Jen | Before Midnight

A (hopefully) safe space for yet another GR refugee.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Utrom Empire - Paul Allor

Review coming in July!

TMNT: Villains micro-series vol. 1

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Villain Micro-Series Volume 1 (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Micro-Series) - Brian Lynch, Joshua Williamson, Erik Burnham, Jason Ciaramella

So it's no secret that I like TMNT. A lot. I grew up with them and it's one of the only things that I refuse to let go. Imagine my surprise when I came across a graphic novel on netgalley (and, even better, it's listed as read now). I immediately picked it up, and...


Well, truthfully, I really enjoyed it. If you watch the cartoons, Baxter Stockman and Krang are somewhat familiar characters, although how familiar depends on the incarnation--after all, Stockman in the '87 toons was a dweeby nerd that eventually turns into some weird fly mutant, and Stockman in the '03 series is a brilliant megalomaniac whose ambitions quickly go from being a great scientist to nothing but revenge.


Krang's back story and Stockman's back story are somewhat similar, in that they were both inspired by their respective fathers. Old Hob and Alopex are both mutants, one working to become a Big Bad in his own right, and the other working for the Shredder himself.


The artwork is gorgeous. Each story has its own color scheming, and it's beautifully done to separate the stories. Each story is also book-ended with full-page images of the character in question.


Overall, it was a nice, quick read for some backstory on a few of the villains. I enjoyed it and look forward to more.

(reblog) Giant YA Pride 2013 giveaways

Reblogged from The Book Geek:

Brandi here, I didn't write the blurb down below, but I'm the same way, so it fits.


I'm straight (and an ally), so I don't feel right entering these giveaways. I feel like there are enough straight stories out there - the market is saturated with it - and I'd prefer it if someone QUILTBAG entered in my stead - someone who's questioning their sexuality, or comfortable in its non-mainstreamness.


We need more stories like these because QUILTBAG peeps aren't invisible.


Good luck!

The Only Exception - Magan Vernon I had serious problems with this book.

First, let me say that I was hopeful. Monica is labeled as a “fiercely liberal” college student with a hidden past. She’s got tattoos and piercings and the whole lot. I was hopeful that it would be a nice little story that wraps up neatly and didn’t leave me with a lot of questions. And, at least in that respect, it was solid. But that was the only thing I didn’t have problems with.

Trey is an egotistical asshole who doesn’t understand the word ‘no’.

So let’s start: Monica moves into her apartment building, and immediately has a run-in with not only Trey, but with his bodyguards, who are apparently screening everyone coming onto the floor. Monica’s first meeting with Trey seems promising, he offering to help her with a box of her belongings and introducing himself all polite-like, then he does this when Monica dares to criticize his father’s politics:

“‘If you want, I can always give you some literature to read up on regarding his policies and plans for the state.’” (p 3)

Great. Not even 3 pages into the book, and not only are we talking politics (which I expected), but the conservative agenda is being shoved down our main character’s throat. Joy. Monica, to her credit, quickly ends the conversation politely and disappears into her apartment.

Of course, Monica’s relief is short-lived as, when she steps back out to go get dinner, Trey is apparently waiting for her to make another appearance, probably by looking out the peephole in his door every 5 seconds:

“Hanging out at the place I left you and waiting for my return?” (p 5)

Monica gets off a few zingers in regards to conservatives and their views on women before turning Trey down when he asks her to dinner. Trey, being a gentleman, leaves it at that and Monica dines at the local pizza parlor in peace, right?

Oh, sorry. What bizarro world do I live in where that’s acceptable?

Trey follows her to the pizza parlor, sits with her uninvited, and suggests that he was trying to be “neighborly” when she blatantly tells him he isn’t welcome to sit with her.

He orders a diet soda for himself, and Monica isn’t even allowed to tell the waitress what she wants before she (the waitress) rushes off, saying she’ll bring back a diet and a water.

Did I miss where Monica ordered a water? There goes your tip.

Trey’s idea of good dinner talk is politics. Trey apparently has no other interests outside politics. We never see him reading, watching sports, or anything. It’s on level with Bella Swan, in terms of boring protagonist.

Trey feels it’s okay to snoop in someone’s personal belongings (including e-mails, text messages, and voicemails) despite this being an invasion of privacy.

“Trey must have gotten to my emails when I left my computer open, and probably the voicemail that I thought I deleted.” (p 146)

Monica is weirdly not angry over this invasion of privacy, but it had me screaming inside that Trey had no boundaries, and would do whatever necessary if it got him whatever he wanted, which sent up red flags so fast in my head it was like a colorguard performance at halftime.

Monica makes some assumptions and does a few things that are questionable.

While at dinner her first night there, Monica and Trey debate about emergency contraception, and she compares birth control to Viagra. Trey suggests that argument bites the conservatives in the butt, and suggests that infringing on birth control is infringing on men’s rights due to medical conditions. Monica replies with:

“A guy not getting up is not a medical condition.” (p 10)

Um, actually, it is (or, can be). The very fact that you don’t know that makes you incapable of committing to a full debate, and would, in fact, cause you to lose that debate horribly. Erectile disfunction is, in fact, a medical condition (once diagnosed by a professional).

Monica has a weird view of pot and potheads that I found a little more than ridiculous and beyond stereotypical.

So Monica escapes the hallway with her box of items on move-in day...

Only to be confronted with a pot smoking roommate and her friends. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with people smoking pot... Outside, where I don’t have to smell it (the smell makes me ill). But Monica’s reaction to their choice recreation is over-the-top and more than a little ridiculous. The author’s description of potheads is also more than a little stereotypical, and again, ridiculous:

“I stepped out into the living room to see Sam sitting on the couch where I left her, but next to a guy with long, greasy hair.” (p 4)

When Monica returns from dinner, she’s greeted by a cloud of smoke, and promptly does something no half-way smart person does with pothead roommates: puts her leftovers in the fridge.

They won’t be there when you go for them tomorrow, genius.

Her entire attitude towards potheads is weird and angry, and for apparently no reason. She blatantly judges her roommate based on the clothes she wears, and is surprisingly close-minded about everything related to Sam. The whole thing just left me feeling like I was reading something out of Bizarro-land.

Apparently, being feminist means being anti-man.

“‘Women’s studies and Political Science? You really are a bleeding-heart liberal. I hope you aren’t going to tell me that you’re a part of the feminist group and don’t want to date me because you prefer the company of females.’” (p 31)

Okay, let’s talk about this because I saw red. I. Saw. Red.

Being feminist does not mean being anti-man (that would be mysandry, and is another ballgame all together). Nor does it mean being a lesbian, which Trey suggests a little later.

It means we recognize the inequalities between men and women in society, and we want to do something about it. Not drag men down, but raise women up so that we are on equal footing. It’s disgusting and insulting to see feminism being talked about in such a way, and also it suggests to me that the author did not do her homework.

“‘Isn’t that against some sort of rules of feminism? To cook your boyfriend dinner?’” (p 119)


And a few other random, weird things that just didn’t fit anywhere else.

-Trey drives a Mustang because they’re in a recession and he needs to drive something fuel efficient. Um, no. Bro, I’ve driven a Mustang (owned one for 7 years). They’re nowhere close to being fuel efficient. If Trey really wants to be fuel efficient, may I suggest a small car, like the Ford Focus, or Chevy Cavalier? Both small cars, decent gas mileage, and are American (and we know conservatives love to buy American, don’t we?).

-Trey brings Monica a pumpkin latte, and Monica says it isn’t coffee. Oh, no, honey. A latte is coffee with milk, and in your case, a flavor shot or two. If you’re going to drink it, you should know what’s in it.

The complications were wrapped up neatly with a bow, and the epilogue was... bizarre.

So two things: Monica’s past is revealed partly because she admits everything to Trey, but also because Trey does the snoopy thing (see above). Charges are pressed, everyone apologizes, everything is all happy hunky-dory. Except... It’s a neat little wrap-up to a problem that was never developed and just didn’t add anything to the story except angst that I felt was unnecessary.

Second, the ending. Monica is happily shown on-screen with Trey and the rest of his family when his father does some kind of debate or interview or press conference or something. Except, Monica is a liberal. What--? None of this made sense. The only thing Monica and Trey have in common is their love of debate, and they debate on two different sides.

That being said, they seem to both be politically minded on opposite sides, so why in hell would Monica stay with him? Especially if his political views are such a problem for her? Obviously she either A) doesn’t mean what she says when she says she wants to stop Mr. Chapman’s political agenda, or B) she has switched sides.

Both options don’t agree with me and left me with a bitter taste.

Overall, I didn’t like it. I went into it hopeful, but I was greatly disappointed. I’d have loved to see Monica’s background and issues expressed more, and had her healing more than what is shown. I’d have loved to see more character development. The book was too short with too many stereotypes and bad assumptions that just didn’t work for me at all.

Copy obtained from publisher via netgalley. All opinions herein are mine and were not influenced by the author or publisher in any way.
Lexicon - Max Barry How do I begin this? Better yet, how do I talk about this book without spoilers? Lexicon took forever for me to read (embarrassingly so!), but it was not a bad book at all (4 out of 5 stars? Come on, now). Although it was only 400 pages (at least, in my e-reader it is), it felt like it was over a thousand pages. This is not in any way a knock against Max Barry, whose writing I’ve enjoyed since I first read Jennifer Government in the fall/winter of 2008. Instead, it’s a compliment. The book is weighty in its content, and is very thorough.

Lexicon spins a beautiful story between just a few main characters, Wil and Emily, and spins them together in a beautifully spiraling story that weaves past and present together almost seamlessly.

The novel begins right in the middle of the story, with a man named Wil who has hardly any background--we come to find out that he can’t really remember who he is, although we aren’t sure why. Next, we meet Emily, a young teen hustler, earning money for herself with card tricks. What follows is the story of Emily’s education at a covert academy and beyond, and Wil’s journey to find out exactly who he is and how he fits into the bigger picture.

To say anything more about the plot would be to invite massive spoilers, so I’ll leave it at that.

The novel revolves around words--how they’re used, perceived, how connotations change over time, how languages evolve, etc. It’s actually brilliant in its evolution. I’m not just saying this because I really enjoy Max Barry’s work, but also because he executes such an idea flawlessly. The only true issues I had were of the formatting variety, and I chalked a lot of it up to my copy being an e-ARC, and not a final version.

I have only one more thing to say about this novel, and it’s the pattern with which it’s written. Barry’s format is brilliant, at first leaving each character with his or her own large chunk of narrative that, as the story winds towards its climax, gradually becomes shorter and shorter until the two converge. It’s a style choice I’ve seen before, mostly with Stephen King’s work (especially in The Dark Half and Needful Things), and the result is a sense of urgency and a sense of the fast pace of the novel that, if another style had been used, would probably not be there.

To put it mildly, I really enjoyed Lexicon. I plan on revisiting Jennifer Government, as well as Barry’s other novels, in short time.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. The opinions herein are my own, and were not influenced by the author or publisher in any way.
Shark Bait (Grab Your Pole #1) - Jenn Cooksey image

Can I just… Ugh. Okay, so this book was terrible. I rated this book before I even finished it. But don’t worry, I finished it, even though I knew the rating wouldn’t change. I don’t even know where to start, but I’ll try my damnedest to make sense.

Let me issue a huge warning here: I hated this book. Hated. It took more than two days to get through because I was so damn busy highlighting and making notes in my e-reader. Also, I kept having to take facebook and TV breaks. I started watching wrestling again to get away from this book, FFS. I ended up with 207 notes and highlights. To put this in perspective, on a regular read, I usually end up with 20 or less.

The writing is atrocious.

No, it really is. I often ran into sentences that were either much longer than they needed to be, sentences that were seemingly out of order on purpose to make the narrator seem smarter than she really is (all it really made her seem like was a pretentious snob, as if she doesn’t do a good enough job of that on her own within the first 15 pages), phrases that could have been simplified down to one word…

“I told he who’s now kissing my back thereby sending waves of heat through my body with much force as my blood started to rush to my head from hanging upside down.” (p. 216, e-book version)

“Him” would have been much simpler, but of course not.

Not only that, but the writing switches often between past and present tense, which to me just indicates horrible writing skills. The only time present tense should be used, if past tense is used as the general narrative, is in quotations, such as in dialogue.

“Obviously I did fine on my own. Yes, I’m flattered, but please, hold your applause.” (p. 189, e-book version)

Camie likes to jump in time. She’ll be talking about doing something, then pause in her narrative to tell the readers how she got to that point:

“We left the restaurant and all the way to my house and into my room, we talked about every instance we could think of and how this new theory about how he works could explain the things he’s done. We’d decided during breakfast (or brunch, whatever…) that we’d come back here to hang out and just recoup.” (p. 284-285, e-book version)

Not only do we have the jumping back and forth in time, but we have parenthetical asides, which I FUCKING HATE WITH A BOILING PASSION! I really, really do. Unless you’re doing math problems, I don’t want to see fucking parentheses at all. And they’re severely over-used in this book.

And, finally, we have the fact that Camie can’t be assed to put her text conversations in narrative, so she gives us script. As in, it reads like a play script. I got sudden flashbacks reading Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House”, Shakespeare, and anything else I may or may not have conveniently forgotten since my own foray in high school. Needless to say, it’s fucking annoying and doesn’t belong in a novel.

Overall, the writing style and skill reads like badly written fanfic.

The narrator, Camie, is annoying, snobby, and less smart than she thinks she is.

I cannot stand know-it-alls. No, really. I can’t. Camie has a habit of “speaking” (rather, narrating) down to her readers. Of course, the best example was (bolding mine):

“He’s using his more than decent vocabulary and movie knowledge to be polite. Allow me to translate: Chaste = Virginal. Ingenue = Innocent or inexperienced girl. Promiscuous reprobate = Um, well…pretty much the opposite. Thunderdome = A Mel Gibson movie entitled Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome in which two men enter a giant cage and fight until one of them is dead.” (p. 316, e-book version)

And another, for good measure:

“…let it go to voicemail at least thrice times (that means three)…” (p. 151, e-book version)

She also has a habit of talking herself up, both in the intelligence department as well as the beauty department. Camie goes well out of her way to assure the readers that she doesn’t think of herself as anything special, although she repeatedly insinuates that others are stupid or less beautiful. She also says that she doesn’t wear makeup because her parents insist that she doesn’t need it, and others have told her she’s beautiful so she just goes with it.

Please, gag me with a spoon.

Tristan is a liar, an asshole, and possibly abusive.

Yes. Really. I went there.

Case in point for lying: Tristan gets so stoned at a party that he doesn’t realize the girl who’s crawling all over him isn’t Camie and makes out with her. Camie witnesses this. Of course, Jeff calls Kate’s voicemail and doesn’t hang up, so Camie and Kate overhear, via voicemail recording, that Tristan has no intention of admitting his fuck-up to Camie, even though she already knows about it. Jeff warns him that it’s a bad idea, to Jeff’s credit.

Case in point for abusive: Tristan bodily carries Camie away from a party and up a flight of stairs (as a quick note, I was disgusted by the girls in the novel who thought this was romantic. This is not romantic; this is caveman bullshit, carried out by a boy who thinks it’s okay to demand who Camie is and isn’t friends with and who she talks to, despite the fact that he can’t admit they’re dating).

Tristan also seems to resort to violence every possible time he can. He hits Zack at the party, breaking his nose (in one hit, apparently, which is definitely not easy to do). There are several instances of Tristan being so angry that his eyes narrow and he blows a gasket (including, at the same party of the nose-breaking, Tristan can’t stand to see Camie having a little fun with her friends, and promptly causes a scene by shoving people out of his way and yelling at them).

And, to top it all off, Camie thinks Tristan is perfect. I’ve given enough evidence to the contrary, but to top it all off, he’s apparently the captain of the swim and polo teams, is more well-read than Camie is, knows about cars enough to not only take care of his own and Jeff’s Jeep, but also to have rebuilt the under-hood of his own. He’s good-looking (because, generally speaking, the main male character usually is), and he’s well-versed in pop culture, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Let me borrow a “word” from Bella (of Twilight fame): Ugh.

Camie’s sister, Jillian, shows sociopathic tendencies. Also, her so-called abilities are logistically improbable.

Jillian, at one point, takes 30 minutes to remove tires from a vehicle (where did she get the extra jacks?), put them inside the car with seatbelts strapped around them, and uses either window markers or shoe polish to paint a message on the windshield.

First, let’s discuss the fact that Jillian is 13, and probably can’t even lift those tires. There’s no mention of her having an accomplice, so how did she get the tires into a car that is, most likely, sitting on its brake discs (poor car), let alone get them seat-belted. Doing all this in a 30 minute time-frame, at a high school football game, is asking for trouble and I just can’t see it happening. At all.

Then there’s the fact that she sneaks out of the house to go to a party Camie has just left in order to exact revenge on her sister’s behalf. And she gets a sick kind of glee out of it:

“‘Do you want me to make an example out of him? I will if you want me to…just give me the word and I’ll teach him and everyone else what happens when they mess with my family.’” (p. 227, e-book version)

There also seems to be a lot of B&E going on: Jillian somehow manages to print out flyers of a girl, Teresa, who’d been tormenting Camie, vomiting at that party, and Jillian breaks into the high school and stuffs the fliers into lockers.

Either that or this school is seriously lax with the security.

This book ruined a lot of pop culture for me.

There are vast mentions of pop culture. And it’s not a vague reference here and there. Rather, Camie’s life seems to revolve around it, in particular Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a Joss Whedon fan, but Tristan actually asks Camie out on their first date by quoting Oz from Buffy:

“‘I’m going to ask you to go out with me next weekend.’ Oh no he isn’t!!! ‘–And I’m kinda nervous about it actually. It’s interesting.’” (p. 149, e-book version)

Buffy isn’t the only book, movie, or TV show that’s mentioned, but it’s definitely the one mentioned most often. Of course, Camie also mentions music a lot, and she seems to notice that the “perfect” songs come on at the perfect times, providing the perfect soundtrack to her life. I don’t really care so much about that, because a lot of authors formulate soundtracks to their novels (they just don’t include them in the book, ffs), but I have one huge bone of contention:

You do not include Metallica and Miley Cyrus (whose name was spelled incorrectly as “Myley”) on the same mix. That’s blasphemy.

If it isn’t obvious that I hated this book, well then I’ve obviously failed as a reviewer. This book had no redeeming qualities what-so-ever. The writing was horrible, the characters were either full of themselves or vapid, and there was no chemistry between Camie and Tristan, no matter how much Camie insisted.

I was extremely unhappy to waste my time on this, and I won’t pick up the second one, even if it’s free.
Fire Inside  - Kristen Ashley I received a copy of this book from the publisher via netgalley. All opinions herein are my own and were not influenced by the publisher or author in any way.

Well now. First, let me say that just because this book is a number two in a series, it can be read as a stand-alone. This series seems to be one of those where it’s all set in the same place, and deals with the same characters, but each book is its own story arc and stands alone. Second….

This book jumps right into it, doesn’t it? Kristen Ashley wastes no time, jumps right into the character introduction and the sex, all within the first chapter. Of course, while the sex continues throughout the book, it isn’t always detailed, sometimes referring to it in the past tense, soemtimes fading to black (so to speak).It’s a nice balance so the adult parts of the book don’t become monotonous, and readers don’t start skimming.

I really liked Lanie. A lot. She’s a little messed up because of her history, and her history comes to light over the course of the book, but she’s really trying to deal with her past, put it behind her, and generally become a more healthy person. Truthfully, I felt a little bad for her, too. She constantly has men talking over her, not letting her get a word in edge-wise until she blows up and finally tells them to shut the hell up already. I was totally rooting for her, all the way.

Hop is also an interesting character, with a solid backstory that also comes out over the course of the novel, and while sometimes I didn’t like Hop, I did have an appreciation for that story. Hop is overbearing, controlling, and sometimes a little too much for Lanie to handle. And I really just wanted her to tell him to sit down and shut up, but she never does. He just talks over her. And breaks into her secure office with the help of someone who knows how to disable the alarm.

So I had times where I didn’t like Hop, but he won me over with the little things he did. Like finding out what her favorite Chinese food is, and bringing it to her. And making sure she eats, even though she’s swamped with work. He takes care of her, which is appealing, but he doesn’t go about being too over-the-top with it. It’s just a nice balance of taking care of her, and letting her take care of herself. Of course, that last bit came only after a discussion wherein Lanie explains that she needs to handle her work issues by herself, so she doesn’t get the reputation that she can’t handle her own business.

There’s plenty of misunderstandings, arguments, and issues in this book. Some of those misunderstandings and arguments sometimes seem to be deliberate, with the characters not taking the time to really understand what the other means, and just jumping to conclusions. Of course, it’s only human, and forgiveable, at least to a point.

Overall, I really liked the book. It shows a nice give-and-take of relationships, and it shows the development. People don’t just fall in love and that’s it. It takes work, and I have such an appreciation for this book for showing that, and being honest about it.
If You Find Me - Emily Murdoch Everyone whose reviews I follow who also has read this liked it lots. Apparently, this is a "must read now".
Angelfall  - Susan Ee Delivered! Review to come.


Practically everyone I follow or am friends with that’s read this book loved it (4 or 5 stars). As you can imagine, I went into this with very high expectations. Very, very high. Of course, I’ve noticed that with angel lore, it’s been hit or miss for me, especially in the YA category.

So I was thrilled when this book delivered. Susan Ee’s writing is smooth and flowing, easing from one scene to another, regardless of how much time has passed, as well as discussing the past. I hardly noticed that the book is in present tense, which is sometimes awkward at best, and horribly written at worst. Fortunately, neither of these is the case with Angelfall.

Not only is Ee talented in writing, she is talented in storytelling. Angelfall begins two months after an apocalyptic destruction of the world by angels. Society has gone to hell, and Ee wastes no time in jumping right in, and she doesn’t hold back. Some scenes are a little brutal and not for the sensitive stomach, but she also doesn’t dwell, moving past and shoving the storyline forward. You would think this would make the story seem forced, but it doesn’t. Because of the characters, their reactions (or lack-there-of), it seems to fit well and doesn’t detract from the reading at all.

There is a bit of suspension of disbelief, since society seems to have fallen very quickly in two months post-apocalypse. However, considering the wasteland that is the world, the depravity of some people in general, and considering the angels probably lay waste to half the world’s population, the world is also believable.

And, considering they’re angels, I was somewhat expecting some religious talk. Ee handles this well, managing to touch on the topic of angels and their roles in religion without turning the book into something preachy.

If I were any other kind of reviewer, I’d gush over this using gifs and other fun things, but truthfully I’m just not that kind of reviewer (it’s just plain not my style, although there are some damn amusing reviews of some books out there using nothing but gifs), but since I’m not, I’ll just say that I really, really loved this book and am very much looking forward to book two.
Sketchy - Olivia Samms An electronic review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher via Netgalley. All opinions herein are mine and were not influenced in any way by the publisher or author.

This book was surprisingly good. I was actually a little iffy going into it, as I haven’t had much luck with YA releases this year, but I was pleasantly surprised. It wasn’t without its problems, but overall it was a pretty good read. It’s also a very quick read, so if you’re looking for a quick piece to read at an airport or something, pick this up. There’s also mature material in this book, not suitable for younger readers, so reader be warned.

The idea was fairly unique, in that Bea draws images that she sees in other people’s minds. Using this ability to solve a mystery is fairly common faire for these books, and Bea does just that, with sometimes not-so-great results.

Bea’s parents bugged me. I suppose they were supposed to be the overly-protective parents who feel betrayed by their child, but they still bothered me. I can’t even really pinpoint why they bothered me so much, because I can definitely understand why they did what they did (such as giving Bea hardly any leeway and having her pee in a cup for drug testing constantly), but they essentially make her a prisoner in her own home, and I really can’t condone that no matter what Bea’s done.

The high school drama seemed a bit much, also, but then again I know how mean kids can be. It was actually harder to watch Bea’s flashbacks, of her former friend shunning her because she didn’t want to admit to her drug problem, and let Bea take the fall for everything, which was absolutely ridiculous, but believable. Then Bea has to deal with all the rumors in her new school, and all I could wonder was if Bea would ever catch a break.

And I really, really liked the friendship between Bea and Chris. I liked that Chris was the sometime voice of reason for Bea, even though she hardly listened to him. Well, at least he tried.

There’s also a slight hint of romance that I’m hoping will be developed in a future book. It’s very spoiler-y to say anything more than that, but I really do look forward to seeing this develop and seeing what it can be.

Overall, I thought this was a good read. There were a few bits that bothered me, such as Bea’s severely over-protective parents, but the rest was so entertaining that it drowned out the little things.
The Testing  - Joelle Charbonneau Enter my giveaway at Before Midnight to win my copy of an ARC of The Testing.

I received an early copy of this book from the publisher via netgalley in exchange for a fair review. All opinions herein are mine and were not influenced by the publisher or author in any way.

Prior to reading this book, my entire thought process was, please don’t let this be another The Hunger Games. Or Divergent. Not because I don’t like either one of them (because I totally do). More because the basic plotline is getting a little tired.

After reading, I thought, OMG.

And that’s about it. While there are similar elements to both HG and Divergent, The Testing manages to stand amongst those giants of the YA world on its own. It’s just different enough to give us something new, while still sticking to the formulaic dystopian/post-apocalyptic standards we all know and love.

I found Cia to be a little boring as narrators go. Not that she’s unlikable or anything of the sort–she just really seemed to have no personality. I did, however, like that she tended to think about things instead of rushing into things head-long. And I liked that she had an attachment to her family, but not one that was so all-encompassing as to be debilitating or to detract from her ability to succeed in the Testing. Cia, for me, was both good and bad as narrators go (bad because she’s a little boring and seems to have no opinion of her own, but I go into the good bits down below).

Parts of The Testing calls to mind The Hunger Games, in that it is survival of the fittest, but what “fittest” entails is a little different. There are tests of intelligence and instinct before we even get to the final test, and even then it isn’t a “one left standing” kind of deal. Of course, there’s also the idea that refusing to attend the Testing is an act of treason, and we all know what that means.

The most horrifying bit, for me, was the end. We’re told early on, once Cia is selected for the Testing, that she will have her memory wiped after everything is over, and she won’t remember anything, or at least not very much, of what happened while she was there. Cia learns some horrifying news about Tomas, and then poof! she doesn’t remember any longer. She is ecstatic when she sees him again, once the Testing is completed.

The only bit that disappointed me was the love triangle. It seems to be a YA staple nowadays, and it’s really getting old hat. I haven’t seen an author yet that can build a successful triangle that seems necessary to the plot. Of course, this is only book one of a trilogy, so maybe the triangle will hold some significance in the next book. However, Cia’s relationship with Tomas is slightly unbelievable, mostly because Cia never seems to be emotionally invested in anything–it’s as if she’s simply going through the motions of a relationship, saying things that need to be said/heard, simply because that’s what she thinks she should do. Her emotions, especially in relation to Tomas, are told to us, either through narration or dialogue, but I had a hard time buying it because sometimes what she does isn’t what she’s saying (it all goes back to “show, don’t tell” for me).

The pacing of the story is well-done. The story never slows too much or speeds too quickly. Things happen, you, as a reader, are given time to digest the information, then it moves on to the next thing. Cia as a narrator is a good choice, as she is not so emotionally invested in anyone that she becomes unreliable, and we also, as readers, are able to experience her journey along with her–she never tells us how to feel. Charbonneau seems to be allowing us to decide how we feel about Cia’s situation and experiences, and I really think this is quite brilliant.

Overall I thought The Testing was a brilliant read. I very much look forward to reading the rest of the trilogy.
Girls & Monsters - Anne Michaud Since this book is five separate short stories/novellas, I’ll write my review this way, also. The rating of this review is an average of all five stories.

I don’t want to say too much about each story, because they’re pretty short and I’m trying not to have spoilers in this review, but just in case, here’s my big warning for **SPOILERS**. You’ve been warned.

Death Song: I love when mermaids aren’t the perfect Disney-esque creatures I’ve grown to hate. The only thing I wished was for more characterization. I wanted to feel more for Joe and Liz, but everything felt superficial. But the touches about the mermaid being linked to all water, even being able to use the pipes in buildings to get into bathrooms, was nice. 3 / 5

Black Dog: This one was so confusing for me. I had no idea what was going on the entire time. Scarlet is haunted by a voice in her head, she goes on a trip to England, meets a boy, but the dog she’s seeing isn’t having all of that. Scarlet is terrified that the schizophrenia that her aunt was diagnosed with previously is hereditary, and the ending was a bit... weird. I kept wondering whether the ending was all in Scarlet’s head, like she was wishing it would happen, or if it had actually happened. Or if the whole trip to England was one whole death-trip (a la Christopher Pike’s Road to Nowhere). Definitely bizarre, but pretty good. 3 / 5

A Blue Story: Definitely disgusted me (at least, the big reveal did). I really don’t know how to feel about this story. Stories with pets are always horrible (especially when Bad Things happen to the pets--cutesy romances are all yays for me), but I was hoping for a HEA, at least for the dog. Katherine gets a job working at the local pet store, but quits on her first (second?) day. Her boss, Matt, helps her out with investigating the new, creepy neighbor, and I just want to know why. Why, Matt? I didn’t get it. Of course, the big reveal was horrible in a horrifying sort of way, but what made it more horrible is that you just don’t know. You don’t know. Two weeks go by between Katherine’s dog going missing and the ending scene, so the reader is left wondering just what the heck happened in those two weeks. And the last few paragraphs of Katherine moving into her new dorm at college? Left me with a feeling of “Oh, God, no.” 4 / 5, if only for the “NO” ending.

Dust Bunnies: Spiders. I. Hate. Spiders. This one sent me for such a tailspin. Turned creepy, dog-sized spiders into fluffy companions. NO, and not in a good way. I just couldn’t with this one. Arachniphobia too great for me. 2.5 / 5

We Left At Night: Zombies! Oh, yay, zombies. A slightly different take, as we don’t actually see much of the zombies and they seem more like the infected from The Crazies, but then they act like vampires and I was like, buzh? The entire story takes place during one evening. It’s a little confusing (the narrator is doing homework at one point, even though school has been closed for a week). This seems to be a slow-moving virus. The actions of the military are very weird, sporatically showing up and disappearing as needed. As much as I like zombies, this one was just too off-the-wall for me. 2 / 5
Waiting for the Storm - Marie Landry A review copy of this book was given to me by the author to review. All opinions herein are my own and were not influenced by the author in any way.

Guys guys guys!!! I cannot gush enough about this book!

It is so rare for me to find a contemporary read that I love this much. Seriously.

Let me put my one, singular issue up first, because guys there’s so much else that I loved that I really just want to get this issue out of the way: When Charlotte’s sister, Ella, is assaulted by the guy she’s seeing, nothing happens. Yes, Ella and Charlotte grow closer and are able to talk to each other and clear the air, as it were, but I really hate when assault, abuse, or rape are used as a means to an end instead of being dealt with accordingly. Ella seems to have no lasting effects from the assault, and I really wanted to see her deal with it somehow. Assault is no joke--but it’s treated so lightly and is treated as unimportant, when I really wanted a little bit of closure for Ella, even if it’s just her finding her way to being okay again after that.

Okay, so that’s my one issue. Let’s get to the fun stuff, because HOLY COW!

Charlotte and Ezra are so cute together. I loved how their relationship develops--no insta!love, no dragging their feet, nothing. It’s a steady climb from meeting to friendship to relationship. It flows at a really nice pace. Another thing about their relationship that I loved? Charlotte’s world did not revolve around Ezra. Yes, she is eager to see him again, but her whole world doesn’t spin around it. She goes out, spends time with her dad. Spends time at the library. She does things other than wait for Ezra to show up again. Charlotte is an independent person, and I really appreciated that.

I felt so, so bad for Charlotte’s and Ella’s dad. It’s hard to lose someone, but to lose your other half, and what’s worse, to watch that person waste away in front of your eyes? It’s horrible. And sometimes people need help coping. I’m glad that it was touched on in a mature way, and wasn’t just a gross, “oh, move on already” type thing. While the issue was dealt with quickly, it was at least dealt with, and well.

The book read so quickly for me that before I realized, I was done. Landry’s writing flows well, and smoothly. There were a few errors that were probably due to converting the file into something that would work on my Nook (things like weird paragraph breaks in the middle of sentences), but the author had warned me ahead of time for that, so it was all good. I was able to just go with it and finish the book quickly.

Like contemporary? BUY THIS BOOK. Like romance? BUY THIS BOOK. Like YA/new adult in general? BUY THIS BOOK. I can’t recommend this book enough, which makes me squee with happiness because it’s so rare that I find a book like this.
You Know What You Have to Do - Bonnie Shimko Actual rating: 2.5 stars

A copy of this book was generously provided to me by the publisher via netgalley. All opinions herein are mine and were not influenced by the author or publisher in any way.

This book was definitely not for me. Maybe it’s because I’m not in it’s target audience. Certainly, had I read this book 10 years ago (I’m in my late 20’s now), I probably would have enjoyed it a lot more. After sitting through countless critical reading courses and a few psychology courses (necessary for my degree ‘n all), I can safely say that what would be an enjoyable read for a teen turned into a nightmare for an adult.

First, however, let’s talk about what I did like.

I absolutely love the adults. I felt horribly sorry for both Roxie and Lonnie Kraft. Roxie, because she got the short end of the stick, so to speak, after she got pregnant with Maggie. Her parents died, her former boyfriend (Lonnie) ended up in the pen for killing his mother, and she was stuck in a loveless marriage with someone 30+ years her senior, all so she could provide for a baby she wasn’t ready to have. I felt immensely sorry for her and her situation, and in a weird, disconnected way, for Maggie, because she just doesn’t know.

I actually really liked Dr. Scott, too. Maggie spends a lot of time crushing on him, but once you actually ignore her blather about marrying him and adding feminine touches to his house (like curtains), he’s actually not that bad a guy. He even -gasp- calls her out on lying blatantly to him. It was at this point in the novel that I thought maybe I could take some of it seriously, but definitely not all of it.

Shimko’s writing flows well, also. While there’s a bit of a disconnect between Maggie, who is our (definitely) unreliable narrator, and the reader, Shimko writes Maggie’s views well and doesn’t hold back.

But that’s about as far as the things I liked goes. So let’s talk about the things I didn’t like, because it’s actually only a couple of things, but for me, they’re major.

At one point in the novel, Maggie goes out on a date with this guy from school, Jacob, who proceeds to feel her up in the back of the movie theater, and has the nerve to get mad when she tells him ‘no’. (Personal opinion time: I actually like sitting in the back of the theater for reasons unrelated to getting felt up, which includes no children as well as an ability to see the screen better.) Maggie complains to her friend, Abigail, who’s been reading a bunch of those teen mags that actually have really terrible advice. Abigail proceeds to tell Maggie that she “asked for it” (in other words, of course, but that phrase stands). Actually, what she said can’t be paraphrased. Here it is:

“Well, no wonder. You never sit in the back row unless you mean business. It gives a guy permission to do whatever he wants.” ... “Whatever Jacob did isn’t his fault. You gave him mixed signals.” (p 128 from the digital ARC)

Um, no. No, Abigail, it doesn’t. This is victim-blaming in the worst way. At best, Abigail has been lead to believe this by her teen mags (like Cosmo and Redbook, which give ok hair tips, but nothing else worth reading, especially articles related to anything relationship or sex); at worst, Abigail has been lead to believe this by her parents, friends, and anyone else that keeps telling her that. But what bugs me is that no one bothers to correct her. No one says, “It’s really not your fault, Maggie.” No one tells Abigail it’s “not her fault”, either, when she has her own boy-related issues later in the novel.

The victim-blaming doesn’t fly with me, at all, and it’s a subject that has to be touched carefully in books. I don’t mind it when it’s utilized well and ends up actually having a happy ending, but perpetuating the cycle is a sore spot for me, even as someone who’s never been a victim.

Another thing I couldn’t stand was Maggie’s treatment of pretty much everyone around her, with the exception of her dog. She doesn’t seem to grasp the concept of friendship, or family. She constantly thinks badly of everyone around her (including going so far as to call someone she doesn’t even know a “slut”, just to appease Abigail, only to deny friendship with Abigail). She calls Abigail “frog face” because she wears a retainer at the beginning of the novel. She constantly refers to Roxie as being “easy” (mostly because she doesn’t know Roxie’s story with Lonnie, and she is constantly fueled by rumors floating around her small town about Roxie, but she doesn’t bother digging for the truth, and when it finally comes out, she still refers to Roxie as easy.)

Maggie as a character bothered me, truthfully. I don’t really know where the author was going with her as a character, if she intended for her to be experiencing symptoms of schitzophrenia, or if it was something else entirely. Nothing much actually happens in the book except Maggie goes around killing people, and cleaning up after herself. So here’s the thing: if this is supposed to be Maggie experiencing what would later be diagnosed as schitzophrenic symptoms (not necessarly the disorder itself, but she does display auditory hallucinations), I have a hard time believing it. If, on the other hand, it’s intended as a commentary on the human condition (or just the teenage condition) and the nature of good and evil, it’s a big bogged down in all the teenage melodrama.

But what bugged me the most? I felt like there was no plot. Oh, sure things happened. But to what end? I felt like it wasn’t a complete story--I was left reading what was 5 of 6 total chapters, and the last one happened to be lost somewhere. Nothing happens to Maggie. At least two (possibly three) people know she’s killed someone, and no one does anything about it. Yes, she’s killed bad people. But the vigilante angle that Maggie tries to work doesn’t do so well, and I find it hard to believe that cops aren’t suspicious of (at least) three deaths in such a small period of time in a small town. Really, I wanted Maggie to be caught. I wanted the story to come full circle, and at least have closure, but I, as a reader, was denied.

So over-all, I’m actually fence-sitting almost exactly half-way between liking it and not liking it. As I said before, if I’d been 10 years younger, I’d probably have really enjoyed it. But as an adult? Not so much. Definitely recommending to teens who want a quick read that’s different from normal faire.
The S-Word - Chelsea Pitcher 3.5 stars

I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher via netgalley in exchange for a fair review. All opinions herein are mine and were not influenced by the publisher or author in any way.

I had a few issues with this book, but can I just first say how much I loved Jesse? LOVE LOVE LOVE

Okay, now that I’ve gotten that out of my system...

The S-Word is a delightfully-written mystery novel, narrated by Angie, Lizzie’s best friend. Just prior to the opening of the book, Lizzie kills herself. Angie takes it upon herself to dig around and find out just why Lizzie had killed herself. She uncovers some pretty nasty secrets, not all of them Lizzie’s.

Chelsea Pitcher proves in her debut novel that she is perfectly capable of handling characterization. I was a little worried at the start of the novel that characters would be nothing but stereotypes, and while I did run into a few stereotypes that made my eyes roll, Pitcher also managed to take those characters and turn them on their heads, giving them a back-story and turning them into characters I grew to actually care about.

Jesse was the most intriguing character for me, and right behind him was Kennedy, head cheerleader and popular girl. I was so, so pleased to see these two characters fleshed out and becoming real people.

Angie, on the other hand, was definitely not an interesting character for me. She was a perfectly (un)reliable narrator, but she hardly shows any emotion. Certainly, she is most unemotional about her best friend’s death, and I kept hoping during the duration of the story that she would just break down and cry about Lizzie’s death. Instead, she is filled with such outrage about her friend’s death that it turns into a vengeful plot, one where Angie only feels fit to fill in the reader with half her plan.

Angie feels guilt over Lizzie’s death, but guilt, to me, is a very selfish emotion, and though Angie feels badly about abandoning Lizzie when she really needed her, she also continuously wonders why Lizzie never told her not only about prom night but also about her deepest secret. But the real reason I didn’t like Angie is that she utilized her friend’s death to dig into her friend’s deepest secrets. Who did Lizzie betray? Who did she confide in? What really happened at prom night? Angie wouldn’t have known all those things if she hadn’t done what she did. No one would have talked about any of it. (I also couldn’t get over her destroying the graduation gowns, but mostly because I know how expensive those things are, only to have them ruined.)

I actually have almost a whole page of quotes that I really liked from this. Some of the characters are so smart (or maybe not-so-smart, but they sometimes say such obviously intelligent things that it’s jarring and it really stands out, especially among Angie’s narration). I want to check them against a good copy before I post them, so look out for those.

So, overall, I liked the book, but I really couldn’t stand the narrator. I’m not sure if that was intentional on the part of the author, but Angie came across as less a grieving friend and more someone who was just out for justice and didn’t actually care who she railroaded in the process. For me, an unlikeable narrator pulls me out of the story a bit, and it affects my enjoyment of the story as a whole. But I did like some of the other characters, and that in itself redeemed it enough to earn 3.5 stars from me.
Never Too Far - Abbi Glines I think this author and I are destined to not get along.

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