Book Review: None of the Above by I.W. Gregorio

None of the Above by I.W. GregorioAuthor:  I.W. Gregorio

Genre: YA, Contemporary, LGBT

Publisher: Balzer + Bray

Publication Date: April 7, 2015

352 pages, hardcover

Check out the full synopsis on Goodreads.

None of the Above is incredible. I finished reading it more than two weeks ago and I still can’t quite figure out how to properly tell you why you should read this important, incredible, entertaining, beautiful book.

Kristin is in her senior year of high school and she’s the star of her track team and loved by both her friends and her boyfriend. But when Homecoming night doesn’t really go the way it should, she makes an appointment with an ob-gyn and finds out that she’s intersex. Her life, identity, and world are completely turned upside down and she must figure out who she really is while everyone else does too.

Like a lot of people, I didn’t know much about what being intersex meant. I had a general idea, but this book taught me so much (I love when I can learn about something real when reading). This book is so important for that very reason – not only is it a well-written, entertaining, heartbreaking, uplifting story about a fictional character, it’s also a book about a real condition and realistic reactions to it. None of the Above is exactly what a book about diversity should be. Yet another book I wish I could make everyone read.

Something that has come up in conversations recently (I posted about books that feature characters with mental illnesses which sparked conversation in the comments but also with friends) is a certain lack of empathy that some people have, which is disheartening in a lot of ways, but that’s not the point. I’m bringing this up because I am not intersex. Nor do I know anyone that is (as far as I know). But I connected so well with Kristin because of her struggle with identity throughout the book. Her identity (as a woman, as herself) is challenged several times throughout the novel. (Quick note to say how heartbreaking it was to read the sections in which Kristin is bullied, which felt so, so realistic; I hated it, but I’m glad that nothing felt exaggerated nor sugar-coated). Kristin no longer knows who she is (her doctor tells her that she is a woman, but is she when everyone tells her she isn’t? When she has male chromosomes?). Is she Kristin because of her chromosomes? What makes you you?

The bottom line: None of the Above is important, and you really don’t want to miss it, not only because it will teach you more about something you may or may not be familiar with, but because everyone can relate to Kristin’s struggle to figure out how she is. We all deserve to be reminded that we can get through anything.

Book Review: The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma

The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren SumaAuthor:  Nova Ren Suma
Genre: Young adult, magical realism, fantasy
Publisher: Algonquin
Publication Date: March 24, 2015
319 pages, hardcover

Check out the full synopsis on Goodreads.

NOTE: I received an e-ARC of this book from the publisher, but couldn’t open the file (wrong format for Kindle), so I checked it out from the library. Despite that, thank you so much to Algonquin for granting me access!!

This entire book felt like a dream, which, I suppose, is part of the point. Magical realism is always fun, and The Walls Around Us was just so cool. It was trippy and strange and wonderful. You never quite know what is real and what is imagined, because none of the characters really know either. I was so confused most of the time and I loved it. Most of the time when I read a book this confusing during which I have absolutely no idea what’s happening, I’m not a big fan, especially if the book is doing it for the sole purpose of confusing you, but in the case of The Walls Around Us, I actually really liked it.

The prose was wonderful. When I started the first page, I was kind of worried. It’s…different. But after the first three pages, I was hooked. It flows easily and its use of repetition felt like a chant, a song. Again, it’s different and odd, but, for me, it was easy to read and very, very cool. The characters were all complex, especially the ones inside the detention center. Just like their crimes, their guilt wasn’t black and white, and this changed them from horrible thieves, murderers, and prisoners into real people.

I think the one thing I didn’t really like was that the book felt a little…meandering? I think that’s the right word. I wasn’t expecting action-packed or anything like that, but parts of it felt a little long-winded. On the other hand, I LOVED the bizarre, odd, confusing end so much. SO. MUCH. I think it fit perfectly with the strangeness of this magical story.

For me, the inscription before Part IV of the book perfectly sums this one up:

“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream.”

Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House

The bottom line: The Walls Around Us is really different from what you’re expecting. A little Black Swan, but with a bunch of other things thrown in. It’s confusing and strange and absolutely wonderful. I don’t think this will be a book for everyone, though. Personally? I want to read more by Nova Ren Suma.

Rating: 7.5 – between pretty good and freaking fantastic

ARC Review: Under Dark Skies by A.J. Scudiere

Under Dark Skies by A.J. ScudiereAuthor:  A.J. Scudiere

Genre: Fantasy, Crime

Publisher: Griffyn Ink

Publication Date: April 2, 2015

366 pages, paperback

NOTE: I was provided with an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!

Check out the full synopsis on Goodreads.

I enjoy crime fiction quite a bit, but it’d been a while since I’d read any when I was contacted about possibly reviewing this book. I jumped on it for two reasons: crime fiction and werewolves. I love when two genres that don’t normally mix are thrown together.

Medical examiner, Donovan Heath, and FBI agent, Eleri Eames, are recruited to a special FBI division called NightShade. It’s not as random as either of them think though, and as they begin to investigate a cult and the decade-old kidnapping cases the cult seems to be involved in, their secrets just might surface. The question is, will it “save them…or destroy them”?

Sounds cool, right? What are their secrets?! I liked figuring it all out, and A.J. Scudiere combines the supernatural with the…well, I can’t really say normal because cults aren’t exactly mundane, are they? But Scudiere weaves these two stories together in an interesting and (mostly) fast paced way. We’ve got cults, murder, kidnapping, and werewolves all thrown together in this huge, crazy, easy-to-read book.

While I really liked the story itself, I couldn’t connect with some of the characters which made the book feel pretty long. I thought Donovan was quite interesting and I liked learning about him as a werewolf, and I thought all of the things he could do and his history was super cool. Eleri was just kind of there for me. I don’t know. She wasn’t necessarily a bad character, but I didn’t connect with her as easily as I did with Donovan. I’ve always thought cults were kind of fascinating (I don’t know what this says about me), so meeting Jonah, who escapes from the cult, and learning about the cult leader kept me hooked.

I liked that while there were forensic investigations, it never got overwhelming or over-technical. Instead, Under Dark Skies focused on the abilities of the NightShade members, which were all fascinating. However, I thought the case itself was a little too easy. All of the witnesses just kind of stumbled into their path – some of them literally did just that. It made the believability factor lower quite a bit.

The bottom line:  This book reads almost like a normal FBI thriller but then you’ve got the addition of werewolves (and other supernatural abilities that I won’t spoil), which is a combination you don’t normally come across. It occasionally felt drawn out and long, but overall, I enjoyed it. I would recommend it to people who’ve read a few too many cheesy paranormals and would like something new or people who like crime fiction and would like to mix it up.

Rating: 6 – good, but not great

Book Review: Compulsion by Martina Boone

Compulsion by Martina BooneAuthor:  Martina Boone

Genre: Young Adult, Paranormal

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Publication Date: October 28, 2014

433 pages, hardcover

Check out the full synopsis on Goodreads.

I’ve been excited about this book for months, but I just never got my hands on a copy. So when my #ReadingMyLibrary Challenge rolled around, I couldn’t wait for Compulsion to come in so I could check it out!

Let’s do a things I liked and things I didn’t like list. I’m in the mood for a list today.

Things I liked:

– Watson’s Landing. I’m a sucker for an amazing setting, especially if it actually affects the events within the story, coming alive almost as if it were its own character. Watson’s Landing is like that. A meandering river, surrounding forest, old plantation home that’s falling apart and being put back together. *sigh* I loved it. Boone did an incredible job of bring the place to life.

– The names. Maybe this is a silly thing to point out, but I loved the names. Barrie’s name is actually Lombard, “that served as a reminder of Lula’s bitterness. Lombard, after San Francisco’s crooked street, and in memory of Wade Colesworth, Barrie’s crooked father (page 53).” Yessss. Also, the other family that Barrie’s family was close to are all named the same, so instead of being called their name, they’re called “Seven” and “Eight”. I LOVE this.

– The mythology. I can safely say that I was not going into this book expecting Native American mythology, but there it was. From the Fire Carrier who unspools fire like yarn to the yunwi, little ghosts who behave like children, running around Barrie’s feet and wreaking havoc across all of Watson’s Landing. Very, very cool and super interesting.

– The supporting characters. From flamboyant and fabulous Mark, to solitary and sad Aunt Pru, to falsely sweet cousin Cassie, Boone’s cast of supporting characters are interesting, developed, and far from perfect, which I liked.

Things I didn’t like:

– The book was a little long, coming in at over 400 pages. There were times when I felt the book was dragging a little bit, and it took me like 3 days to read the first 100 pages. But then I did race through the next 200 pages of the book at work, so I’m not really complaining that hard, am I?.

– Barrie’s whole backstory is a little convoluted. Her mother just died and revealed that she has this whole family she never knew, including her aunt who never knew she existed either because Barrie’s mother was thought to have died in a fire 18 years ago during which her father actually did die. And that’s not even half of it. It takes a while to get it all.

The bottom line: I’m looking forward to the next book. I’m ready to learn more about this deep-rooted family feud, these lonely ghosts, the intriguing mythology, and Barrie, a girl who’s just now figured out who she is.

Rating: 7 – pretty good

Book Review: Beautiful You by Chuck Palahniuk

“A billion husbands are about to be replaced.”

This was my first read for the #ReadingMyLibrary Challenge. 

Beautiful You by Chuck PalahniukAuthor:  Chuck Palahniuk

Genre: Contemporary? Humor? Sci-fi?

Publisher: Doubleday

Publication Date: 10/21/2014

225 pages, hardcover

Check out the full synopsis on Goodreads.

Okay. I’ve been trying to put my thoughts together on this one for about a week. I’m still not really sure how I feel but here we go.

It’s a book about a guy who develops a line of sex toys so powerful that they make women all around the world completely addicted to them, hence the quote at the start of my review. It focuses on Penny, the girl who gets coffee at her law firm. She’s invited to dinner by C. Linus Maxwell (aka “Climax-Well) and eventually becomes Maxwell’s final test subject for the line of sex toys.

For Chuck Palahniuk, that sounds all fine and dandy. A little weird, a lot sexual, and totally something I can handle. But then it just gets…uncomfortable. I’ve read at least 5 Chuck P books, and while they usually make me feel weird, it’s in a way that I like books to make me feel, if that makes sense. They push me out of my comfort zone in really interesting ways. This one though? I’m not sure what the point was. It very obviously makes fun of the state of literature and erotic fiction but it’s just gross, unnecessarily so. Maybe I should’ve expected that, but it went so much further than any Palahniuk book has gone (and I’ve even read that Guts short story). It was just…uncomfortable a lot of the time. It felt wrong. Beautiful You was offensive for the sake of being offensive.

Parts of the book were interesting and entertaining, I’ll give it that, but more parts were gross. Chuck P’s books are supposed to make you feel uncomfortable, but this was so much more than that. He seems to have gotten so wrapped up in how gross sex can be. After a while it actually started to bore me. I want to give you two examples to wrap up the review since I haven’t really explained why it felt weird. These are potential spoilers, I suppose, so be warned. Also be warned that it’s somewhat graphic.

“He slipped a third and fourth finger inside. ‘Good girl, you vagina is ‘ballooning.’’ During arousal, he explained, the inner vagina expands, lengthening to create a dead end beyond the cervix. Now his entire hand was inside. [my emphasis]

Penny looked down to see only his smooth, pale wrist disappearing into her. At the sight of it, she moaned” (53-54).

Alrighty, there’s one. Another example:

“This,” the sex witch said, plucking something from her wet depths, “this is all I have remaining from my mother.” The object she held was brownish, like polished wood, like an unvarnished pencil, and she withdrew it slowly. The extraction made a faint slurping sound. “It was her longest finger,” the Baba explained in a hushed voice. “I cut it from her even while the wild animals devoured the rest” (Page 166)

Gross.

The bottom line: Chuck Palahniuk’s books are kind of like a car crash, in that even though you want to, you can’t look away.

Rating: I don’t even know… 5? Take it or leave it? 4? Eh. This is bad? 6? I don’t know. You make your own judgment.

ARC Review: Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley

Magonia by Maria Dahvana HeadleyAuthor:  Maria Dahvana Headley
Genre: Young adult, fantasy
Publisher: Harper
Publication Date: April 28, 2015
320 pages, hardcover

Check out the full synopsis on Goodreads.

Can I just give a quick shout out to the super kind Kimberley at Little Shop of Stories in Decatur, GA for giving me this ARC? Everyone who works there is ridiculously friendly, and if you’re ever in the area, you really should drop by.

Aza Ray has never been able to breathe correctly. She’s struggled her whole life, and she even has a disease named after her, though she’d much rather call it Clive. But one day, she sees a ship in the sky and someone calling her name. No one believes her except her best friend Jason, who tells her stories of similar happenings from long ago and a magical place called Magonia. Soon after, Aza is lost to our world but returned to Magonia.

This book, you guys. WOAH. Magonia is so unbelievably unique, creative, and absolutely stunning. I’m still pretty speechless over it and I’m not sure how to write a review that isn’t just READ IT READ IT READ IT. It’s fantasy, but also reminded me quite a bit of magical realism because I sometimes forgot all of the things weren’t actually happening. Maria Dahvana Headley’s writing is gorgeous and poetic and beautiful. Like, she describes the sound of a boat coming: “The sails are made of hum and speed (ARC 252).” How perfect is that?

Aza Ray is a bit of a smartass, but I love her. She’s accepted her disease and lives with it. She’s…strange and sarcastic, which is pretty much exactly what I love in a character. I also loved the dual POVs of Aza and Jason. Jason’s POV was sad, distressing, and so very smart.

Magonia was incredible. I could feel the atmosphere and world all around me as I read. I devoured this world and these pages. This book is just…mad and weird and strange and so very good. I will say that I don’t think this book is for everyone, but it was most definitely for me.

The bottom line: 

Rating: 9 – practically perfect

You can read the first SEVEN chapters of Magonia over on the Epic Reads site.

ARC Review: Denton Little’s Death Date by Lance Rubin

Denton Little's Deathdate by Lance RubinAuthor:  Lance Rubin
Genre: YA, Contemporary, Science Fiction
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: April 14, 2015
352 pages, hardcover

Check out the full synopsis on Goodreads.

NOTE: I was provided with an e-ARC of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to Knopf Books for Young Readers for letting me read this!

Denton Little wakes up in his best friend’s sister’s bed on the morning of his funeral. But this isn’t one of those “the reader knows he’ll die but he doesn’t” books. Denton Little knows he’s going to die tomorrow, and he’s on his way to his own funeral. Because of AstroThanatoGenetics, practically everyone in Denton Little’s world knows the precise day they’re going to die.

Sounds morbid, right? Think again. Denton Little’s Deathdate is a hilarious, whimsical (that word is stupid most of the time but it really works here), thoughtful, wonderful whirlwind of a book. Could you imagine what your life would be like if you knew you were going to die the day of your senior prom? Will Denton die before or after his prom? Would you get super drunk and/or high or would you allow your parents to make you stay all day at your Sitting (a day long wait for your death)?

This book is so great because it is so obviously for teenagers. These characters are teenagers, as in, you could go to your local high school and meet them. They feel so realistic, in the way they talk, in the way they interact with each other. The plot of this book is just so unusual and absurd and silly (in the best way) that it needed these real characters to balance it out. Rubin has found the perfect balance. Plus, there were so many unexpected occurrences that I never once felt like I had everything figured out.

You guys know how much I love a good friendship in a book. Well, I might’ve found the absolute perfect fictional friendship in Denton Little’s Deathdate. Like, if I die before I have a friend like Denton’s best friend Paolo, I’ll feel cheated. They are perfect for each other – witty, punny, caring, loyal.

I love the message in this book too. Life is happening all the time. We always have these little, seemingly insignificant moments and conversations that we take for granted. We should appreciate life and those minutes. If you knew you were going to die tomorrow, what would you do?

The bottom line: If you’re one of those people (like me) with a somewhat weird, morbid sense of humor, Denton Little’s Deathdate is right up your alley. Denton is charming, funny, reckless, dying, and his story is wonderful. Check it out.

Rating: 8 – freaking fantastic

Book Review: Hold Me Closer: The Tiny Cooper Story by David Levithan (ARC)


Hold Me Closer by David LevithanAuthor:
 David Levithan

Genre: YA, Contemporary, Musical

Publisher: Dutton

Publication Date: March 17, 2015 

200 pages, hardcover

Remember that flamboyant, larger-than-life, hilarious character named Tiny Cooper from John Green and David Levithan’s Will Grayson, Will Grayson aka everyone’s favorite character? In Will Grayson, Will Grayson, Tiny Cooper writes a musical based on his life, from his birth, through his parade of 18 ex-boyfriends, and to finally accepting who he is and what he wants. Hold Me Closer IS that musical! How freaking cool is that?

Tiny is just as wonderful, funny, and thoughtful as he was in the novel where we first met him. His lyrics are emphatic and deep and silly. I wasn’t sure if I should expect Tiny’s musical was going to be a bit of a joke, more of a circus (I mean, there is a parade of ex-boyfriends) than an actual, real musical. But though it does have those silly parts, it was more serious than I was expecting, and I really appreciated that. It was emotional, upbeat, slow, and all of the things a real musical should be. Don’t get me wrong: Hold Me Closer does have its ridiculous moments, it’s unrealistic, larger-than-life moments, but that’s who Tiny is, and that’s why I love him.

Since the book doesn’t actually come with music, Tiny’s songs are more like poetry, and Levithan knows what he’s doing here. These songs could be touching and hilarious on the same page. Like Tiny says in his introduction, that’s how life is: “…it’s important to realize that the truth is sometimes quiet…and other times, it’s loud and spectacular. You don’t always get to choose which form it takes (ARC 1).”

The bottom line: I honestly want to see this one on the stage.

Rating: 8 – freaking fantastic

ARC Review: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Becky Albertalli’s debut novel Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda is a wonderful, real, and epically beautiful book. It deserves to be read.

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens AgendaAuthor:  Becky Albertalli

Genre: Young adult, contemporary

Publisher: Balzer + Bray

Publication Date: April 7, 2015

320 pages, hardcover

Check out the full synopsis on Goodreads.

When one of Simon’s emails to Blue – an anonymous and not openly gay (like Simon) boy from his school – gets into the wrong hands, he’s blackmailed into helping this bully get the girl or his sexual identity will be out in the open for everyone. Even worse to Simon, Blue’s identity could be exposed to the school. Basically, Simon’s junior year is turning into a complicated disaster. Simon hates change but he has to find a way to adapt before he’s pushed out of his comfort zone.

I loved Simon. So much. He’s my kind of person – nerdy, funny, smart, sweet, and he’s got this brilliant dry sense of humor that had my “giggles keep escaping around the edges (ARC 237).” What a great quote, right? He doesn’t understand why white and straight are the defaults in our society. Why shouldn’t everyone have to come out – straight, gay, asexual, whatever. He just wants to be happy. I was rooting for him so hard the entire time. I wanted Simon and Blue to live happily ever after. I know nothing is that easy, but I wanted it for him. That’s how real he felt. A favorite quote from Simon:

I fall a little bit in love with everyone. (ARC 32)

Blue and Simon have been getting to know each other through emails for most of the school year. They don’t know who the other is, just that they are gay and not out. I’m pretty sure I’ve talked about how much I love books with letters or emails or other forms of communication before, so you can imagine how much I adored Blue and Simon’s emails. They get steadily more flirtatious as the book goes on and it was so cute to see how much they liked each other. Then when we finally get the big reveal and they meet each other? SWOON. I had been hoping most of the book that Blue was who I thought he was. I was SO HAPPY about it.

Other things I loved: realistic friendships that were supportive even through issues and change, Simon (yeah, I already mentioned him but I had to again), Simon’s parents, Simon’s outlook on life, Blue.

One thing I didn’t like: I wish we’d had more time with Blue and Simon after they meet in real life. I want to swoon over them some more.

The bottom line: Everyone needs to meet Simon. He’s so human that I feel like everyone would be more human after having met him. I don’t even know if that makes sense, but, basically, this book deserves to be read. It’s such a wonderful love story and it’ll make you feel all melty on the inside. I honestly can’t believe this is a debut.

Rating:  9 – practically perfect

Want to learn more about Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda? Come back tomorrow when I’ll be kicking off the excerpt tour!

Book Review: Everybody Knows Your Name by Andrea Seigel & Brent Bradshaw (ARC)

Everybody Knows Your Name by Andrea Seigel and Brent BradshawAuthors: Andrea Seigel & Brent Bradshaw
Genre: Young adult, contemporary
Publisher: Viking
Publication Date: March 10, 2015
352 pages, hardcover

Check out the full synopsis on Goodreads.

Thank you to the lovely ladies at On the Same Pages ARC Tours for including me in this tour!

Everybody Knows Your Name is essentially about two people who are contestants on a reality show that is basically a mix between American Idol and The Real World, which is more interesting than it sounds, promise.

But that’s not all (or even most) of what this book is about. Rather than giving all of its attention to the reality TV/faux celebrity aspect, this book focuses on real-life developments and the self-discovery that can happen when you’re in the spotlight. Everybody Knows Your Name is way more introspective, thoughtful, and relatable than I was expecting of a book that could easily have been filled with childish, petty, celebrity drama. I was really impressed with it.

The characters are well-developed and distinctive, even the minor characters felt like someone I could run into somewhere out in the real world. Well, some of them were only ones you’d come across in Hollywood, which isn’t necessarily the realest place. Magnolia and Ford, our main characters, were relatable and I found myself really liking Magnolia for her desire to be exactly who she is and no one else. The romance was pretty much instalove, which you guys know I despise, but it didn’t bother me as much for some reason.

One thing I think was missing from the book was a little more from the reality show – I wanted to see how they felt on stage during eliminations and performances. I wanted to see a few more of those performances, even just a few lines about what the minor characters were like on stage. I think a lot of the book just kind of gleamed over all of that, which felt like a strange thing to take out. However, the focus on what it’s like in reality TV and the way that people can obsess with any kind of “celebrity” was so so true.

The bottom line: Everybody Knows Your Name is way more deep and thoughtful than I was expecting, but in the best way. I loved getting to know these characters and I was rooting for them both on the show and in the way they were changing. I liked the open ending (for the most part) and the appendixes really added to the story. This book is perfect for fans of reality television and realistic characters.

Rating: 7.5 – between pretty good and freaking fantastic