Review – The Graces

Where the lies end and the truth begins is more complicated than any magic. The Graces by Laure Eve (4.5/5)

The Graces by Laure Eve was published in the US on September 6, 2016. I finished it October 9, 2016.

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Our narrator is a girl who eventually goes by the name River. After some struggles with her family, she and her mother move to a town on the coast and River meets the Graces – twins Fenrin and Thalia, and their younger sister Summer. The Graces are rumored to be witches, and they flit around the town with beauty, mystery, and the power that comes with both popularity and potentially magic. River is desperate to be in their circle, and to prove that her lifelong belief in magic hasn’t been in vain. And somehow, it happens. River and Summer become best friends, and when you love one Grace you love them all, and vice versa. And then something goes horribly wrong, and what River thought she knew about the Graces and the reality of her world all comes into question.

The book cover is gorgeous and I’ll admit I definitely bought this book for the cover. All the covers I’ve seen for this novel are breathtaking – but oh the tagline on mine is so woefully terrible and not in line with the story: “It takes more than black magic to become a Grace.” It really messed with my expectations and made it take way too long for me to realize what was really going on in this novel. This was a really strong book.

It is a slow burn of a story, and River can be quite irritating in the beginning. Her desperimg_2829ation to be accepted by the Graces and for them to see her as cool, the false front she puts on all the time, and the way she doesn’t see how they are reaching out for connection can be annoying. I almost didn’t want River to get what she wanted. But the more you get to know the Graces alongside River the more you love them too. And the more you begin to see the truth of them that River doesn’t – the more their secrets are revealed and you know she just doesn’t want to see them. It makes it all the more powerful when River’s own secrets are revealed.

The characters in this novel are so wonderfully human – odd, broken, afraid, loving, passionate, and impulsive. The scenes when the teenagers are just hanging out together, having those quiet and giddy moments that you don’t realize matter until they’re past, but River realizes it in the moment, are so beautifully written. It’s hard to capture just friendship – it’s much easier to write about romance – and Eve gives those relationships depth. It’s what makes the events of Part Two so brutal and wonderful and exhilarating.

The book itself is also gorgeous – my hardcover was red with a circle design on the cover, purple paper and drawings inside, as well as purple text on the pages and gorgeous designs on the chapter pages.

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Even if I hadn’t like this book I would have treasured it just for being a beautiful object. The Amulet Books imprint makes gorgeous covers from what I can see – if I’m going to buy a book based on its cover I’m surprised I haven’t purchased more of theirs. I’m definitely going to troll through that site for more to add to my reading list.

 

I’m giving The Graces 4.5/5 – half off for being too vague and flowery in the beginning. Honestly, I almost stopped reading. But it’s worth getting through the difficult beginning to the rich story within.

img_2831I found out recently that there’s going to be another book, and I am a teeny bit disappointed by that. I acknowledge that it’s the publishing landscape we live in, and that Laure Eve probably has lots more of River’s story to tell, but part of me wishes this was just a powerful stand alone novel. I mean, of course I’ll read the next one, but I do treasure this one.

Review – Nerve

A chilling concept with flat characters – a review of Nerve by Jeanne Ryan (2.5/5)

Nerve by Jeanne Ryan was originally released in 2012 – I read the 2016 movie tie-in edition. I have not seen the film yet, but some of my review will include thoughts on the film.

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Nerve is about a girl named Vee who feels like she’s the supporting actress in her own life. Her friend Sydney is the star of the show in their high school, the girl all the boys like, and Vee is fine with being the sidekick most of the time. There’s a crazy reality show called Nerve that gives dares to players in order to win prizes; they aren’t documented by a camera crew but rather by Watchers – people who sign up to film and follow players for the show. In a fit of rebellion, Vee films a dare and it gets a lot of attention. She’s assigned a partner, Ian, and they begin completing dares together. They get into the live rounds that lead to bigger and bigger prizes – it also leads to danger. Is this just a reality show with production and protection, or is Nerve something much more sinister? And who is running the show?

I am really conflicted about this novel.

The concept is fantastic. From reading about Jeanne Ryan’s other novel, Charisma, I can give her a lot of credit for finding unique, super relevant, and thought-provoking plot lines. It’s kind of in the vein of Black Mirror (one of the most fantastic shows ever made) – how far can technology advance us before it also becomes our downfall? Her grip on this sideways reality and how it works is intelligent and deep.

The Nerve game of the book is all about manipulation, disrespect for the privacy of public figures, and our desires to feed on fear and violence. The way the story plays out is strong, and it leaves you on a cliffhanger in regard to the resolution of the big picture. I was a little frustrated by the lack of explanation of the world. The technology seems just slightly beyond our reality (again, very Black Mirror) but I didn’t really understand what kind of access or capability it had, which decreased some of the fear when it came to how they discovered information or how much the Watchers really had access to about the players.

I did not like Vee; and from what I read of Charisma I don’t think I’d like Aislyn either. They were weak – not in terms of character but in terms of characterization. Vee was insecure and it rarely went deeper than that. All of the characters felt very surface level except Ian, which kept me from truly worrying about what happened to them. The characters were sort of enhanced stereotypes. I didn’t care who lived or died, I just wanted to see how the story played out. And maybe that was intentional, to show that I as a consumer was as callous as the Watchers in the book, but considering we are told the story from inside Vee’s head I kind of doubt that.

Just looking at the movie cast and some of the photos really depressed me because I don’t think it expanded on what was so well done in the novel, and I don’t think it added anything deeper to the characters. The races were changed, identities were altered, and I think it was more a vehicle for certain people than an actual adaptation. Obviously in the visual realm they needed to add more dares or change them to make it more appealing, but I think that likely diminished any growing horror that there is no way out and no way to win the game. I will see the film, but for a book I didn’t really like, I’ll probably stand by the belief that the book is better.

This book is worth the read for the concept and plot. Nerve is not that far from our reality and that is chilling. 5/5 for the plot, 1/5 for the characters. I’m going 2.5/5 overall.

Review – Strange Times: The Ghost in the Girl

Get reading, pals. The Strange Times crew is battling ghosts. (4/5)

Strange Times: the Ghost in the Girl by Tom DeLonge and Geoff Herbach was released October 4, 2016 – it’s the prologue to the Strange Times graphic novel, also by DeLonge. I finished it on October 7, 2016 while eating nachos. This was inspired by the tacos in the book, but I didn’t have the stuff to make tacos.

Despite the swearing, this is definitely a mid-level reader book – middle school or early high school. As long as the parents of the reader are chill, and acknowledge that their kids totally talk like this when they aren’t around. If you weren’t swearing in secret in 8th grade you’re a liar.

I should say that I know Geoff personally – he was one of my professors in grad school. I have not been asked to and I am not receiving anything for reviewing this book. I probably would have read it without knowing Geoff because of the nostalgia of my middle school crush on Tom DeLonge, and that he creates some pretty cool stuff. Geoff is an awesome person and a great writer, and if you ever get the chance to hear him read I recommend it. It was hard not to hear some of the passages in his public reading voice.But I digress.

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The Strange Times crew are five teenage boys who get occasional help from an aging hippie named Cortez. Our narrator is Charlie Wilkins. He and the crew – smart guy Wiz, new kid Riley, and skaters Mouse and Mattheson, were thrown together for a science project, discovered the truth about ghosts, shreds, and shadows, and stuck together to take them down. The book follows their initial gathering in school – Charlie’s struggling because his Air Force father has disappeared and they can’t tell anyone, Wiz is being threatened with military school if he doesn’t get “normal friends,” Riley is the new kid in town living with grandparents who don’t love him, and Mouse and Mattheson have the first encounter with the Ghost Girl herself, Paula. It’s actually really hard to provide a summary of this book – but it’s the adventures of the Crew and their first battle with evil ghost Yankee Jim Robinson.

If you want to really enjoy this book, make sure you’re not too caught up in being an adult. Because if you aren’t in the state of mind to laugh at moose farts, purple flames coming out of buttholes, or pants being burned off by a Pinto, then this is the wrong book for you. I really love when there’s supernaturally-induced farting and indigestion because it adds hysteria to the scare – it reminded me of Dreamcatcher.

I already want more of the Strange Times crew – which is good because the graphic novel takes place after the book, but I want to know when I’ll get even more adventures. What happened to Charlie’s dad? What happened to Gramps in Vietnam? Do they use ghosts to punish Wiz’s dad for being a douche? Will they ever defeat Yankee Jim? I also love the supernatural mythology – how ghosts and souls work, what can happen, how they can manifest, was all fleshed out well but didn’t tell everything.

It’s no secret that keeping teenage boys engaged in literature and reading is an uphill battle – this is definitely a work that would keep a young male reader entertained and interested. He’d recognize these boys in himself, and that just doesn’t happen enough. I loved these characters because I knew them too – especially Mouse and Mattheson. Those were my friends, things we would have said, and probably the way we would have responded to ghosts being real and friends being in danger. My friends would have also absolutely tried to build a papier-mache asscano.

I also really loved the message of self-love that was sprinkled throughout. Charlie needed a dose of confidence and learning to love himself – and he learned it from Mouse and Mattheson and Wiz. While there’s too much fat-shaming in general in the book, when Riley has his revelation about himself and his body it was a pretty beautiful moment. We put a lot of pressure on boys and girls these days to look a certain way, and the recognition that your body is beautiful because it is capable and you are living is so needed.

Teenage me would’ve given this a 5/5 all the way – cute vulnerable boys, ghosts, adventures, so much swearing, hilarious fart scenes. Adult me is going with 4/5 – I wish it had been longer because some of it felt rushed or unexplained, and too!many!exclamation!points! Which feels kind of hypocritical because people really talk like that, but it kept snagging my eyes while reading.

I recommend this book for a quick, funny read, or for the young person in your life who needs an adventure.

Review – Wink Poppy Midnight

A hero.A villain.A liar. – A review of Wink Poppy Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke (5/5)

Wink Poppy Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke was released March 22, 2016 – I read it in one thrilling sitting on October 4, 2016. I read this as part of a read-a-long with @BookishGals on Instagram.

A hero. A villain. A liar. Who’s who?

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We start the story with Midnight moving to a new house. He now lives next door to Wink – petite, redheaded, unique, from a big and free spirited family. He used to live next door to Poppy – ultimate cool girl, icy blonde hair and ice in her heart, the girl Midnight doesn’t want to love anymore.

The characters are full, complicated, at turns sympathetic and exhausting. We are inside their heads and seeing things in their hearts that they don’t. I can’t tell if I saw the twist coming because I’m a cynical weenie or because Tucholke wanted the reader to know. It’s a good twist. It’s a twist that fixed my one reservation during my reading.

I was concerned we had a pair of dueling Manic Pixie Dream Girls because despite being in all three characters’ perspectives it feels most like Midnight’s story. His story was about getting over love – and the way he described both Wink and Poppy led me to be concerned he didn’t see them as people. I was relieved to be wrong. Wink Poppy Midnight goes beneath the surface so that not only do we the reader know each character, but by the end of the novel they all know each other on that better level too. Midnight borders on MPDG most with Wink, but I think in the end they connect on a level only the two of them can understand.

This is a love story.
This isn’t happily ever after.

There are heroes and villains.
Sometimes they are both at once.

Everyone is a liar.

It’s a bit of a ghost story, a bit of a fairy tale, and a little bit mystery thriller.

It reminds you how much it sucks to be a teenager – that life is bigger and harder and truer well before people consider you an adult, or believe that “the real world” is an arbitrary label. The real world is now. This novel highlights that it matters to learn to ask for the truth, to give it, and to say what you need instead of hoping life will give it to you.

The voice of each character, the style and structure are flawless in their execution and you can follow the story and keep the threads separate without confusion or blurring of roles.

5/5 – I loved this.

I am really happy that I recently ordered Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea – I hadn’t put together that it was the same author.

Review – How to Hang a Witch

A haunting book about…ghosts! and witches. (rated 4/5)

This is a review of How to Hang a Witch by Adriana Mather – yes, one of those Mathers. It was released July 26, 2016 by Knopf. I read the whole thing in one night in about 5 hours, which is a kind of review in itself.

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How to Hang a Witch is the story of Samantha Mather, a descendant of Cotton Mather – the man considered to be one of the key instigators in the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. By unfortunate circumstance, Samantha is forced to move to Salem with her stepmom – a town she’s never been to despite having an ancestral home and family history there. Samantha has also spent most of her life dogged by bad luck and existing in social isolation. Things don’t change much once she starts school in Salem and meets the Descendants – the children descended from the people hanged in the original trials; on top of that, she’s seeing a ghost and her bad luck is worse than ever. Digging through her family history, her grandmother’s journals, and even finding a way to reach out to the Descendants, Samantha realizes there is more than just a metaphorical curse on the town. The curse is real, and deadly. Samantha knows she needs to break the curse, she just needs to piece together her family’s history to save their future. With the help of actual ghost Elijah, living boy-next-door Jaxon, and Jaxon’s mother, she might just save Salem.

I came by this book in a rather interesting way. And it involves Harry Potter.

On July 31, 2016 I, like many of my fellow Potterheads, was at a store for the midnight release of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. When you have an hour and a half to hang out in a bookstore, you have to be judicious in which books you choose to buy or you walk out broke. I actually did not buy HP and the CC in the store that night as I had already pre-ordered it, I was mostly there to hang out with my friend.

I saw How to Hang a Witch and was immediately intrigued, even more so when I saw that the author shared a last name with one of the more infamous people involved in the Salem Witch Trials. I went right to Mather’s bio on the back flap and when I learned she was an actual descendant of Cotton Mather, my interest was piqued before I’d even read the summary. A lot of people can sympathize with feeling like you have to live up to your last name or your family history, but being a Mather is quite a weight. I did not end up buying How to Hang a Witch that night, but the title and the concept followed me. I was haunted by the book before I even read it. I did buy other books that night, but I don’t regret not picking up this one.

Because of How to Hang a Witch and Adriana Mather, I joined the local library in my new town. My husband and I have only been living here a few months, and when I saw the library had this on its shelves, it was the sign I needed that it was time to hit the library. Libraries are amazing resources in our communities and supporting them is essential to increasing literacy, education, and community engagement. If you aren’t a member of your local library, I suggest joining ASAP. There are so many activities going on that allow you to meet new people and fellow book lovers.

So last night I went to the library, got the book, and started reading immediately. I started at about 7:00pm and finished just before midnight. It was worth being sleepy today to read this book in a giant gulp.

First and foremost, Samantha is likable and real. While she acknowledges she’s sarcastic, she’s also sympathetic. Few people in her life are nice to her, she’s been bullied by her peers and adults alike, and her parental support is nil or questionable; she’s hesitant to trust anyone and it’s clear with few flashbacks or much explanation that she has been deeply hurt by the people around her. And in spite of that, she’s hopeful and kind at her core. Samantha wants to do the right thing regardless of what that means for her. Unlike many of the other characters in the story, she’s deeply horrified by the Witch Trials, rather than fascinated or amused. The more she researches the persecution and falsity of the trials themselves, the more her true character is revealed. She sees that not much has changed from 1692 to today. I was a bit concerned when Mather wrote Samantha as klutzy, but was relieved when her lack of coordination did not render her incapable, or constantly in need of saving.

All of the characters are fairly well rounded and layered – except for a few very minor characters, I feel like I know more than just the surface level about the majority of them. I know what makes them tick, why they hurt, and what they are capable of for good or evil. At the start of the story, Samantha’s mother is dead and her father is absent (spoilers!) and yet I feel that I knew them.

The story itself has some genuinely, skin-creeping, spine-tingling scares and I knew it was one of those books I needed to finish in a sitting or I’d have scary dreams (that is definitely a compliment.) It’s not a happy story, and it explores some of the darkest parts of human nature. This is absolutely a story about humanity’s darkness, as well as a story about what it takes to overcome it.

The theme and the resolution gets a little jumbled toward the end – I won’t share any spoilers, but I will say that it got a bit messy when Samantha was trying to figure out messages from her ancestor and what it took to break the curse. I wasn’t sure where the story was going at that point, but I was satisfied in the end. While you see one of the bigger twists coming when you get close – a moment that kind of reminded me of the Beldam in Neil Gaiman’s Coraline – it did not go quite as I expected, and stayed very much true to the core messages of kindness and love in a way not many YA books with this much action would.

There’s a lot of complaining at the moment about the habit of YA love triangles, and I won’t deny How to Hang a Witch has the general shape of a triangle when it comes to romance. However, the love triangle is ultimately a subplot, and it’s not hard to figure out that one side of the triangle isn’t really a side. Samantha spends little page time thinking about her relationships or romantic feelings –  like a true, well-rounded human, she has bigger fish to fry  (or should I say, witches to hang?) than her relationship status.

Ultimately, I give How to Hang a Witch 4/5 for the excellent characters, atmospheric and relevant story, but one star off for the slightly jumbled ending. It’s a scary, emotional ride and would be a PERFECT book for the month of October. This is definitely a new ghost in my mental bookshelf, and I will be recommending it to others.