories. I’m also in the awkward position of liking one or two specific elements that interest me enough to read the sequel, except for the fact that I didn’t care for anything else.

Oops.

The premise begins four hundred years earlier, sometime in the future when the environment has collapsed to the point that the entire world is at war each other. So a U.N.-created A.I. named Talis, who was programmed to prevent humanity from dying out, decided upon an unconventional plan of action, in the form of blowing up seven cities. After Talis got the humans’ attention, the following orders were issued: the leaders of every ruling country, nation, etc. have to provide Talis with an offspring child, who will serve as a hostage, or “Child of Peace,” until their eighteenth birthday. If any country declares war on another, the lives of both countries’ hostages are forfeit. In this way, Talis ensures a (mostly) peaceful existence among the nations of the world for the last several centuries.

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Review: Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee

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Mercy Wong of Chinatown in San Francisco has what her fortune-telling mother calls “bossy cheeks”: she is someone who gets things done. And what she wants to do is gain entrance to the prestigious St. Clare’s School for Girls. Once she elevates her own circumstances and becomes a successful businesswoman, she plans to lift the rest of her family out of poverty, so that her father doesn’t have to work as a laundryman eighteen hours a day and Jack, her weak-lunged younger brother, won’t be condemned to follow in the family business.

St. Clare’s accepts white, wealthy students only, but this doesn’t deter her. With The Book for Business-Minded Women as her guide, Mercy wangles admission into St. Clare’s through a mixture of deal-brokering and bribery. In return for arranging for a wealthy chocolatier to expand his business into Chinatown, Mercy will be allowed to attend, posing as a Chinese heiress to deflect suspicion.

Once she’s in, Mercy faces a host of new challenges, from hostile classmates to suspicious teachers. Refusing to back down, Mercy makes friends among her fellow students (as well as enemies) and doubles down on her mission. All that ends on April 18, 1906, the day a catastrophic earthquake hits San Francisco, destroying both the school and Mercy’s home in Chinatown. Now with the girls of St. Clare’s taking refuge in a public park and dependent on the army for help, what can Mercy do, with her plan and entire life entirely upended? It’s up to her find out just how far her strength, determination, and “bossy” cheeks can take her as the city burns in the earthquake’s aftermath.

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