Breathe by Dax Varley

41dCJEc3ezL._SY445_QL70_

Genres: Young Adult, Mystery, Thriller
Publisher: Garden Gate Press
Publication Date: August 31st 2016

1 OUT OF 5 STARS

Disclaimer: A free copy of this book was received through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Hayden McKaley is pretty and popular – and she’s been kidnapped. Who is her captor, and what does he mean when he says that Hayden killed his son?

This is thinly veiled torture porn. The characters are a pretty, nice girl and a very evil man. Also, there’s a son who may or may not exist and a doctor who’s personality doesn’t exist. It’s extremely short and other than torture almost nothing happens.

I want to categorize this book as a mystery, because who Hayden’s killer is is a huge part of the novel. The problem is that the book introduces us to no one but her kidnapper. The clues Hayden sees to his identity mean nothing to the reader. A mystery isn’t fun if there’s literally no way for readers to unravel it. It’s not satisfying to have to wait for the end to find out that some character you’ve never heard of is the criminal.

Let’s talk about alternate endings. They can be interesting, but your book should not be 30% alternate endings. It feels like the author got bored of the plot and didn’t quite know how to tie it off. Certain “clues” only lead to certain endings. Alternate endings are not a good choice for novels where the suspense and mystery are the drives. I want to know who did it. I don’t want three different options.

In a weird way, I sort of enjoyed the book. It was easy to breeze through in about an hour. I was sort of invested to find out what happened to the guy’s son. If the book had spent more time on a blend of the first and second ending it could have been interesting. If Hayden or her kidnapper had a personality outside of tiny boxes it could have been fantastic. They didn’t, and it wasn’t.

This novel is too short to develop anything interesting and it’s even shorter with the alternate endings taking up so many pages.

For Fans of: Follow Me Back

Advertisements

Those Apart by Padraig O’C

C7jIvvnV4AA7lUz.jpg

Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, LGBT+
Publisher: DasWyrd Press
Publication Date: November 16th 2016

1 OUT OF 5 STARS

Disclaimer: A free copy of this book was received through the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Shaman command the elements, and three have been chosen. A princess wearing the mask of a prince, a lazy dreamer and a brave shark killer are forced to take on new power and begin a new age. The torn wings must be repaired.

This is a book I struggled to finish. It was like work to read, I would find other things to do just to avoid reading it.

The characters feel largely like people the story is happening to. I could not give you a single personality trait outside their genders or sexualities to describe even the protagonists, nevermind the minor characters. The author also uses “wolfspeak” lightly and phrases like “her average-heighted figure shrugged” to try and get appearance across. It’s strange.

That said the book does have excellent diversity. One protagonist is non-gender conforming and another is transgendered. There are several gay or bisexual characters littered throughout. It’s clear the author is conscious of different orientations and wants to include people. This is good. Unfortunately, I’ve sung this song a thousand times and I’ll sing it a thousand more. Lack of diversity can make a good book bad, but diversity doesn’t make a bad book good.

As far as a published book goes there are far too many mistakes. Several are typesetting errors, ignoring some just genuinely odd typesetting choices (who uses tildes like that?). The author misgenders their transgendered character as he but that might be intentional. More obviously they misgender their non-binary character as she and they several times. Sometimes they use eir where ey should have gone. There’s also more than a few typos. This is a fully completed book, the errors should not be this numerous.

The plot is very minimal. People chase and people flee. The world building is very vague and I’m still confused about quite how everything works. If your book needs a Q&A about how certain elements of your world function at the end then you haven’t written it right.

There were some very nice illustrations in the book, and the verses from their scripture were rather interesting. That wasn’t enough to make it a good read. If all you want is diverse genders and sexualities look no further, but in all other aspects this book could have done much better.

For Fans Of: The Untold Tale

After Me by Joyce Scarbrough

cover

Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance
Publisher: Buzz Books USA
Publication Date: August 4th 2014

1 OUT OF 5 STARS

Disclaimer: A free copy of this book was received through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

When Jada dies she’s shocked to find out that the afterlife isn’t a myth. Even more surprised to find out that she’s in debt and has to return to earth to hunt down her killer as payment. While she’s looking for the scum that killed her Jada also has a chance to discover friendship and true love, something she’d have never dreamed about before her untimely death.

The plot for this book sounds thrilling, but less than 30% of the book actually focuses on hunting down perverts. Most of it is just your standard young adult romance. There’s some punishment but mostly our hero just lucks out and happens upon them rather than actually focusing on her task.

The biggest bone I have to pick is with the character of Jada/Gwen. She’s insufferable. She’s better than prissy girly girls, better than nerds and just all around “special” and “different”. This isn’t helped by the fact that she’s given super powers by heaven some of which are just entirely useless to her mission. Speedreading, excellent knowledge of chemistry – she doesn’t need these for any real reason in the plot they just make her look cool. If there is one trope I LOATHE it’s the “not like other girls” girl who’s just a snarky jerk to everyone outside her special friend group. Oh and let’s not forget she’s super-duper attractive.

That being said her friend group and foster family are lovely, too lovely. Everyone is perfect, and innocent and kid. Lew is an absolute dreamboat. Handsome, strong, smart and wealthy? He doesn’t have any real flaws. Nor do any of the other people Gwen likes. The villain is comical. His whole life revolves around rape and weird kinks and he thinks of literally nothing but murder and rape. It’s far too black and white. Not to mention the other rapists who are all practically oozing evil so profusely that anyone who didn’t look at them once and know they were sex offenders would have to be an idiot.

Rapists are bad. Readers know that, but it doesn’t give you an excuse to not at least try and write a complex character and society around them. Predators are seen as clearly evil, not people girls might trust before something happens which is more often the case. The way the book sets up rapists and the society around them feels like a bad after-school special rather than real life.

As well, and for now I am in the minority, the ending was a joke. The book built up to the ending just to exclaim “JUST KIDDING” and end on an entirely disappointing note. It wasn’t a strong writing choice. It took a book which at the very least could have been a powerful bittersweet ending and turned it into something that’s boring at best.

The premise could have been great, and some of the characters and story lines are salvageable (looking at you Lew and Matt) but overall it feels like a cheap coat of paint over a standard romance with cardboard cutout villains.

For Fans Of: The Lovely Bones

Put Me Down, I’m Terrible. By Katie Lewington

Genres: Poetry
Publisher: Ugly Sapling press
Publication Date: September 12th 2016

1 OUT OF 5 STARS

Disclaimer: A free copy of this book was received through the author in exchange for an honest review.

“I don’t need to journey I’m gonna celebrate where I’m at.”

A collection of poetry by Lewington focusing on everyday life and mundanity. Regular things are given new life and meaning through Lewington’s eyes. Stray hairs are more than just useless dust. Cold sores become a source of pride. Every small thing is given a purpose.

I don’t know if it’s only me but I’ve never enjoyed collections of stories or poetry that weren’t meticulously curated. Lewington’s collection claims to focus on the mundane but it doesn’t feel cohesive. There are several poems focusing on sexuality and sex, some focusing on the mundane and some that seem entirely out of place. It’s also short enough that it can be read in under a half-hour.

The collection needed to be longer and more focused to feel substantial. A longer collection focusing on only the sex-themed poems would have been much stronger and more emotionally captivating. As it is, Put Me Down, I’m Terrible move from one unrelated subject to another too quickly to connect with.

On their own, each poem is alright – though not the sort I’d seek out to read. The problem is definitely that there is not style, rules or theme that links these poems together. There is no reason for them to be in a collection together. A poetry collection should tell a story, or at the very least have a theme and flow. There is no strong theme here and the poems don’t seem to be arranged in any way that would encourage a flow. This is aggravated by the fact that the e-book was poorly formatted which I usually ignore but formatting for poetry is crucial.

A bad book of poems – but not a book of bad poems. There are definitely some poems here that will resonate with certain readers, but as a whole the collection is weak.

Rage by Richard Bachman

Genres: Thriller
Publisher: Signet
Publication Date: September 6th 1977

1 OUT OF 5 STARS

“Two years ago. To the best of my recollection, that was about the time I started to lose my mind.”

Charlie Decker is ready to get it on. After years of slowly descending into a disturbed mental state he murders his teacher and takes his class hostage. Over one tense afternoon Decker and his classmates examine their lives.

For a novel about a tense school shooting scenario there’s a surprising number of pages not devoted to the tense school shooting scenario. A majority of the book is anecdotes from Charlie and his classmates about their past experiences and most of those are only vaguely interesting. There’s a lot of focus on sex and masturbation just for the sake of being vulgar not actually advancing any aspects of the story.

It’s easy to see why this novel was pulled from print. Although it doesn’t really demonstrate a realistic school shooting scenario Decker is definitely who some school shooters would like to be. I wouldn’t be surprised if Stephen King, who wrote this novel under his Bachman alias, also pulled the novel for it’s less than stellar quality compared to his other works.

Decker fails to feel threatening or psychopathic. He doesn’t demonstrate any of the mental defects that school shooters tend to have and he just feels like a bit of a brat. The other students reacted in a very strange way to the horror and it all felt pretty low stakes for a thriller. It was mostly Charlie’s inner monologue sometimes interrupted by other people’s stories and very briefly stopped by an incompetent police force.

It’s shocking to read a bad novel by a great author, but it is what it is. There is nothing satisfying about reading this novel. There is no suspense after the first few pages. Charlie Decker is a dreadful protagonist and a lackluster villain. You can’t root for him but he’s not worth fearing. The plot doesn’t really go anywhere and essentially the story boils down to “no one understands me, what a cruel world, popular kids suck and my life sucks wah wah wah”.

It’s difficult to read a book where the protagonist is so unlikable and essentially monologuing his childhood throughout a supposed “thriller”. It’s one of King’s weakest works. Though its involvement in school shootings is regrettable, Rage being out of print is no great loss to the literary world and King has many better books in his collection.

For Fans Of: This is Where it Ends

Hundred Percent by Karen Romano Young

Genres: Childrens, Contemporary
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Publication Date: August 9th 2016

1 OUT OF 5 STARS

Disclaimer: A free copy of this book was received through LibraryThing Early Reviewers in exchange for an honest review.

Christine Gouda’s last year of elementary school is a roller coaster ride. It starts with her trying to shake an old nickname, Tink, and follows her as she struggles with romance, popularity, and her new body.

Young covers a lot of topics in this novel but in a way that isn’t quite appropriate for very young readers or interesting for older readers. Quite a bit of the book focuses on romance and sex with one of the girl’s in Tink’s class being a “slut”. The voice used in the novel is also uncomfortable – it doesn’t feel like a twelve-year-old. Tink’s thoughts feel much older than she is and this is beside the fact that Tink and her friends are just dull in general.

The biggest issue with this book was the awkward writing. The dialogue felt stilted, characters would suddenly be in another location without ever arriving there and, frankly, it was difficult to follow. The layout of the chapters is a part of this, each chapter covers a large part of a year and the time skips are not well written. I had trouble keeping track of what day it was and where Tink was even reading this as an adult.

The setting is also strange, I can’t quite pin down a time period. The music mentioned is all the adults’ favourites so it’s rightly a little dated. However, there are iPods but no laptops or phones or social media. It doesn’t evoke the feeling of any era and just feels odd and out of place in any time.

Despite taking place over a whole year Tink’s life is fairly mundane. The biggest plot points still feel slow. The characters don’t really draw any interest and are all pretty flat. Mean girls, cute boys, even Tink herself barely has any personality.

The crux is that the book lacks clear writing making it difficult to follow narratively and is written in a way that doesn’t really give it any appropriate target audience.

BUY THE BOOK

Read this if you’re a fan of: Cheating Lessons

Mistrust by Margaret McHeyzer

Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance
Publisher: Smashwords Edition
Publication Date: July 29th 2016

1 OUT OF 5 STARS

Disclaimer: A free copy of this book was received through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Dakota’s life has been blessed. She’d popular, dating the best-looking boy around and everyone loves her. Prom night changes everything. One act destroys everything and Dakota doesn’t know how she’ll go on.

A promising premise with a horribly botched execution. Dakota’s narration is dull and emotionless. She describes everything that happens clinically, there is no emotion or character in how she sees the world. It’s bare bones “my dad wrapped his arm around me”. The narration tells you what happens but barely how Dakota feels about it and the word choice is sterile.

The dialect of the characters is unnatural. Their ages and personality don’t show in their speech; every character speaks the exact same way. Adults throw around curses, Dakota uses “oh my goodness” which is something so rarely in teen dialogue nowadays it was shocking. There are also instances where words like “ain’t” slip in when the characters have never used words like that before and they never do again.

The plot itself is feeble at best. A good portion of this book isn’t about rape at all and in fact focuses on fluffy family scenes and a disgustingly cheesy romance. The book doesn’t really deal with the main issue until near the end, instead it focuses on Rhys who is such a good guy. He does nothing wrong, ever. He loves Dakota so much he would never hurt her. The book is cartoonish in its depiction of good versus evil and that is something that cannot be done in contemporaries. In the real world, people are complex, which is something this book tries to convey but fails at miserably.

It tries to shock the reader, but the conclusion is obvious a few pages into the book. It tries to pull a bait-and-switch technique with the real villain but it’s trying so hard that it sabotages itself. It’s following old formulas, and, as a whole, it’s an unoriginal read. Worst of all it makes the story so black-and-white and slaps on a clean cut ending.

It’s important to deal with issues like rape carefully, this book doesn’t. It spouts statistics and clearly has a message (hard to ignore when the book slaps you in the face with it). Dakota thinks things about rape that you’d read in pamphlets. The rapist is ridiculously sinister, and that’s just not how things are usually.

It would have been nice to see a book that dealt with ambiguous rape, rape that doesn’t leave the victim battered and bleeding but instead leaves only deep wounds on the inside. Rape where maybe not everyone believes you because you’re drenched in blood. Rape where maybe the bad guy gets away because he’s been a good kid before this and he’s not a several time offender. The bad guy isn’t always defeated and that’s a more interesting story to read and offers more insight into the struggles of being a survivor than the case being neatly tied with a bow at the end.

Focus, focus, focus. Remove the fluff. This book is twice as long as it needed to be and the story is made incredibly weak because it is weighed down by scenes and characters that add nothing of value. At its core, Mistrust is a cheap love story with unbelievable characters that uses rape as kickoff point to gain interest.

Read this if you’re a fan of: Because I Love You

When Everything Feels Like the Movies by Raziel Reid

Genres: Young Adult, LGBT+, Coming of Age
Publisher: Arsenal Pulp Press
Publication Date: October 21st 2014

1 OUT OF 5 STARS

“’Sweetheart,’ I said, ‘train wrecks always make the front page.’”

Life is difficult for Jude, his town is just too small to understand him. Jude loves cross-dressing, boys and plans on being a Hollywood starlet. He’s not popular at school, but he certainly gets noticed and not in a good way. From his rough home life with his mother’s abusive boyfriend to being beaten up at school, Jude has a lot on his plate. He’s determined to make it to the end and walk off into the sunset with his heartthrob co-star, Luke.

If you can imagine every stereotype that has been created for gay men and then combine them together, you have Jude. He’s in middle school and rarely thinks about anything other than make-up, stardom and sex. There’s a lot of references to pop-culture, so many that the book already feels a bit dated.

The plot is a tried and trusted formula. It could have spiced things up a bit and been a solid read. The reason this book pans out so poorly is that all the characters are terrible people. The bullies are the predictable jock sort of bullies. They harass Jude and want him to kill himself, very black and white evil. The problem is, Jude isn’t exactly good either. It’s not even that he’s realistically flawed, he’s just an objectively horrible person. Here is a short (incomplete) list of some of the things Jude does that the book never addresses as an issue:

  • Masturbates to people’s facebook photos
  • Sexually harasses boys when he knows his  advances are unwanted
  • Calls someone “stuck between straight and gay” ignoring bisexuality
  • Watches people have sex without their knowledge
  • Steals from school, charity and his own mother
  • Goes into the boys’ change room for a “peepshow”
  • Gets a cat high
  • Ruins a woman’s wedding dress
  • He literally cares only about himself and occasionally his brother
  • Does plenty of hard drugs
  • Kisses a teacher? (this was unclear, Jude fantasizes so much)

This isn’t even touching on Angela who, instead of having safe sex, regularly has abortions. She doesn’t use condoms or birth control because it’s not cool. Who takes her to these abortions? We don’t know, the book treats it like getting several abortions by thirteen isn’t at all unusual. There are so many issues that this book could have dealt with but instead it just presents them and that’s it. Yup, these things sure did happen.

The ending is also a mess. It’s very fantastical and sort of ruins the darker tone the ending could have had. It’s hard to feel anything for Jude because he doesn’t feel human. He feels like a character from a homophobic propaganda film where gay men harass straight men and spy on them in change rooms. It’s hard to feel sorry for someone as shallow and terrible as Jude, so there’s no one in this book to support.

This book has won awards, but Canadian Literature isn’t exactly a hard field to win in. It’s a book that is trying so hard to be edgy it ends up being pathetic, and sort of disgusting. The characters do not feel their age, and none are sympathetic. The whole book feels shallow, which is an issue when it hopes to illicit an emotional response. If Jude was straight no one would even blink twice at calling him a perverted creep. Being gay and bullied does not justify his actions. If the book had included a redemption for Jude it might have been salvageable but it ends up just feeling like a weak attempt at diverse literature.

I could not care less about what fate these characters had, as long as the book was over.

BUY THE BOOK

Read this if you’re a fan of: All the Bright Places

Sanctuary by Zainab T. Khan

Genres: Young Adult
Publication Date: December 2015

1 OUT OF 5 STARS

Disclaimer: A copy of this book was given to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.

“There were so many ethnic groups, each with its own language, and one just can’t learn all of the languages. While they had been beautiful and weird in their own way, they were also difficult. As for English, almost everyone knew it. A bit, anyway.”

A short look into the lives of several characters living in a multicultural town.

I feel as though Sanctuary was too short to do as much as it wanted to do. The idea behind the story requires that the cast be wide and diverse but with only fifty pages none of the characters get the sort of development they deserve. There are hints of romance and while one progresses pretty reasonably the second one seems to shoot out of no where. It doesn’t have time to develop but it’s tossed on us suddenly anyways and it feels almost exactly like Summer and Blake’s relationship from A Bucket Full of Awesome.

In fact many of the issues in this story are carried over from the author’s previous book. The same characters are present with slightly different interests and names. The adults feel largely like teenagers and there’s barely any distinction between adults in their twenties or those approaching their mid-forties. There are characters having children and getting married but they all feel about fifteen or sixteen and the writing makes it very difficult to tell unles it’s stated.

Other languages are peppered throughout the story, but unfortunately that’s more of a detriment than anything. Often the other language bits are not explained and just as often they’re not beng used properly. At one point a character speaks in French but the other characters react as if he’s spoken Italian. When languages do appear in full passages (though I’m referencing mainly the French as I am not fluent in anything else) it looks as though it’s just been put through Google translate.

This is an incredibly interesting idea, and I’ve seen stories of cultural towns with various residents go well (see Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio) but this just felt poorly researched. Most characters feel like a stereotype of their culture, each abiding very strictly to cultural norms without deviating as individuals do. With the number of characters the story hopes to flesh out it lacks both the length and the research to be successful.

Read this if you’re a fan of:  Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio

A Bucket Full of Awesome by Zainab T. Khan

Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance
Publisher: Amazon Digital Services
Publication Date: February 14th 2015

1 OUT OF 5 STARS

Disclaimer: A free copy of this book was given to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.

“Reasonable things would never bring you joy as much as unreasonable ones do.”

Summer Wallace is a basketball loving tom-boy who wants to do nothing more than spend all her days on The Court. Unfortunately a cancer diagnosis interferes with her plans. Summer isn’t hopeful that she’ll make it out alive. Instead she decides to spend all her free time trying to complete a bucket list with her best friend and resident bad-boy Blake Knight.

There is a lot to talk about in this novel, but the best place to start is with Summer Wallace. The main character fits the “Not Like Other Girls” trope so well it’s ridiculous. In fact at one point she notes “…as much as I hate to relate myself to those overly stupid creatures also known as girls.” This is not interesting character depth. She’s also abusive, selfish and rude. It isn’t endearing. Near the end of the novel there is an attempt to redeem her, something along the lines of “she actually does charity work and is really insecure and sweet.” Rarely in the novel do we see Summer be anything but cruel to the people who care about her.

Her age is also an issue. She’s meant to be nearly twenty, but is written far younger. She has strange relationships with adults who treat her like a half-child and half-adult hybrid that bears minimum responsibility for anything but still needs to be treated maturely. If the story had her in high school still it would have felt a lot better stylistically. As it is it felt like a pale imitation of depth and relationships between the characters. It told us how things were and never bothered showing any evidence.

This is my main issue with the book. Summer has lung cancer. That’s a heavy topic and when dealing with topics like cancer, depression and anything this serious there should be a lot of research put into it. Of course you can fictionalize things, but it should be grounded in some research.  It felt like cancer was a minor inconvenience at best, only when it was convenient did cancer actually become an issue. Even when it was at it worst it wasn’t realistic and it isn’t a topic that should have been written about so carefully. Cancer was treated as a device to emotionally manipulate characters and readers when needed instead of the horrifying disease it is.

The story itself seemed to hinge on convenient things. It bolted through the entire bucket list with extreme improbability. Every character is willing to bow to Summer so she can get what she wants. There is rarely a snag in her plans and there’s always a convenient alternative to her less realistic wishes. It’s also trying painfully hard to have deep quotes.

It was a good premise, and there were some enjoyable parts. It’s writing was weak but the ideas were decent. There were a few scenes that had me interested in how Blake and Summer intended to pull something off. The idea had potential. If the bucket list was cut down (thirty some items was too many to make each meaningful), and the characters were looked at it could be a solid read. As it stands the characters were shallow, the research just wasn’t there and the plot moves too fast forward without ever going deep enough.

It definitely feels a lot like The Fault in our Stars. It lacks the quirky style and depth and it just falls flat where the other succeeded.

Read this if you’re a fan of: The Fault in our Stars