Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Look readers! A book I didn’t give five stars!

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Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers reprinted on June 5th 2012
Genres: Fantasy, Demons, Family, Romance, Identity, War, Heaven and Hell
Pages: 448
Source: Amazon // Goodreads // Barnes and Noble

Final Review: 3 out of 5 ★★★☆☆


Ouch, three out of five stars. It’s been a while since I’ve written a review on a book I didn’t like! And what’s so odd, I love Laini Taylor’s Strange the Dreamer; so much so, I have all the pictures taken and my standard review template for the novel set up, but no words–I have no words for Strange’s overwhelmingly beautiful and captivating world. But that is not the case for Taylor’s first series.

I’m going to begin with the “bad” stuff first–at least, the things that I am not the biggest fan of before I discuss what I did actually like. I want to preface this section by noting that I am not simply an avid reader; I am trying to make my blog / review page different than those that read, review, repeat. While on the surface that’s what I do, I’m trying to connect the books I read–mostly unintentionally when first picked–to that of my current life, but more importantly to the world around me. Additionally, I have been conditioned into really reading. As in, marking up pages, taking notes (physical and mental), and truly critically thinking about the text–as a fellow writer and a grad student in literature. So the issues I have with Taylor’s piece isn’t the story itself, it’s the execution.

My biggest issue is that the flow is…off. The chronological progression of the plot will be rudely interrupted by information that is somewhat unnecessary for that situation as if Karou’s state of consciousness takes over to remind the reader of information we didn’t really need. Naturally, I can’t find the first specific instance of this, but near the beginning, Karou is narrating something happening in the present, and then suddenly says something along the lines of “but I’ve been trained in all forms of martial arts.” During this scene, she’s not in a battle or going into one, so why does the reader need to know about Karou’s random training? To me, these bits of character development–Karou’s upbringing, and when Brimstone leaves her enormous dollar amounts–should come naturally, not thrown at the reader for them to pin and remember.

The other issues I have are pretty trivial, more just personal preference, but I feel as if the storyline relied heavily on cliches and unoriginal thoughts–completely unlike Strange the Dreamer which is seriously soooo good. And I wasn’t a fan of the cover art. I know, I know–unfair and trivial, but hey! I wasn’t a fan of the cover art, and I wasn’t a fan of the book. I think there is something to be said for judging a book by its cover! We as readers, know what we like and dislike, or else who would read the blurbs on the back? Also, you cannot tell me that you don’t giggle and blush when you pass the romance section, where a half-naked man with a cowboy hat on, leans gracefully, all while flexing every ab muscle, against a horse with a barn and a sunset in the background? I totally judge those covers, but not necessarily in a bad way! In fact, if a classic romance novel didn’t have that type of cover, then would it really be a romance novel?

Anyway, enough with the bad, and onto the pieces that I did like. I noticed two correlations between this book and Victoria Schwab’s This Savage SongSomething I discussed in my last review, of Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic, is that there is a subgenre in the umbrella YA genre, one being adult fantasy or epic fantasy. I made the case that books like ADSOM and Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows would fit into that genre, whereas This Savage Song and Daughter of Smoke and Bone are examples of classic young adult fiction. That isn’t the only connection I made between Schwab and Taylor’s works, but also the overarching question of monsterhood–what makes someone human? versus what makes someone a monster?

In Taylor’s tale, there is a consistent war between the angels and the chimera race, a war that had been raging for centuries and yet the two main characters, aren’t really sure why, they just know that they’re supposed to be enemies and as of right now, I don’t really have an answer. I’m assuming that this theme will continue throughout the next two books and will hopefully be answered by then, but the question remains, regardless of being answered. Is Karou evil because she does evil things before she even realizes what she’s doing? Is Madrigal not a monster because she saves the enemy even though she’s clearly a monster (as in she’s a chimera and stitched together of different creatures).

“Have you ever asked yourself, do monsters make war, or does war make monsters?” (122).

Additionally, Schwab and Taylor both implore the classic Romeo and Juliet complex. Some might think this is cliched, and true, it is easily spotted and overused to some extent. But! Do remember, dear reader, that my graduate education is catered to the Early Modern era, therefore I read Shakespeare and other contemporaries constantly–and hope to forever be reading their works–and to me, seeing two modern day writers, potentially not even making the connection, but using this template that Shakespeare set forth for us is outstanding to me. Schools across our nation and even some overseas are suggesting we stop teaching Shakespeare–he’s too difficult, he doesn’t have anything to offer modern-day readers, he’s a bigot, racist, sexist–and NONE OF THESE ARE TRUE! We have been taught to read Shakespeare wrong in our high school classrooms and he is incredibly crucial to understanding any modern-day writing because literature builds on itself. The modern writers built on the nineteenth-century writers, who built on the eighteenth-century writers, who built on the Victorian era of writers, who built on the Early Modern period, who built on the medieval writers and so on. We cannot simply take out an entire era of literature, nothing will make sense!

I haven’t decided if I’m going to read the next two books, I think I might. I do believe that the storyline and characters are enough to keep me going, and I believe that Taylor’s writing gets better with age, like wine!, so I think the next books in this series could be better than the first one, especially since we’ll have had all the background information already.

I would recommend this book if you’re looking for something fun and easy; it’s not a challenge nor is it the best book I’ve ever read, but if you’re curious about Taylor’s other characters, then give this book a try–you’ll probably like it more than me!

And of course, a connection to Star Wars.

“Because hope froms from in you, and wishes are just magic.”

“Wishes are false hope. Hope is true. Hope makes its own magic.” (143).

 

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A Darker Shade of Magic

When I picked up V.E. Schwab’s, A Darker Shade of Magic, I had also picked up the beginning of her other series, This Savage Song and when I began reading ADSOM, I knew I would love it so much that I actually put it down in favor of trying to read This Savage Song first. Not that I didn’t enjoy This Savage Song, because as you can see from my previous review, I actually loved it quite much, but something about ADSOM that just captivated me. Perhaps because it is so well talked about, and I owned both the regular and collector’s edition before even opening either cover, but I knew I would fall in love, and fall in love I did.

A Darker Shade of Magic by VE Schwab
Published by Tor Books on February 24th, 2015
Genres: Epic, Fantasy, Magic, Family, Friendship, Sacrifice, Power, Royalty
Pages: 400
Source: Amazon // Goodreads // Barnes and Noble

Final Review: 5 out of 5 ★★★★★


I pretty sure I fell in love with ADSOM more so than This Savage Song because it fits in to what I believe is an uptick in “adult” fantastical epics, and I’m obsessed. I use the word “adult,” in quotes of course, because technically–legally–I am an adult a few years over. I am not a “young adult” any more and teens these days, thirteen, fourteen year olds, are more “young adult” than I ever was at their age. To me, there is a rise in actual adult fantasy books–those that yes, include romance, but isn’t cheesy (and I hate to use that word because not only am I a big fan of really any dairy by-product, I also adore cheesy books); the romance generally includes more adult overtones, i.e. sex and adult relationship problems. The characters are not in high school, or if they are of that age technically, they are far more advanced due to circumstances. Smaller so, but still important, there are more swear words and the diction itself is mature, as if each writer sat with a thesaurus attached to their keyboard. Some examples that, not only do I love also, but would include in this strange hybrid category are Sarah J. Maas’ series’ (particularly A Court of Thorns and Roses series simply because I enjoyed it better than A Throne of Glass) as well as Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows and A Crooked Kingdom. These novels, and including Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic, are modern-day fantasy epics–encroaching on the classics of Game of Thrones or The Lord of the Rings where the worlds are vast, the characters are multifaceted and there are tougher subjects being covered.

Though I was trying to meet my deadline of finishing ADSOM before the 14th (which I did!), I only put it down because I had to (family dinners, going through security, sleeping, etc.). Schwab truly has something special in her writing and I got a taste of it with This Savage Song and then a whole mouthful with this.

What I’m trying to do in my reviews, something I haven’t done in the past but I believe is extremely important now, is to connect the novel / book to any modern-day events or problems or happenings that I see manifest themselves through the author’s writing. As we continue the use of the hashtag #TimesUp, it only seems fitting that I begin my discussion of Schwab’s book with the woman in black, Lila.

Lila, Lila, Lila–what can I say about you? Honestly, dear reader, I hated her when I was first introduced. She just seemed so…stubborn and stupid and was probably going to get Kell killed (spoiler, it almost happens more than once no thanks to her) and she just all around annoyed me. It felt like Schwab was trying to make her too aggressive, to fit into that typecast of “I don’t need no man” womanhood, but little did I forget that I am reading a modern adult fantasy, where the characters grow and evolve much more subtly than that of regular YA novels and, at the end, Lila grew and evolved on me.

Not that Lila wanted to be pretty. Pretty wouldn’t serve her well… Why anyone would ever pretend to be weak as beyond her (66).

As someone writing my own strong, lead female character, I grapple with my creation. How strong do I want to make her? Even though I’m a millennial feminist in my own ways, I also do love a good trashy romance beach read where the female lead gets swept off her feet and falls in love–and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. Why can’t us women, in the 21st century, have both? Once again, I’m drawn to Sarah J. Maas’ A Court of Thorns and Roses series lead, Feyre. She gets both–a life-altering romance that sweeps her not only off her feet, but changes her whole mindset, as well as has the strength to sacrifice herself for her kingdom. And though we don’t see any blatant romantic scenes between Kell and Lila, I believe that perhaps, if she graces the second or third books with her presence, perhaps there can be something between them and I would love it.

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Another connection I make between our modern world and the four Londons is the use of language. If you own the exclusive collector’s edition, then you know that there is an appendix consisting of a dictionary of words used by the Antari and Arnesian, but even without the appendix, the reader knows that language is important to the story. Kell needs his Antari tongue in order to travel between Londons, where he brings correspondences to and fro between the kings and royals–the only way the royals have access to each other is through Kell and Holland and these scarce formality letters. Furthermore, there are two different versions of speech: English and Arnesian. In Gray London, where Lila is from, everyone speaks English, but in Red London, where Kell is from, only the royals and wealthy speak English and even then, the accents are heavy.

The queen spoke in English. Kell knew that she hadn’t studied the language, that she–like Athos–relied on spellwork instead. So where under her close-fitting clothes, a translation rune was scarred into her skin. Unlike the desperate tattoos made by the power hungry, the language rune was a soldier’s response to a politician’s problem. Red London treated English as a mark of high society, but White London found little use for it (94).

What I want to focus on here is how Schwab notes that Red London treats the English language as a mark of high society–how true is this? Red London is the most decadent, but also the most pleasant London of the four. There are, naturally, unhappy people, as in any kingdom, but for the most part, the people are happy and they love their king and queen, and yet they have two different languages spoken: the common tongue, and English. There is a stigma, I believe, hovering around people like myself, who continue our eduction in a dying field: English. I have my Bachelor’s in English Literature, am currently getting my Master’s in it as well, and will hopefully add a PhD soon. I have a high vocabulary and read voraciously (if I didn’t then this blog wouldn’t make much sense would it?). I do remember during my undergrad, when I was still a dual major student in both literature and the art of teaching (as in I was going to be trained to become a high school or lower English teacher) and terms like code-switching and Ebonics came into my vernacular. I have studied the English language very, very little, but I do feel like I know some about it! I love reading about the creation of the Oxford Dictionary and just how language changes. Starting not even with the beginning, we have Old English that barely looks or sounds like English, then we move onto the Early Modern era (aka Shakespeare’s time) where “thee” and “thou” was prevalent, and we can fast forward even more so to somewhat modern, where words like “groovy” and “dude” come and go and the word “like” and “literally” and “can’t even” make an appearance. So while our language is constantly evolving, there are people who still believe English is the “true” and “right” tongue. Yes, perhaps English is technically the universal language, but that’s only according to some stuffy men at the UN. Even within the United States, where English is the native language, there are dialects: words that are said and used regularly on the east coast rarely pop off the tongues of those on the west, and don’t even get me started on the grammatical errors in the south. Will there be a time when my own country finds little use for English? Probably not, but will it continue changing? Of course.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of Maas or Bardugo, to anyone who enjoys fantastical epics loaded with adventure, and to anyone who was impressed with This Savage Song and wants to see Schwab take it to the next level. To wrap up, I want to leave you all with a quote from Lila that some of us, including myself, need to think more about in today’s world:

“You have a house if not a home,” she spat. “You have people who care for you if not about you. You may not have everything you want, but I’d wager you have everything you could ever need, and you have the audacity to claim it all forfeit because it is not love… Love doesn’t keep us from freezing to death, Kell,” she continued, “or starving, or being knifed for the coins in our pocket. Love doesn’t buy us anything, so be glad for what you have and who you have because you may want for things but you need for nothing” (235).

This Savage Song

Of course, I had heard of Schwab’s other series, beginning with A Darker Shade of Magic, and had been interested in quite some time (don’t worry, I am currently reading that one now!) but I hadn’t really heard much about her earlier duo. To be honest, I didn’t even realize it was the same author at first since she uses only her initials on the Shades of Magic series.

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This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab
Published by Greenwillow Books on July 5th, 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Demons, Family, Friendship, Romance, High School, Fear
Pages: 464
Source: Amazon // Goodreads // Barnes and Noble

Final Review: 4.5 out of 5 ★★★★☆


To begin, I just want to say that I don’t think I’ve ever given a book here 4.5 stars out of five. I don’t even have a half star image to use.

As we pass the first-week mark of 2018, it doesn’t seem like much has changed in terms of our environment. The North East where I live is still frozen, but Chicago is thawing out on this balmy, 34 degree Monday. San Francisco was just hit by a moderate sized earthquake a few days ago and I’m assuming parts of southern California are still on fire, but since the news only reports on things for about two days and forgets about them, how am I ever to know? Things certainly haven’t changed immediately in the political sphere of the US and even though it’s a new year, new you, I highly doubt that they will. While the women of the Golden Globes made their voices loud, people are still laughing about it on Twitter and such. And what was I doing during all of it? Finishing Victoria Schwab’s This Savage Song. I had originally picked up her A Darker Shade of Magic to read first and after reading a few pages I knew I would like it too much that I didn’t want to get sucked in right away–I wanted something lighter, I suppose. And that clearly didn’t happen. This Savage Song is breathtaking–and, more importantly, relevant.

“What do you want?” chided Leo. “To be ordinary? To be human?” He said the word as if it stained his tongue.

“Better human than a monster” (81).

Schwab tackles the question: What makes someone a monster? And while not not successful, can this question ever really be answered? Based in a world where monsters, like the ones from our childhood nightmares, exist, This Savage Song directs the readers’ attention to how a label or an identity can be changed. August Flynn is one of our two main characters and he is, more or less, a monster. As one of only three known Sunai–the deadliest and most unknown monsters out there–the reader would like to assume that he’s creepy crawly like how the other monsters (Malchai and Corsai) are, but he isn’t. August is a timid boy, cute but probably not sexy, too young for me no doubt, but all around sweet. He doesn’t want to be a monster; he doesn’t want to be what this society has already labeled and created him as.

On the other hand, our other main character, Kate Harker, is a human but does this make her any better than August? She might not kill people and feed on their souls, but she’s still…a bitch through and through. Her father runs the north end of their city, Verity, and forces people to pay for his protection from the things that go bump in the night. Kate really only wants to please her father and make him see that she is capable of running a corrupt empire like he does.

She was her father’s daughter. A Harker. And she would do whatever she had to do to prove it (119).

August lives in the southern part of Verity, the war-torn half that offers as much protection as possible–but still isn’t enough–and doesn’t force the residents to pay for it. North and south sides are obviously opposing, the north and Harker’s domain want control of the entire city to build a greedy corporation that “protects” people from the monsters Harker himself controls. The Flynn family in the south, though far less wealthy and resource heavy, are honest and good people. They don’t want a war, but they realize that they cannot let Harker take over Verity for his horrid reasons. In a way, Schwab’s tale takes from Romeo and Juliet. To warring families with children of the same age that team up together to fight the battle their families created for them.

Of course, there’s bad guys and fight scenes ensuing all over the place as the reader inches closer and closer to the climax, but something that never really happens, while I, as a fangirl, was certainly craving it, was August and Kate never had a romantic moment. Sure there were times when I could feel the tension crackling off the pages myself, but even in the end, there was never an embrace or a kiss or anything. And I left both shocked and pleased. Sure, Schwab could have finally let the fangirl’s dreams come true and let Kate and August be together–perhaps this happens in the next book, I wouldn’t know since I haven’t read it yet–but she didn’t. Schwab chose to exclude that crucial part of any good YA romance-type book because, at least what I’d like to believe, is that this book isn’t about Kate or August really. They are just the examples, the vessels used to further discuss her main, overarching question of who is the real monster?

“And you?” asked Kate…

When August answered, the word was small, almost too quiet to hear. “Lost.” He exhaled, and it seemed to take more than air out of him. “I’m what happens when a kid is so afriad of the world he lives in that he escapes the only way he knows how. Violently” (308).

I could pick up the first five YA books on my shelfie and find at least one kiss scene in each of them–and don’t get me wrong, I love the kiss scenes, when my heart fills and flutters and happiness pools inside me cause two people that aren’t even real are happy–but by omitting that scene from This Savage Song, Schwab forces the reader to think closer about who is the true monster in this story. Is it the actual monsters? Sure, they do horrible things and are creepy, and are rightfully labeled “monsters” because they kill and eat people. But then there are people who think they’re doing good, but end up doing bad–like Kate’s father for example, or August’s older brother Leo. These characters might not look like monsters in the traditional sense, but their beings are monstrous.

There are too many people in power right now who aren’t technically a Malchai or Corsai or Sunai, but they still are monsters. Women are still mistreated left and right, and have to work in solidarity to at least be heard (hinting at the Golden Globes again) and even when we do speak out, we’re mocked or cringed at for not letting Guillermo del Toro be happy for winning his (rightful cause he is a great director) best director. Our president doesn’t care about us citizens unless we’re in the one percent and a white male. He could care less about anyone else; he only himself like Kate’s father. He might as well have branded his minions with T’s under their eyes, like Harker does his.

So while people hashtag New Year New Me, maybe we should really be looking at our own actions and those of the people around us. Just because we are human, doesn’t mean we are not monsters.

He was a Sunai–nothing was going to change that–but he wasn’t evil, wasn’t cruel, wasn’t monstrous. He was just someone who wanted to be something else, something he wasnt (351).

 

The Afterlife of Holly Chase

Naturally, I had to pick this up and read it over Christmas and the same friend who recommended This is Not the End had also read this, so I made sure to not ask her anything about it before reading!

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The Afterlife of Holly Chase by Cynthia Hand
Published by HarperTeen on October 24th, 2017
Genres: Coming of Age, Family, Friendship, Romance, Humor, Holiday
Pages: 400
Source: Amazon // Goodreads // Barnes and Noble

Final Review: 4 out of 5 ★★★★☆


Whenever someone asked me what I was reading, which undoubtedly happened every time I opened the book around family, I promptly told them “It’s a modern retelling of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.” Now, this isn’t incorrect, but it’s not really the whole story. Even though it’s January, Cynthia Hand’s, The Afterlife of Holly Chase, is only more relevant. If you’ve noticed the other most recent post I’ve made, it discusses some bookish New Year’s resolutions. These are goals I’ve set for myself to desperately try to keep in order to stay mind happy and healthy. And even though Hand’s tale is a Christmas one, it’s really about changing one’s self into our best version.

But I didn’t know I was a Scrooge (12).

Holly Chase is two things: a bitch, and dead. At seventeen, Holly died a humiliating death and wound up working for  Project Scrooge as a “zombie”–she’s technically still alive? But isn’t aging and constantly resets at midnight every night to stay as the seventeen-year-old girl she died as. At Project Scrooge, an appropriately located in New York City–the Scroogiest cities in the world probably–the crew pick a “Scrooge” each year and using the characters Dickens set forth over 150 years ago, try to save the Scrooge from their own horrible ways. Holly is what’s considered a “failed Scrooge” seeing as she was greeted with three ghosts of Christmas–Past, Present, and Future–and laughed it off, denying their existence, and ended up dying anyway.

Being the classic, rich bitch, Holly is stuck up, annoying, materialistic, and self-centered–all the good qualities of the cliched high school prom queen, but she is surprisingly in a position of power at Project Scrooge. She’s the Ghost of Christmas Past! The first Christmas ghost any Scrooge sees! She definitely plays an important role, so it’s interesting that she’s so annoying, but really that makes her almost more real. She’s not perfect and strangely, after death, Holly has accepted it.

Of course, there are more twists and turns I was only a little bit expecting, but Hand plays it all off brilliantly. And perhaps it was because of the timing–I did begin reading it on December 23rd and finished on the 26th–I definitely give Hand’s story a four out of five. I was actually surprised I liked it more than This is Not the End. While I was waiting for the sappiness, and sure it was there, The Afterlife of Holly Chase was refreshingly upbeat. I probably would not pick this book up in the middle of July and I’m generally not the person who only reads certain books during certain seasons, but this one really is a good, winter tale–especially right now with the year changing.

If you’re looking for something sweet and refreshing, a snuggly cold day read that also makes you want to take up every hobby you ever let pass and call your mother, then The Afterlife of Holly Chase is a perfect book for you.

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Refocus: 2018 Book List

From the wise words of Lily and Val (a crafting, calligraphy, all things pretty website and store; which is where this awesome “refocus” design is from!), 2018 is the time to refocus. At the perfect existential age of 23, a current Master’s seeking grad student, a kinda-sorta New York resident, it might appear that I have things together–but we all know me, and I don’t. For starters, why do I let things I love (i.e. reading and reviewing) fall by the wayside? Let’s stop that, future Shelby. Some goals for this new year include some of the cliche things (like eat better! Note, Z and I got Dominos delivered yesterday–what a great way to start the new year, eh?), but more importantly, they include book-related things.

 

 

 

This year, I want to read one book a week (total 52 books in 2018) that are non-academic, meaning they are not required reading for classes. I also want to post to my bookstagram three or so times a week, as well as posting one review (at least!) a week here.

I want to include my list of 52 books here so you guys can see what I’m up to and give me more suggestions on what to read. Currently, my list is at 40 something. I’m planning on leaving the last 10 or so open instead of planning those away this early in the year.

*A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab
Pendragon #9 by DJ McHale
Pendragon #10 by DJ McHale
Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
Empire of Storms by Sarah J Maas
Assassins Blade by Sarah J Maas
Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley
WinterSong by S. Jae-Jones
Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance by Ruth Emmie Lang
Before She Ignites by  Jodi Meadows
Without Merit by Colleen Hoover
The Breathless by Tara Goedjen 
Select by Marit Weisenberg
The Witches of New York by Ami McKay
Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst
Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra
The Last Magician by Lisa Maxwell 
*The Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh
*Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman
*Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
Starborn by Lucy Hounsom
*Everless by Sara Holland
The Disappearances by Emily Bain Murphy
A Million Junes by Emily Henry
*Women of Will by Tina Packer
Private Lives of the Tudors by Tracy Borman
Elizabeth by John Guy
Furyborn by Claire Legrand
*A Court of Frost and Starlight by Sarah J Maas
Wicked like Wildfire by Lana Popovic
School for Unusual Girls by Kathleen Baldwin
The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan
Starflight by Melissa Landers
It Ends with Us by Colleen Hoover
Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld
Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta
Hunting Prince Dracula by Kerri Maniscalco
The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis
*Dangerous Lies by Becca Fitzpatrick
Not If I See You First by Eric Lindstrom
One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Hot Cop by Laurelin Paige
RoomHate by Penelope Ward

If you made it this far down, congrats! The books marked with an asterisk are the ones I’m most excited about and will probably be reading first–this list isn’t in any particular order and as you can see, there’s a healthy mixing of genres and authors. Naturally, there are many YA (my favorite) but there is a sprinkling of non-fiction as well as classics and, of course, some erotica at the end (which will probably be read in the summertime).

Some other book things I’m looking forward to sticking to are: the MLA 2018 New York Convention happening this weekend; BookCon in NY in the summer; finishing my novel by December 31st (fingers crossed, people); reading for my upcoming six Master’s courses this year–as well as picking a mentor and applying to PhD programs come summertime.

So let’s all pray to the book gods that I am capable of keeping up with this resolution–it is, after all, time to refocus.

This is Not the End

I was given This is Not the End by a friend at my university so we could start a book club, or better understood as a drink-wine-and-chat-about-a-book-maybe-club. My friend actually said before I started reading, “It’s okay if you don’t like it” as if I was holding a book about some horrible, depressive topic. Unfortunately, she jinxed me and I didn’t really like it.

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This is Not the End by Chandler Baker
Published by Disney-Hyperion on August 8th, 2017
Genres: Friendship, Romance, Family, Coming of Age, Tough Choices
Pages: 384
Source: Amazon // Goodreads // Barnes and Nobles

Final Review: 3 out of 5 ★★★☆☆


If you have read Lauren Oliver’s Replica or Katherine McGee’s The Thousandth Floor, then you will probably not like This is The End. The three books do have one thing in common: mixing one, futuristic technology with our everyday life. Instead of completely creating a dystopian, futuristic world like Cinder, Oliver, McGee, and Baker place one new-wave, Elon Musk-esque technology in their stories which, besides the one tech upgrade, everything else has pretty much stayed the same. Replica and The Thousandth Floor discuss cloning (sorry, spoilers!) while the rest of the characters could be transported to a Sarah Dessen novel. In This is Not the End, while the plot (minus the science-based reincarnation, which I’ll get to later) could also be placed in a cheesy, romantic read, that tiny bit of science-fiction makes this story different–and not necessarily for the better.

I wanted to like This is Not the End so badly–for my friend, for our wine and book club, and simply because I love YA, but this book lost some of its uniqueness to cliches. I’ll start with the things I didn’t like with the book, before moving on to the things I did like.

First of all, the random descriptions of the “reincarnation process” I’m assuming was to flow and not sound too detailed or story-like, but it did the opposite. Instead, to me, it felt as if Chandler was making up notes about the process–adding “death parties” and “taboo” to the table on page 222–as she was writing, not cultivating the idea beforehand. The reader really doesn’t know anything about the process, which is fine, since we are supposed to be observing as if we already understand everything (just like in The Thousandth Floor), but instead of organically showing the reader what this space-age technology does, this story randomly brings it up, changing the reader’s thoughts on it. Are we supposed to hate it like some of the characters? Or fetishize it like others? Once again on page 222, Lake narrates “Since suicide and assisted suicide are strictly taboo, death parties are always hush-hush.” How is the reader supposed to know that suicide is strictly taboo in this world–it seems like it wouldn’t be at all given how the process works, and we’re told this more than halfway through the book.

The other issues that I have are the unnecessary cliches used. My main bother is when Lake meets Ringo and his group of friends, Lake has to comment “I feel a flush of self-consciousness, realizing how insulated and how homogenous and white St. Theresa’s–the world I’ve been committed to since eighth grade–is” (130-131). To me, I see this as a cop-out: Baker felt that she wasn’t being inclusive enough so she drew more attention to the fact by force-feeding us Ringo’s rag-tag team of friends. If Baker hadn’t mentioned anything, this would have been better, or if the rest of the plot revolved around race, this would have been better. But here, Lake brings it up once–and never mentions it again.

Now, you might think I absolutely hated this book so why even bother giving it three stars? Why not just rip apart the whole thing? And while I could, there are two plot points that are very redeeming (warning: spoilers ahead!).

I both did not, and totally did, see the Penny and Will thing coming and I think this is best showcased when the trio are at a death party and they lose Penny in the crowd:

At the bottom of the stairs, we find Penny waiting for us. Her complexion has turned translucent and she appears shaken. “I couldn’t find you–” And then she notices Will’s and my hands curled together. “Oh,” she says, blinking. Her cheeks light up fluorescent pink. “Oh,” she repeats. (233)

I think Baker really showcases here the troubles of being young and in love (now I sound like a cliche). The realization that hits Penny is real; it’s something I’ve felt before and have probably made others feel before as well. It’s crushing to choose between two people you love in different ways. Once she showed us this scene, it was all so obvious and as a reader, I wanted Will and Penny to be together anyway.

The other redeeming quality of This is Not the End, is Matt. Shocking, I know. Lake’s older brother Matt became fully paralyzed and is relying on Lake to turn eighteen and use her resurrection choice on him so he can come back to life fully healed. And he’s a complete arse about it. I was so caught off guard by just how shitty a person Matt is, just how much Baker wants us to hate him, that I actually love him. In the fresh, under-50 pages of the book, we see Matt being simply cruel to his sister:

“Seriously?” He scoffs and looks off to the side, like, Can you believe this girl? “You do realize you hit the car dead-on, right? I mean you were there. Doctor-What’s-His Face said you were probably conscious through most of it. I figured you already knew.” (30)

He is, of course, referring to Penny and Will’s deaths to the freshly woken up Lake as if they were a mere inconvenience for him. I had originally marked this passage as something I hated, similar to my marking of Baker’s random use of race, but further on, I realized that Matt truly is the deepest character in this book and I would definitely say the true star of the story–we only watch his change progress from start to end, not really Lake’s.

So while I wanted to really love this book, there were too many flaws for me to be totally enveloped in it. The overall plot, though, is fascinating and I wish went into better detail. I would recommend if you want a quick, easy read about family struggles.

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