Wilder Girls vs. House of Salt and Sorrows

It’s horror time! Or at least mild discomfort time. Spoilers ahead.

Wilder Girls

Author: Rory Power

Genre: Young adult, horror, science fiction

Pages: 357

Source: Library

Goodreads | Indiebound

3.5 stars

The Raxter School for Girls has been under quarantine for nearly two years. Hetty and her friends have fallen victim to the Tox, a disease that manifests in the form of grotesque mutations. When Hetty’s best friend Byatt disappears, Hetty will do anything to find out what happened to her—including breaking quarantine.

This wasn’t a bad book at all. It had important themes, such as female friendships and teenage girls’ alienation from their bodies. Plus, there’s a sapphic frenemies-to-lovers romance, which is like my favorite trope ever. AND LOOK AT THAT COVER.

However, it was boring. Perhaps my expectations were too high, but it was nowhere nearly as horrifying as I thought it would be. The body horror was occasionally disturbing, but I expected to be so utterly terrified I couldn’t sleep at night. I had high hopes for the Hetty/Reese romance, but there wasn’t any chemistry to it.

I have heard some reviewers claiming the characters are underdeveloped, but I didn’t feel that way. Hetty’s loyalty to Byatt and Reese’s love for her father were interesting and thoroughly explored. My favorite character was Byatt, because she was a savage. One of her first POV chapters has her talking about how she killed off an imaginary best friend to make her real friend jealous. Like, your fave could never.

Also, for a book that claims to be feminist and queer-friendly, this was kind of white. Rory Power unfortunately uses the “white as default” trope, with only a few minor characters of color. 

The writing was excellent. The sentences were short, raw, and powerful, each one hitting home with force. Readers may tire of the sentence fragments, though.

That ending was literally the worst. Not that it was especially bad, but that nothing was wrapped up. I’m fine with endings that leave some things hanging, but a cliffhanger at the end of a standalone book is really not the best idea.

House of Salt and Sorrows

Author: Erin A. Craig

Genre: Young adult, horror, fantasy

Pages: 403

Source: Library

Goodreads | Indiebound

2 stars

Annaleigh Thaumas and her eleven sisters live in a manor by the sea with their father and stepmother. One by one, the girls have died in violent, mysterious ways. Annaleigh suspects that her sisters were murdered and enlists the help of a stranger named Cassius to solve the mystery.

Oh man, was this book disappointing. I love gothic horror, but this wasn’t scary at all. There was some creepy imagery, what with the younger sister’s drawings, but it didn’t do much for me. And I hated the plot twist. Literally half the horror/thriller adjacent novels out there use the “protagonist was insane all along” twist, and I’m getting tired of it. All of the other twists were fine, but why this?

On top of all that, this book was overwhelmingly white and het. It tried to be somewhat feminist by making the heroine dream of being a lighthouse keeper, but it was outweighed by the use of the “evil stepmother” trope. And was it really necessary to bring Cassius back from the dead?

I didn’t hate this book entirely, though. Though it might not have been that scary, the aesthetic of manors and ballgowns and curses worked well enough. I also liked the sisterly relationships and wished they had been developed as much as the romance.

In conclusion, if you’re looking for a mildly spooky fantasy novel, this book is for you.

ARC Review: Star Daughter – Shveta Thakrar

This review contains spoilers. You have been warned.

Star Daughter

Author: Shveta Thakrar

Genre: Young adult, fantasy

Pages: 448

Source: Edelweiss

Goodreads | Indiebound

Rating: 2.5 stars

Content Warnings: Torture, parental abandonment

I received an advanced reader’s copy from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

I had such high hopes for this book. I mean, look at that cover. SO PRETTY. However, I soon realized how much of a chore it is to get through.

Star Daughter follows Sheetal Mistry, the daughter of a star and a human. When Sheetal’s human father is injured by starfire, she goes to the heavens and competes in a talent competition to save him.

This book was way longer than it needed to be. I swear, there could have been like 50 pages cut out. There were also a bunch of little reveals, which would’ve been nice, except that I quickly got used to them and ceased to be surprised.

The romance bogged the story down. I know this is a common criticism of mine, but every time Sheetal meets Dev she thinks about how much she loves him, how hot he is, etc. This is obviously something teenagers do, but I didn’t care about it because the characters lacked depth.

Sheetal wasn’t a very interesting heroine. Her motivations were, to be honest, kind of generic, and she forgets about her dad a lot. I liked her mom and grandma better because they were more complex, and even though their actions might not be the best, you can see the motivations behind them. I hated Jeet, Dev’s cousin, but he literally gets psychologically tortured for eternity and I’m not sure he deserves that.

The setting was one of the only good things about this book. Lots of aspects of Indian culture were discussed, which was great, because you don’t see many South Asian YA novels. I felt like I was actually with Sheetal, looking at magical items in the Night Market, drinking blue mango juice and eating rasmalai.

In conclusion, if you like Roshani Chokshi and Neil Gaiman, then you’ll probably like this book.

A Total Amateur Redesigns A Reaper at the Gates

  • Don’t get me wrong. As a WOC myself, I’m all for more WOC on YA covers.
  • I also personally don’t give a crap about mid-series cover changes.
  • Like, don’t judge a book by its cover, amirite?
  • However, I lowkey am not a fan of the weird-ass green apple cover, and I just thought it would be cool if it matched the 1st 2 (even though it doesn’t really match tbh (I suck at designing))
  • I got everything off Pixabay because I’m 16 and broke
  • I used a wall texture for the background, and added the rocks so that the silhouettes weren’t just floating in midair.
  • (Although I think one of the characters can fly? IDK, I forgot everything about the 1st book. Was there even magic in it?)
  • For the font, I just used some random serif font, aka Calisto MT Regular.
  • I made the text gray with a red glow to symbolize death, because “reaper” (I haven’t actually read the book), and distressed it a bit.
  • I put a gate because, y’know, “gates” (Again, haven’t read the book).
  • I made the silhouettes glow a bit. They’re also slightly larger than the silhouettes on the actual covers because I can’t design :(.
  • In conclusion, this kinda sucks, but it’s far from the worst cover I designed. It helps that I have an actual idea of what I wanted it to look like.

ARC Review: The Scapegracers – Hannah Abigail Clarke

The Scapegracers

Author: Hannah Abigail Clarke

Genre: Young adult, fantasy

Pages: 400

Source: Edelweiss

Goodreads | Indiebound

Rating: 3 stars

Content warnings: General bigotry, animal death, betrayal by love interest, violence, death of a parent, kidnapping, 

“I guess my point is that teenage girls aren’t supposed to be powerful, you know? Everybody hates teenage girls. They hate our bodies and hate us if we want to change them. They hate the things we’re supposed to like but hate it when we like other things even more, because that means we’re ruining their things. We’re somehow this great corrupting influence, even though we’ve barely got legal agency of our own. But the three of us – the four of us, counting you – we’re powerful.”

I liked the quote at first, but then I realized the misogyny described applied to all women, not just teenage girls. This is basically a microcosm about how I feel about this book. Every time there’s something I like, there’s something else I have problems with. That’s a shame, because I wanted to love this, Alas, not all gay witch books are created equal.

The first thing I want to say is that there was a complete lack of scene breaks in the version I read. Maybe it was because it was an ARC, but I have read ARCs in the past with scene breaks in them.

One thing in particular that bothered me was when a guy drew a sigil on the leg of one of the girls and put her in an empty pool with a bunch of magically killed deer, and the girls cursed him in revenge. Why was Sideways not concerned about him knowing magic? I’m all for cursing dudebros, but I felt like a sentence or two about that would help. The curse does come into effect towards the end of the book, though.

The small town setting was cool and delightfully spooky, but the worldbuilding was vague. Witchcraft didn’t have many rules, which made sense to a degree, but it could have been more structured. I felt like this book balanced the magic and non-magic elements really well.

The characters were okay. I related to Sideways’s character, but I wished there was more to her personality. Jing, Yates, and Daisy had potential, but their personalities were too similar. The only thing that separated them from each other were their ethnicities and sexualities. Jing was Chinese and bi (though I had some minor problems with the depiction of her race), Yates was black and questioning, and Daisy was the token straight white girl. Daisy was a bit more assertive than the others, but that was about it.

The friendship between the protagonists was great, and there should definitely be more female friendships in YA. There wasn’t any girl hate, except for the part where Sideways makes fun of a cashier for having dark undereyes. I know that’s literally the most minor thing to complain about, and I’m obviously not accusing Hannah Abigail Clarke of classism or whatever, but it was not necessary AT ALL.

The writing was pretty cool at first, but then it got a bit repetitive, what with Sideways’s bones trying to escape from her skin or whatnot. Like, the constant barrage of edgy purple prose wasn’t for me. It’s not bad prose, it just didn’t appeal to me.

If you want a book about witchcraft and diverse female friendships, you should read Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson, When We Were Magic by Sarah Gailey, or These Witches Don’t Burn by Isabel Sterling.

ARC Review: Clap When You Land – Elizabeth Acevedo

This review contains spoilers. You have been warned.

Clap When You Land

Author: Elizabeth Acevedo

Genre: Young adult, contemporary

Pages: 432

Source: Edelweiss

Goodreads | Indiebound

Rating: 4.5 stars

Content Warnings: Death of a parent, infidelity, sexual harassment, attempted sexual assault

I received an advanced reader’s copy from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

Clap When You Land follows the story of Camino and Yahaira Rios, half-sisters whose father died in a plane crash. The girls find out about each other and Yahaira goes to the Dominican Republic to meet Camino.

I’m not a fan of free-verse poetry in general, and because of that this book didn’t really work as poetry. However, it was still beautifully-written. The prose was amazing and did a great job of conveying setting, emotions, etc. It was a bit confusing as to which girl is talking, especially in the last part, but readers can easily figure it out by using context clues.

Camino and Yahaira had similar personalities, but they were both well-developed characters. I loved their relationship. Yahaira and Dre’s romance was also great.

The plot was kind of slow, but I was fine with it because most of the book was about the girls’ grief at the loss of their father. However, I was confused about Camino trying to pretend to be Yahaira because it had been previously stated that Camino was lighter skinned than Yahaira.

The setting was beautifully described and I loved the mentions of Dominican food, music, dance, religion, etc.

The theme that the people you look up to aren’t perfect was an important theme. I disliked the father for being dishonest, but I can understand Camino and Yahaira’s opinions on him.

It might sound like I disliked this book, but I greatly enjoyed it. In conclusion, I highly recommend Clap When You Land to readers who are interested in Afro-Latinx culture and poetry.

The Astonishing Color of After – Emily X R Pan

The Astonishing Color of After

Author: Emily X. R. Pan

Genre: Young adult, magical realism, contemporary

Pages: 462

Source: Borrowed

Goodreads | Indiebound

Emily Dickinson once said that hope is the thing with feathers. This is definitely true of The Astonishing Color of After, a vividly-written novel about loss and family.

When Leigh Chen-Sanders’s mother died by suicide, she turned into a bird. Leigh visits her grandparents in Taiwan to learn more about her mother’s family. With the help of various supernatural forces, she discovers family secrets and develops new relationships with her family members.

As a Chinese-American, I connected very strongly with Leigh. I loved how the novel was about her building relationships with her grandparents and connecting to Asian culture. There’s not much plot happening in the present, at least compared to what happened in the flashbacks, but that wasn’t really a problem because it was a character-focused book.

The novel’s portrayal of depression and suicide was very nuanced. Pan never blames Leigh’s mom for dying by suicide, and Leigh’s family’s reaction to it was explored in depth. At the end of the book, there is an author’s note that encourages readers to take action if they or a loved one is suicidal.

The writing was beautiful. It got somewhat overly flowery at times, but it conveyed the exact right emotions at exactly the right times. The use of color was also spot on, even if it did sometimes seem a bit forced. 

I didn’t care about the romantic subplot that much. It felt unnecessary and I honestly preferred Leigh and Axel as friends. Despite that, The Astonishing Color of After is a wonderful book about dealing with grief that you should certainly read.

5 Of My Favorite YA Subgenres

One: Comedic mythological urban fantasy

Examples: The Epic Crush of Genie Lo, The Serpent’s Secret, The Dragon Warrior

This was probably started by Percy Jackson. Basically, it’s where the protagonist goes on a mythological adventure, accompanied by a lot of snark and comic relief. One of my favorites. More commonly found in MG than YA.

Two: Diverse magical heists

Examples: The Gilded Wolves

Six of Crows popularized heists in YA, and now it might be the next vampires. It’s better than vampires, though. My favorite has to be The Gilded Wolves, though. That ending.

Three: 2 people from opposite sides of a conflict team up and maybe fall in love

Examples: Legend, This Savage Song (I know there’s no romance but I SHIP IT), These Broken Stars, An Ember in the Ashes, Crier’s War

I don’t know, I just like the idea of someone who was raised to believe a certain way change their way of thinking. It happens all the time in real life. Legend is my all-time favorite example of this subgenre. Like, June and Day are one of the best couples in all of YA. I’m serious. I really wish this genre was less heteronormative, though.

Four: Trans stories!

Examples: If I Was Your Girl, Not Your Villain

Okay, maybe this isn’t a genre, but I still love it to pieces. I might be just a little biased here, because I’m actually nonbinary myself. However, I also hate, hate, hate the trope of “cisgender girl disguises herself as boy to do x because patriarchy” because it is a) overused, and b) erases trans identities. The only two trans takes on this trope that I know of (The Madness Blooms by Mackenzi Lee and The Hand, The Eye, and The Heart by Zoe Marriott) are both written by cisgender women who have a history of being problematic.

Sorry I went off on a tangent there. Just needed to get something off my chest. Anyway, if you want a good series with a well-written trans boy lead, check out the Sidekick Squad series by CB Lee!

Five: Rebels and revolutions

Examples: The Hunger Games (of course), Wolf by Wolf

Maybe it’s because of my personal “eat the rich” beliefs, but this is an all time favorite of mine. Sure, it can get a bit cliched and oversaturated, but the concept of overthrowing a government just, I don’t know, resonates with me.

What are your favorite genres? Let me know in the comments!

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea (Between 1) – April Genevieve Tucholke

SPOILER WARNING!

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea (Between 1)

Author: April Genevieve Tucholke

Genre: Young adult, magical realism, gothic horror

Pages: 467

Source: Borrowed

Goodreads | Indiebound

Rating: 2.5 stars

Sometimes, I’m not sure what to think of a book. This is not one of those times. My thoughts on BTDATDBS are very, very clear, and also mostly negative.

BTDATDBS was very committed to its gothic horror aesthetic. I can understand being committed to an aesthetic, but I felt like this book should have been actually set in the 50s or 60s because the town of Echo seems super dated, even though it’s supposed to be the 21st century. Also, because of the devotion to ~aesthetic~, there were a handful of weird turns of phrase in the beginning, such as “panther hips”, and the names were simply ridiculous.

I didn’t like the romance between River and Violet, because he was definitely manipulating her a lot with his power. However, I assumed it was a Darkling type of situation, where the author was absolutely not glorifying the relationship. Violet also made some really stupid decisions, such as sleeping naked with River when she knows touching him is dangerous.

But hey, it was all gothic and mysterious and Casabianca, and while nowhere near as spooky as expected, just scary enough for my tastes. So I mostly enjoyed it. Up until the end.

You see, the main villain is this evil Texan guy with a ridiculous accent who’s River’s other long-lost brother. Yeah, other. It’s a long story. It would have been better if Violet met him earlier, instead of in the last quarter of the book, because that would have added to the tension. Anyway, evil Texan is like a Disney villain in terms of, well, villainy completely devoid of all characterization. He’s just entirely evil and crazy, which is poor characterization.

I hope Boneless Pizza Mercies is better.

The Name of the Blade Rant

Spoilers ahead! You have been warned.

The Name of the Blade (The Name of the Blade 1)

Author: Zoe Marriott

Genre: Young adult fantasy, mythology

Pages: 368

Source: Library

Goodreads|Indiebound

Rating: 2 stars

Hoo boy…

A list of things I did not like about The Name of the Blade:

One: the plot – It was really meandering and confusing, and for some reason I couldn’t really understand what was going on? I mean, I could, I just didn’t really quite mentally grasp it. Maybe my reading comprehension skills are atrophying. But anyway, here’s a super long, super-in-depth recap of the plot.

Mio wants to go to a costume party with her friend Jack. She’s dressed as Rukia from Bleach, whoever that is, so she needs a sword. But instead of using her kendo sword, she wants to take an actual katana her grandpa has. Her grandpa told her not to take it out until she’s 16 and it’s almost her 16th birthday and the sword is literally calling out to her psychically. This is a pretty unsatisfying inciting incident, to be quite honest.

She takes the sword and meets a creepy guy and gets hit by a car. She almost dies but has a dream about a dude fighting a demon cat, which is apparently a recurring dream of hers, and somehow survives. She then becomes obsessed with the sword and carries it around and calls it “hers” all the time, which I’m pretty sure is Gollum’s origin story

She gets attacked by the demon cat from her dream, but it turns out there’s a hot dude trapped inside the sword and the guy helps her fight the cat. The guy says his name is Shinobu and that the cat is a Nekomata. They go to the hospital because Jack crashed into a row of motorcycles and needs to take an x-ray.

Mio sees the creepy dude at the hospital, disguised as a police officer. The creepy dude says he is the Harbinger and appears to kill Shinobu for some reason, and Mio attacks him. The Hamburger (that’s what I’m calling him from now on) disappears and Shinobu survives, proving there was no reason for the Hamburger to fake-kill him.

It turns out Mio trashed the hospital room when she attacked the Hamburger, so she and her friends escape to a cafe and talk. Shinobu exposits his backstory to Mio and Jack. I should probably mention that Shinobu is, for some reason, conveniently invisible to most people except for Mio and Jack. Honestly, making him visible would be more interesting because we would get to see how people would react to him.

Anyway, Shinobu somehow got sealed inside the sword after the Nekomata killed him, and he got released somehow. IDK how Mio released the Nekomata, though. They get attacked by cats and go back to their apartment, where they get attacked by the Nekomata disguised as Rachel. They temporarily defeat the Nekomata with the help of a Kitsune called Hikaru. The Nekomata tells them that they have Rachel and that she will die if they don’t find her by sunset.

Mio is wounded by the Nekomata, so Shinobu bandages her and almost kisses her. She freaks out about this. Then Shinobu talks about Japanese mythology in a very Western-y, outsider-y way (probably because the author is a white British woman). They practice sword fighting and almost kisses her again. In hindsight, this is probably where I should have DNFed.

Mio later has a dream from the POV of Shinobu (I think; the writing made it kind of unclear) about the sword. She and her friends go to the spirit realm to talk with the king of the Kitsune about the sword’s magical properties. They get turned into foxes for a while because there’s apparently a protective ward that turns all humans (except for Shinobu for some reason (oh boy do I keep using that phrase)) into foxes. Fox!Jack runs off and they have to go find her in what is probably the most obvious filler ever.

They meet the king of the Kitsune and one of the foxes argues with them about the sword. Another fox suggests that Mio say the sword’s true name to see who it belongs to. Mio says the sword’s true name, which is, surprise surprise, Shinobu.

The sword bursts into flames and destroys and reforms the universe or something (it’s probably just Mio’s imagination but IDK) The Kitsune like Mio and co. now and help them defeat the Nekomata. They go to the Nekomata’s lair, which is an abandoned power station, but there’s a spell preventing the kitsune from entering so they can’t get in. Mio and the other humans get in and fight the Nekomata. The Nekomata seemingly kills Shinobu. Mio kills the Nekomata and saves Rachel, and it turns out Shinobu is still alive somehow (seriously, what is it with this guy and being fake-dead?). The end.

Throughout the book, there were short 3rd-person sections from the POVs of the Nekomata’s victims, which were somewhat jarring. Also, there were a lot of pop culture references, as if the author didn’t really know how teenagers talked. It wasn’t as bad as a lot of other books, but it was still a bit annoying.

Two: the characters – they weren’t much more than cardboard cutouts made to serve the plot. They never felt like they did anything on their own; whatever the plot required them to do, they did. Need another chapter? No problem, it turns out that Fox!Jack is scared of the smell of magic (yeah, me too) and ran away! Need some more conflict (that won’t impact the story in any meaningful way)? Have the Hamburger suddenly show up and stab Shinobu with light skewers! The only character I kind of liked was Jack, Mio’s biracial butch lesbian friend.

Three: the cultural appropriation – as I previously said, this is a book about Japan written by a white Brit. My gut instincts told me this had a 0.1% chance of turning out well, and god should I have listened. It would be interesting to compare this book to something like The Epic Crush of Genie Lo, in a #ownvoices vs. outsider type of thing.

To be fair, this didn’t turn out as badly as I expected. Although Mio mentions watching anime several times, this didn’t have, like, too much of a weeb-y vibe. However, she did get some of the mythology wrong. I dislike the demonization of Izanami, due to personally not liking when death gods are portrayed as evil. Also, the Nekomata seems to have traits of a Kitsune (nine tails) and a Bakeneko (shapeshifting), though, to be fair, the line between it and the latter can be thin. Also, I’m pretty sure the honorifics are used wrong, although I’m not Japanese so I can’t say so for certain.

A list of things I liked about The Name of the Blade:

One: the… readability? IDK what to call it, really, because this book was far from readable, but at the same time, there was this thing compelling me to want to read it. Like, seriously, I read over half of it in a day, and I am a slowish reader. Anyway, this thing is what made me give this book 2 stars instead of 1. I don’t know what it is, but I think I like it!

In conclusion, You probably don’t want to read The Name of the Blade, unless you want flat characters and a plot filled with holes.

Honor Bound (The Honors 2) – Rachel Caine and Ann Aguierre

Honor Bound (The Honors, #2)

Honor Bound (Honor Among Thieves 2)

Author: Rachel Caine and Ann Aguirre

Genre: Young adult sci-fi

Pages: 467

Source: Bought

Goodreads|Boycott Amazon, Get It At IndieBound

Rating: 4 stars

This book was very compulsively readable, and Caine and Aguirre know how to write fight scenes. Zara was also a very relatable character, as were the rest of the crew, and her voice was entertaining. I also enjoyed the planning and strategizing that went on. This series is somewhat diverse, with several well-written female characters of color, but I feel as if it is lacking a bit in terms of nonbinary representation, since all the NB characters are aliens.

The Deluca subplot should have been reintroduced, but he felt like a weak and dubiously necessary antagonist in a book that already has 3. His storyline felt like it was going to be resolved easily and I didn’t particularly care for it.

One thing I didn’t really like is Zara and Nadim’s relationship, which feels like it shouldn’t have been romantic, but is because the authors keep referring to it as an OTP. STOP CALLING IT AN OTP! It’s also weirdly het, and the scene where Zara invites Bea to bond with Nadim feels like a het couple using a bi woman for a threesome. I know it’s a black girl and a non-black male character, so it’s not really the same as a het white ship, but still. I’m not trying to imply that that’s the biggest problem I have with a romance between a human and an alien spaceship, but I feel like we need more LGBT+ couples in this series.

Overall, while this series has its flaws, it is a very enjoyable read if you are a fan of sci-fi and space operas.