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Genres: Young Adult, Romance, Contemporary
Publisher: Blue Moon Publishers
Publication Date: June 13th 2017

2 OUT OF 5 STARS

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

After being caught shoplifting Sam Stonesong moved from Philadelphia to Lancaster. She’s struggling to stay part of the popular crowd and hoping to find a boyfriend. When she meets a mysterious guy in a pizza parlor things start looking up. As Sam works to build a relationship her issues with her mom and her popular friends start to get worse, and Zach is definitely keeping secrets.

Zach is Amish. Which is painfully obvious from the first time he’s introduced because of the title. Amish Guys Don’t Call makes it clear there’s going to be an Amish guy somewhere in this book. If, for half a novel, the protagonist is going to struggle to work something out, then the reader shouldn’t know. It makes the protagonist look dumb and makes the story feel slow because HE’S AMISH OF COURSE HE IS.

The plot is all over the place with several subplots that are never really properly resolved. There are scenes that feel oddly out of place and sort of pointless (Hell House wasn’t really necessary for Zach to reveal he was religious, the Sunday work thing got that across). The book ramps up VERY slowly, climaxes…and then peters out without proper conclusions to any of the plots aside from the weird romance.

Every character is keeping secrets and aside from Zach they’re all pretty awful people. Their secrets are used to explain their actions but it’s still hard to sympathize with awful parents, catty teens and worst of all Sam. Sam is awkward. A phrase which here means has the emotional intelligence of a rock.

She makes “jokes” that are far and beyond cruel and is surprised when they fall flat. She’s the irritating character archtype who’s smart, unique and different (ugh people who enjoy twilight are dumb etc, people who party are lesser.). Her love interest immediately knows she’s “special”. It’s a character that’s been done to death and it’s not interesting.

Zach is the gem of this book. Despite his secret being not so much a secret he’s mildly interesting, a good human being and very likeable. His relationship with Sam is a bit boring, there’s no real reason for them to be attracted to each other at first and the chemistry is weak at best.

The teens also feel very fake. There is some knowledge of slang present but it reads more like “cool-mom trying to slang” than real teens. The “cyber-bullying” was an absolute joke where the worst insults were maybe at a 2nd grade level of savage.

It was a book that tried to do too much. Deal with divorce, drug addition, leaving an oppressive community, dealing with shoplifting addiction, dealing with bullying, dealing with first love, dealing with religion etc. As a consequence it didn’t do anything particularly well. The characters are two-dimensional and the plot is a bit of a mess. It wasn’t a terrible read and had some funny/relatable moments but it definitely doesn’t elicit high praise from me.

For Fans Of: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

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Jonesy Volume 1 by Sam Humphries

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Genres: Graphic Novel, Childrens
Publisher: BOOM! Box
Publication Date: September 28th 2016

2 OUT OF 5 STARS

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

Jonesy is a typical teen with a weird power: she can make people fall in love with anything. Except herself. Jonesy is forced to work towards her secret crush the old-fashioned way while creating all sort of mayhem and mischief with her super special powers.

For those who loved Lumberjanes there is a very similar style of humour present in Jonesy. However the emotional bonds, character development and overall plot is much weaker. Jonesy is light fluff with very little real plot. It’s very light fare and doesn’t have much going on below the surface. Which can be good for people who just want something funny if Jonesy is your sort of humour.

One of the things that really brings the score down is the protagonist. Jonesy is a selfish jerk and not one that is easily loved. Jonesy uses her powers to caue problems for other people and only occasionally shows a glimpse of humanity to avoid hurting her friends. Characters can be bad and selfish whiile still being likeable but at best Jonesy is annoying. She’s very “not-like-other-girls” in her rejection of everything everyone else likes and just generally irritating.

There is a lot of diversity, from different ethnicities to sexualities without overtly making those characters seem different. A crush on a girl is talked about as though it’s no different from a crush on a boy and that is important – but it doesn’t make the plot or characters more interesting.

There are people who will enjoy this book, but it’s not something I’ll be picking up in the future.

For Fans Of: Lumberjanes

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Genres: Poetry
Publisher: Createspace
Publication Date: November 4th 2014

2 OUT OF 5 STARS

“The thing about writing is I can’t tell if it’s healing or destroying.”

Kaur’s poetry is immensely personal and powerful – but I just didn’t connect with it the way I’d hoped to. A modern poetry collection that focuses on abuse, love, loss and feminism it’s easy to see why milk and honey rose to popularity so quickly, but it’s simply not for everyone.

Ultimately I cannot truly judge something that is so personal to Kaur. Her emotions and past are laid bare on these pages but I see so little of myself here that I could not feel anything for most of the poems. I do love poetry and I have fell deeply in love with books of a similar style – just not this one.

I also felt a few of the themes were a bit repetitive. There were several poems about women having body hair, and though I am a strong supporter of hairy legs I don’t know if I am three plus poems emotional about it.

Kaur’s drawings are unique and interesting, some of the poems did connect with me but ultimately I didn’t really care for the collection. It felt like there was too little story and too much self-praise. The poems themselves aren’t particularly exceptional and there were several that were just large text blocks that hurt to read.

All in all many of the poems read like very pretty quotes to reblog or pin or place on a wall but don’t quite turn into nice poems.

I desperately searched for love in these pages, and came out empty handed and broken hearted.

For Fans Of: the princess saves herself in this one

Magekiller by Greg Rucka

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Genres: Graphic Novel, Fantasy
Publisher: Dark Horse Books
Publication Date: August 9th 2016

2 OUT OF 5 STARS

“The problem with magic is that it cheats.” 

Marius and Tessa make their living by killing mages. For Tessa it’s a job, for Marius it’s purpose. When they’re hired by a very unexpected and unwelcome client they end up in a world of trouble – luckily they’re saved by something worse. The end of the world.

I desperately want to love anything written in the world of Thedas as much as I love the games that take place there but Magekiller falls incredibly short of being anything remarkable. The six comics are brought into a volume but there has been no effort made to really bring them together. There’s no break between comics so you got from a dramatic moment to the characters explaining the basics of who they are with no indication that a comic ended. The six comics really don’t tie well together at all.

For so few comics there’s a surprising amount of plotlines – and almost none of them find a neat ending. It’s not satisfying to end up with your arms full of loose ends and a sappy rushed conclusion. Neither Tessa or Marius really experience any character development. It just feels like a mess. It’s a bunch of action sequences with minimal plot and character – which isn’t what Dragon Age should be.

The art style is alright, there are points when it’s a little sloppy. Tessa’s skin colour seems up for debate she ranges from very lightly tanned to deep browns with little care for lighting. The cover art for all the comics is impressive but the inside is just passable.

There’s a cameo for a few well-loved characters from the games, and that’s pretty interesting. The actual story and bulk of the comic, however, fail to be even close to satisfying.

For Fans Of: Asunder

 

Rat Queens Vol. 3 by Kurtis J. Wiebe

Genres: Graphic Novel, Fantasy
Publisher: Image Comics
Publication Date: April 13th 2016

2 OUT OF 5 STARS

After stopping the end of the world the Rat Queens make their way to Mage University. Something has happened to Hannah’s father, and they intend to find out what. But nothing ever goes as planned when the Queens are involved.

Rat Queens is a series that started with a bang…but is, unfortunately, fizzling out. The third volume’s story is much more disjointed and the arc is much weaker. Hannah is the star, which is fine, but the other girls seem to be nothing more than background characters. Betty gets a huge reveal that’s pushed out of the spotlight for Hannah’s story. This is unfortunate because so much of Rat Queens relies on the amazing group dynamics and not the girls’ abilities to hold stories on their own.

The narrative isn’t as clear as previous volumes. There’s a lot of jumping around that makes very little sense and some filler side-stories who’s page space might’ve been better used on the main plot. Perhaps it’s a bit because this plot arc was too large to fit in one volume – but it ends up feeling poorly planned and just like nothing much has happened. The humour and sass are also almost completely missing from this volume.

The art style is, for the most part, a loss. The previous illustrator gave us diverse bodies and regular looking women. The new artist emphasizes large busts and butts and beautiful faces. They feel much more like fanservice than powerful women now. Some panels are quite beautiful, but there are plenty of panels that are poorly rendered perspective or just feel lazy.

The Braga special was the high point of the book. It showcases Braga as a transgender character without making that the focus of her story. It’s an absolutely interesting and beautiful piece in an otherwise subpar volume.

It is a shame to see something so mighty fall – but I still think that there is a chance for Rat Queens to pick itself back up again. Volume 4 could prove to be as much of a winner as Volume 1. We’ll have to wait and see.

For Fans Of: Nimona

We Awaken by Calista Lynne

Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, LGBT+
Publisher: Harmony Ink Press
Publication Date: July 14th 2016

2 OUT OF 5 STARS

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

After a car crash kills her father and sends her brother into a coma life looks pretty bleak for Victoria. She wants to get into dance school in New York, but aside from pursuing that dream she’s lost interest in anything else. Until she meets Ashlinn, a girl in charge of weaving good dreams for people all over the world. Victoria is desperate to be with Ashlinn and discover herself but their relationship may have unforeseen consequences.

While Lynne’s descriptive writing style is captivating at moments the plot and characters in the novel leave something to be desired.

The story isn’t really much of a story. The fantasy elements don’t get nearly enough development (to the point where their inclusion makes the book weaker than a contemporary) and there’s not a lot of real conflict. The romance is instant with not organic build, but somehow the characters are painfully in love after a few days. The dialogue isn’t consistent for any of the characters which makes it hard to figure them out. They’ll speak one way for several chapters and then say something shockingly out of character which makes you have to reevaluate them. Most of the dialogue felt old which was only appropriate for one of the characters. We’re left with three main characters who are more or less the same aside from their main interests (dance, dreams and sex).

Lynne does represent asexuality (although there was some confusion as someone can definitely be lesbian and asexual) quite well, and I would label We Awaken as more of a coming out story than a fantasy which is a shame. Victoria’s sexuality features prominently in the book, it’s not a matter of a protagonist who happens to be asexual it is a large art of the plot which wasn’t what I was hoping for. It is very important to have books that delve deep into this topic but I am just personally sick of coming out/discovery books.

I think if Lynne had chosen to do a contemporary story centering on asexuality entirely instead of trying to incorporate fantasy and tragedy it would have worked much better. The fantasy bits are far too weak to be good. We learn very little about the “villain” (for about 20 pages) Semira even though she’s arguably the most interesting character and it’s very easy for the characters to tie up their conflict while ignoring all the important universe questions that should have been answered.

A weak conflict, insta-love romance and underdeveloped characters but an excellent read for those interested in learning more about asexuality.

For Fans Of: Keeping Her Secret

Teenage Suicide Notes by Terry Williams

Genres: Non-Fiction, Mental Health
Publisher: Columbia University Press
Publication Date: February 14th 2017

2 OUT OF 5 STARS

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

A collection of writings and confessions by suicidal teenagers. Williams evaluates these teens and tries to discover what might lead them to suicidal thoughts and self-harm. Williams examines their sexualities, family life, ethnicities, music tastes, and social situations to try and come to a conclusion that connects them all.

This book is brand new and it already feels dated. Most of the cases Williams looks at took place in the 90s and it is painfully obvious. This is no longer the culture we live in. Obviously teenagers still commit suicide and share some of the same feelings but Williams is looking at suicide through the lens of teen culture in the 90s, a culture that no longer exists.

Ignoring the fact that the book feels old, Williams has written it in an odd way. His writing is unorganized, particularly towards the end of the book. Someone using this book academically would have trouble finding the information they’re looking for. As well it leads to Williams repeating himself far too often. The number of times “I’m a good listener” was written in different ways was ridiculous.

His writing is also strangely poetic at times when he describes the appearance of the teens or their homes and it just seems out of place. This isn’t a fictional novel, it didn’t need that sort of flourish.

Out of the cases studied only two led to actual suicides. This means most of Williams’s study is skewed towards teens who overcame whatever issues they had and did not actually kill themselves. This makes it a less useful study on suicide as a whole because only two cases involve actual successful suicides. It does make the book far less depressing than it could have been but the title is rather misleading.

The best part of the book were the children’s writings, particularly the middle section where letters were scanned in. The book would have been far more powerful if it has more of the teenagers’ writings and less of Williams’s examinations of them. He falls into repetitive loops rehashing the same ideas about parenting and goth culture over and over again and it overshadows the poignant and personal writings from the teens.

This book is interesting if only for the real teen writings, but it presents an entirely different (and outdated) world from what today’s teens face.

For Fans of: School Shooters by Peter Langman

When You Never Said Goodbye by Meg Kearny

Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary
Publisher: Persea Books
Publication Date: February 21st 2017

2 OUT OF 5 STARS

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

Lizzie McLane is living her dream studying poetry at NYU, but a shadow hangs over her. She was born in Manhatten but she’s never known her birth mother. Lizzie tells records her story through poems and journals: her search for her first mother, her new friends at NYU, her struggle with her father’s death, her relationship issues and her meeting with the strangely familiar guitarist in the park.

The novel is based on the author’s experience, but through a note at the end she explains that she took many liberties. It is because of these liberties that I will allow myself to criticize the plot along with the characters and writing.

Telling a story through journals is always a difficult undertaking. At best they leave us feeling very connected to our protagonists and allow the author to avoid dull scenes, at worst it’s disjointed and dull. When You Never Said Goodbye falls somewhere in between. I feel distant from Lizzie, perhaps because I have the disadvantage of never reading the previous two Lizzie McLane books but also in large part because she’s very bland. None of the characters feel whole, they’re all nice and like one artsy thing very much. The exception is Louise who gets a little bit of development but not nearly enough of the spotlight.

The poetry also fell short of what I’d hoped. For a book about and aspiring poet studying poetry, I’d hoped the poems would be more touching. The formal verse was well written (even though some poems felt like imitations of each other) but none of them really connected with me. Objectively the poems are good but none made me laugh and summoned tears.

The plot itself seems like a missed opportunity. There are several more satisfying or dramatic endings that the novel could have had. The author’s own life produced and ending she didn’t think was satisfying but I think keeping her story true on that bit might have made Lizzie’s search feel authentic. The baiting with Ruth was far too obvious and felt sort of like padding that didn’t serve a purpose in the story.

The best thing I can say for this book is that the college experience part felt very authentic – if a little romanticized. Lizzie’s voice suited a college student even it didn’t have as much life as I would have liked.

As much as I didn’t quite care for the book I might still recommend it for adoptees. Perhaps they can find things to connect with in this novel that I could not.

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

Keeping her Secret by Sarah Nicolas

Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance, LGBT+
Publisher: Entangled: Crush
Publication Date: August 22nd 2016

2 OUT OF 5 STARS

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

Riya is thrilled to attend summer camp and have a chance to practice her volleyball skills. The last thing she expects is to meet ghosts from her past – Colt and Courtney Chastain. Their friendships didn’t end on a good note. Courtney broke Riya’s heart and it’s hard to believe things could ever be good between them again. Courtney harbours her own secret – Riya changed her. She’s queen bee at the camp and can have any boy she chooses but all of them pale in comparison to Riya. Will the girls be able to let go of the past and fall in love all over again?

Romances told from both points of view always seem to fall short. It isn’t thrilling to watch two characters pine over each other when you know both characters want to be together. It’s frustrating to watch them fight when neither one wants to. A book told from just Riya’s perspective would have been much stronger. It would have allowed her to deal with her issues while creating tension. Courtney’s POV just ensures that there’s no stress.

The romance itself isn’t terribly interesting. The main characters already know each other and already have developed feelings. The steamy scenes are more stilted than sexy. There’s no thrill because both characters have POVs every chapter so readers know exactly how things will pan out. There are a lot of empty threats about Courtney’s parents and her friends that generally turn out to be very mild inconveniences at best.

It is cute at times, but mostly it feels like it’s trying too hard. It’s not touching, dramatic or erotic. It’s a romance novel where no one falls in love because that has already happened. It’s empty fluff. Even the parts that are trying really hard to be sad are still very light. It’s like cheap candy: too sugary and without substance.

Keeping her Secret is a saccharine story that’s predictable and bland. There’s no real conflict, the girls are in love from beginning to end. Very little happens over the course of this book. Verdict: fluffy and forgettable.

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Read this if you’re a fan of: Unspeakable

Trial by Fire by Josephine Angelini

Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Romance
Publisher: Macmillan’s Children Books
Publication Date: August 28th 2014

2 OUT OF 5 STARS

“I’m a witch and witches burn.”

Lily Proctor has lived her life in sickness. She’s always been unwell; but when she wishes to disappear she finds herself transported to another world. A world where she has amazing power. A world where she is the one thing standing between her new friends and destruction.

Trial by Fire is a hard book to get through, this is mainly the fault of the protagonist Lily Proctor. She’s barely got a personality. She’s beautiful, frail at first and then “all-powerful” (more on that later), and of course most people love her for almost no reason. She is willing to DIE rather than go back on her pledge of veganism for a single moment; any reasonable vegan will not expect people to die or even get sick in the name of veganism. Her anti-meat consumption and anti-nuke stances are her only personality aside from being a really good person, and of course her lust for a man she barely knows.

The romance in this book was unpleasant. The love interests are stock pretty boy and stock brooding tough guy. It wasn’t instant love but it may as well have been. It’s poorly developed, mostly sexual and somehow the most important thing in both characters’ lives after a few weeks. They connect through magic and nothing else matters after that. They’re in TRUE love. Nothing could ever be more important.

Which brings us back to Lily being all-powerful. Lily’s “power” is basically just the power to fuel her attractive boy toys. She’s the “hero” but she’s essentially just a glorified battery. Not all female characters need to be strong fighting machines, that’s perfectly fine. However a story told from the perspective of a power generator isn’t an exceptionally interesting one. She barely even trains, she’s skilled just by existing.

There are so many things left unexplained. There is no Rowan in Lily’s world, why? Why is this Lily more powerful than Lillian? That isn’t even touching on the fact that the setting/world is a mess. There are slapdash explanations of a few world mechanics explained as they become relevant but more of it is left in a confusing jumble. It tried to cover too much in too few pages. Too many characters, too much world – from the Woven to the willstones to the witches – and it ends up leaving everything half-baked.

I did like the core of this book. Witches and willstones – but the execution was poor. Angelini threw ever YA fantasy trope in hoping to create a unique flavour but Trial by Fire is a bland book that does a lot of things, but does nothing notably well.

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Read this if you’re a fan of: Eon