Tuesday, December 22, 2020

CINDERELLA IS DEAD by Kalynn Bayron

 


Rating: A slipper that you thought was Swarovski crystal but which turned out to be from Hot Topic. (AKA, Acceptable but a little disappointing)

Would you read more from this author? Possibly.

Summary: A sixteen-year-old battles sexism, men seeking child brides, and evil two hundred years after the death of Cinderella.


The strong point of this novel is its setting. In this world, Cinderella is an idolized though dead queen. You know her story as it's told in this land already: a hardworking and deserving young woman attends a ball with the help of a fairy grandmother and catches the eye and heart of the crown prince. In honor of this, a ball is held every year at which all the unmarried women between the ages of sixteen and nineteen, who are legally required to attend, will be leered at by any man who wants a young wife and possibly forced into wedlock. If a girl attends three Balls without being selected, she is instead forced into slavery. The importance of the Cinderella story in this world is comparable to that of the Bible in a conservative Christian society, with every family owning at least one high quality copy and young children being quizzed on it at every opportunity.

Clearly, there's a lot wrong with this government. Sophia, a young lesbian, not only questions the Ball and the appropriateness of horrid old men being able to point at a teenager and say, "Her. I want her!" but isn't even certain the historical account of Cinderella is accurate. Fairy godmothers? She's never seen any evidence of magic.

After fleeing her first Ball, Sophia meets, and is instantly attracted to, a descendant of Cinderella's beloved step-sister, who confirms that the story we've been told is a long way off the truth.

Cinderella's story is intriguing and has a lot of fascinating ideas in it. Sophia's story, I found less captivating though. The romantic arcs were lackluster, lacking depth and chemistry, and Sophia's main character trait is moralistic outrage. I honestly cared more about figuring out what happened two centuries ago than I cared about what was happening in the here-and-now.

I was sad not to connect more to this book. I found the themes too preachy and in-your-face while the characters lacked in complexity. To be fair, this is set in a fairy tale world, so maybe I should have been less annoyed at how basic the villains were, or how naive it was for the heroes to assume their society would be fixed by simply removing the monarch, or how over-the-top the bad elements of the portrayed society were. However, I found no subtlety in this book at all and felt more lectured at than entertained. Worse, I felt lectured about things I already feel are obvious truths, so it was in no way thought provoking.

The plot is reasonably paced outside of the romances and had a few interesting surprises, but without caring more about the characters involved it was hard for me to really be compelled by it. And the conclusion... Well, it ends like a fairy tale. That may actually be my favorite part of Sophia's story.

I don't regret reading this book. As I've said, I found the idea behind it to be a strong and interesting one. I just wish the execution had landed better for me.

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Below you'll find the notes I took as I read. Clearly, they contain major spoilers.

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Notes


1% Oh! A girl in love with a girl! Yay!

2% Setting seems ominous. Yay?

10% The Cinderella story to Bible parallels are kind of fun.

15% The sexism is taken to a level that seems really preachy. I think I would have liked a little more subtlety to it.

18% It does seem like marrying the guy that would make some amount of sense for both parties since being single is apparently not an option and marrying someone of your own gender is right out.

21% They have a religion other than Cinderellaism? It doesn't seem held in much regard.

23% To be fair to the men, we were told earlier they can only enter approved unions and many parents seem like they'd want their daughter at this event before agreeing to a proposal. So being there doesn't necessarily mean they like it. And at least the younger ones are unlikely to really understand what the girls are going through. Or maybe they're trying to help someone by saving her from someone abusive. I can see a lot of motives beyond them being irredeemably awful.

23% A town that only raises heirs sounds interesting in a terrifying way. I'm also intrigued that the king chooses his successor. Do they usually not have children, then? And what's up with Price Charming not remarrying after Cinderella died young? Was he gay or really that much in love with her? (Did she even die young? No one knows where she's buried so maybe she ran away with her girlfriend? How gay is this story?)

28% An old woman in the room they took Liv to? Is the king draining people's youth or something?

29% Could the crying woman be Cinderella, kept alive by magically draining other women? Or is it someone there to be drained?

45% You go, seamstress! "I would die to give even just one person the chance to be free from you."

60% Who is the boy in the picture?

63% If the witch didn't send for Charming, one does wonder how he knew to go to her. Also, hasn't she paid back her debt enough to be willing to kill him by now? But she didn't even try. Does she not want him dead or is she less powerful than has been implied?

66% I interpret the prophecy as being that Charming will drain Sophia's energy like he did to Liv. How to get around it and recover from it, I don't know.

72% Why does Sophia think women will suddenly have rights if the king dies? Is she really that lacking in basic understanding?

82% So stabbing the guy in the chest does nothing. Decapitation seems worth a shot. Even if he's still alive, it would be easy to steal his head and assume people won't continue to be ruled by his body. Fire also sounds promising. He saved the witch from being burned alive, didn't he? So maybe now she'll die making sure he burns to death? Would be poetic.

90% I would have maybe sent the journal with the escapees so that the public can read how horrible the king is. Although Sophia did skip pages so there may still be a clue in it

93% Like Constance, I feel silly for not connecting the boy in the portrait. I guess the witch will be dying to kill the king though. And possibly still through fire.

94% So I guess Amina was helping. She knew she'd die and didn't alter course. Maybe she really was sorry and really did like Sophia for some reason.

95% Ok, Even More Undead Charming is really disturbing.

95% And there's the fire!

98% The ending is nice. Realistic? No. The transition of power would be much harder and bloodier, and the resulting government might but be all that great. (Seems like a great opportunity for women to get revenge, v didn't it?) And not all of the bad people would be punished or the good people saved. But it's a fairy tale. It's not supposed to end realistically. So although I don't believe that the new government went into power with few hiccups and ruled fairly ever after, it's not like I believed the original Cinderella ending was realistic either. Realistic isn't the goal of a fairy tale ending. Idealism is. And it's good to see that a modern girl's idealism is now about equality and rights rather than marriage.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

OTHER WORDS FOR HOME by Jasmine Warga


Rating: An gorgeous and elegant head scarf with an order of balaclava

Summary: A young woman experiences the United States through Syrian eyes.

Would you read more from this author? Absolutely.

Sometimes when I read something, I tell myself, "Wow. This is what having something important to say looks like." It's humbling, because I know I will never be able to convey something this substantial. Will this book change the world? Probably not. But I think it may well change the outlooks of at least some of the people who read it, which is an amazing thing.

This outstanding story was told in verse, which tends to be a hit-or-miss format for me, and I'm pleased to report it hit this time. The simplicity of the poetry helped give some sense of English not being the narrator's first language without adding any awkwardness and it provided a certain amount of grace to her story.

Our narrator is a girl named Jude. She starts the story in her homeland, Syria, but then accompanies her pregnant mother to the United States to stay with family. Exactly what form of visa the pair are on is never discussed, possibly because asking a seventh grader to understand the differences between those is asking a lot of her, or possibly in order to not detract from the story with a conversation about whether the pair overstayed their approved time in Ohio. Likewise, it is mentioned that Jude's younger sibling is born an American, but the implications of that are left alone.

I'll admit that I started the book being in favor of increased and easier immigration, and also with a history of having lived in the Middle East that I fancy gives me a higher-than-average-for-an-American understanding people from the region that made it very easy for me to sympathize with Jude and her family. I think the story was written well enough that it could shift opinions to the positive for people who begin reading less certain than I was that allowing more Middle Eastern immigrants would be a good thing for the US to do. 

Parts of this book were physically painful for me to read. When someone as sweet, kind, and good-natured as Jude gets verbally abused for wearing a hijab, I would like to think it would be moving for all but the most heartless of humans. I already had names that I could associate with why Islamophobia is evil, but perhaps this book can give a name for others. In a story that was not tackling important issues of prejudice and discrimination, I would be tempted to say that Jude was a bit of a Mary Sue, but I think that worked well here as it served to prove that even the perfect example of a young woman will face hardships when she looks "other" and speaks with a foreign accent.

The people around Jude show more complexity. Her brother is a bit of a zealot, at odds with his parents for being at odds with both Syrian leadership and Syrian rebels, and although Jude comes close to worshiping him, her mother frequently tells her that his bravery often falls into foolishness. Jude's parents are seen only through their daughter's eyes, but show signs of depth, as do her uncle and aunt. Jude's cousin Sarah is one of the more interesting characters in the book, both longing not to stand out as different and wishing she knew more of her father's culture and could learn Arabic. Sarah has an interesting relationship with Jude, in regards to whom she shows a wide range of emotions. Jude also forms relationships with new American-born friends and with fellow immigrants in her English as a Second Language class.

One of the big things this book left me feeling was temptation to go back to school to gain certification as an ESL teacher, although with my location I'd need to become an online one. The ESL teacher in the book demonstrated the career as a good way to make people feel more welcome and at home in my country, which is something I strive to do whenever presented with the opportunity. I feel that if I had read this story while I was in the target age group, it may well have pointed me in that direction when deciding what to do after high school.

Overall, I really loved this book. I've said a lot about the messages in it, but don't want to leave the impression that it is at all preachy or heavy handed. It isn't. The story is enjoyable and the writing has a fluidity that draws the reader in from the very start. That the story also has such substantially worthy morals is almost bonus material. I highly recommend this to anyone wanting to read about the immigrant experience in the modern US or looking for something to influence young people toward tolerance without lecturing them.

Monday, June 15, 2020

HIGHFIRE by Eoin Colfer


Rating: A pile of awesome t-shirts, a case of vodka, and some excellent shrimp creole.

Summary: A dragon comes into conflict with a corrupt cop in the Louisiana Bayou.

Would you read more from this author? This was not my first Colfer book, nor shall it be my last.


Eoin Colfer has described his Artemis Fowl series as Die Hard with faeries. You could call this book Die Hard with a dragon and not be terribly far off. In fact, now that I've written that I realize that the dragon's voice in my head sounded a heck of a lot like Bruce Willis.

Wyvern Highfire was once a dragon lord. But then the humans killed off most his species and he went into hiding. Now, he hangs out on the Bayou drinking vodka, watching reality TV, and commanding the local alligators. He can't exactly pop into town to do his own shopping, so he needs a servant. His current one is about to be absent for a few months, so Vern needs a stand-in. This fact is about the save the life of a human who discovers his existence.

Squib is a Creole teenager. He has a history of conflict with the local constable that's complicated by the fact the constable really wants in his mom's pants. Squib runs a collection of odd jobs trying to help his mom pay the bills and get out of the debt her ex left her in. He's never had a boss like his new one though: Vern the dragon.

Meanwhile, Constable Hooke is a cop who is in service to a New Orleans drug lord, but is just biding his time until he can overthrow his boss and become the crime king of the area himself. But when he kills a man for the crime lord and realizes someone witnessed the act, his plans get accelerated.

This book reads a lot like something from Carl Hiaasen, except it's in Louisiana instead of Florida and there's a dragon in it. It's a great story about a shady loner who grows to care about someone other than himself while fighting against an immoral and murderous law enforcement officer, but told in a way that is more humorous than melodramatic.

This book is billed as an adult fantasy, I think because it has a lot of cursing and violence. I don't think it's a bad choice for older fans of YA though. While many of the scenes don't involve the teenager Squib directly, he is the driving force behind the book and it has common YA themes of self-discovery, the importance of friendship, and developing a willingness to fight for what you care about. Although, to be fair, it is the centuries old dragon who does most of the growing around those themes.

This book is hilarious. There was plenty of excitement, but also plenty of heart. This book has characters you don't always like but do care about, even if it's only caring to see them get demolished. All in all, I loved this book and highly recommend it to people who enjoy dark comedy, action stories, or dragons.


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Below you'll find the notes I took as I read. Clearly, they contain major spoilers.

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Notes

3% The dragon is tempted to screw alligators because there aren't any other dragons. But he worries aren't enough to truly consent. I think like this dragon.

10% The dragon just took his Flashdance t-shirt prior to leaving the dwelling, presumably to murder the dirty cop blowing up explosives nearby.

20% I hope Squib's mama is smart enough not to get tender toward a jerk just because he showed up half dead. She's a nurse, so she should be immune to that, but you never know. 

22% Marked for death by a dragon. That is not an ideal situation to be in.

24% I know this version of mogwai is the folklorically correct one, but I just keep seeing Gizmo when I read that word.

31% I'm pretty sure they're not telling the truth the fatality of dragon breath. I would when that will come out.

45% Usually, an attempted suicide would be triggering for me. This one wasn't though. Not certain why. Maybe because of how detached it was.

60% Constable Asshole is writing a check his ass can't cash picking a fight with Vern.

71% This rescue sequence is remarkably sweet for what is fundamentally a series of murders.

86% Some of this is really gory.

92% Hooke eaten by alligators is less satisfactory than i would have thought.

99% Nice ending. I hope Vern finds other dragons, but if not at least he has humans to care about.

Friday, May 22, 2020

I COME WITH KNIVES by SA Hunt


Rating: A studded baseball bat to fight off monsters.

Summary: Things ramp up in the fight against evil in the continuation of the story begun in Burn The Dark as Robin and her friends make new allies to fight old enemies.

Would you read more from this author? Absolutely.


This is a direct conclusion to the installment before it and probably wouldn't make much sense if you haven't read the first book. If you have read the first book, though, you'll want to get your hands on this as soon as you can. Its publication is currently slated as July 21st, 2020. I was lucky enough to receive an advanced copy.

In my review of Burn the Dark I mentioned that it felt more paranormal than horror. Whelp, that is not at all true of Book 2. This book ups the gore, the violence, and the evil, making it generally more disturbing than the first half of the tale.

The full cast of the first book is back, although Wayne's friends see much less page time in this episode. I was glad that I really got to know these folks earlier, because they don't get built on much before everything goes pear-shaped and they're fighting not just for their lives but for an entire town of possessed people.

The returning cast shows a lot of growth from the gauntlet of trauma they must power their way through. Joel in particular made me feel like he was someone I knew and was proud of, but they all go up against massive obstacles that really test their grit, determination, and bravery.

The witches are less sympathetic than I found them in Book One and more outright evil. They're done with playing nice and being civil; they're ready to burn the town to the ground and destroy every living soul in it if it means defeating Robin.

There are some new characters in this book. At the end of Book One, Robin's mentor, Heinrich, arrived. I'm not sure if he's not as fleshed out as the earlier characters or if I just didn't like him as much. He makes a lot of bad choices, choices abysmal enough that I'm not sure how he stayed alive to be in this book, let alone taught Robin much of anything. He does a good job of showing the importance of not succumbing to hubris though and I think that his fate serves as a very valuable lesson to Robin.

We also meet the Dogs of Odysseus, a group of magic users who appear to be on the side of good, although I get the feeling that's mostly because it's convenient right now. They are interesting. Although I feel I didn't get to know the representatives of the group very well, I was certainly intrigued by them. There's some promise that they'll be relevant again in later books and this makes me very happy.
The action here is fast paced and seldom receding. If I were to make one complaint against this book, it would actually be that there is too much action. It begins dialed up to eleven, so where is there to go? The book starts out with a punch and never stops hitting, which means I never really got to process what was happening. It also had the odd effect of meaning I could put the book down, walk away, and not be drawn back because it was just too intense the whole way through and it kind of exhausted me. I'm pretty sure this is a personal problem for me as a reader and am absolutely certain that for a lot of readers, the nonstop adrenaline will be a major draw.

The ending is very solid. There's an indication of the direction Robin is heading in next, but it's not a cliffhanger that way Burn the Dark was. If this were the end of a duology and I didn't know there was going to be a continued series, I would have found it a satisfying place to stop. That said, I am looking forward to seeing what happens next.

This is hands down a good book. It is also definitely not the type of book I usually read. What they did to those poor cats will haunt me for a long time. But I am glad that I read it and will be buying the next one when it's published. I received the copy I read as an ARC so that I could review it. I don't at all regret that come publication time the copy I preordered will arrive and expect that my husband will really enjoy learning the rest of the story when Book 3 drops this autumn.

I Come With Knives was meant to be published already. It has been delayed by the global COVID-19 pandemic and is currently slated to be released on July 21st. You can preorder it wherever you like to buy books and they'll get it to you when it's available even if that date shifts again. I encourage you to go ahead and do that should you buy the first book because when that ends, you'll want to know that the rest is coming soon.


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Below you'll find the notes I took as I read. Clearly, they contain major spoilers.

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Notes

5% I'm not really sure why Robin's mom  is lying rather than telling her about everything. It seems obvious Robin isn't going to drop it and I'd think she'd be safer knowing what's happening. I guess she's just really used to the idea that it MUST all be a secret.

7% Alright. The cops have found the crime scene! Guess they'll be believing Joel now. I mean, looks like this officer might be getting killed, but people will have known he was going there. Of course, the cops seems corrupt in the first book, so who knowsif anything will.come of this. It's actually a bit odd anyone went out there.

13% Yeah, I'm pretty sure the "when you were a baby" part is wrong.

17% Interesting that Roy didn't kill Deliliah. I guess he figures she's too terrified to tell on him? Or he didn't realize she saw the dead body?

21% Ok, so at least one of the cops is corrupt.

27% Of, Leon...

28% Lost to dagger. Got his ass kicked. Looks like he's gonna die. I'm pretty disappointed with Heinrich. Although I think there's a decent chance of Roy dying, at least.

31% Okay. This is completely disgusting. I'm having trouble breathing right.

31% Finally confirmed Robin's half demon.

36% I am traumatized by what just happened to the cat. This book is definitely more gorey than the first.

37% So Big Red was not the gardener but a different redheaded serial killer?

39% All those poor kitties. :(

41% Did no one tell Kenway to draw runes? :(

42% So people can be released from the cats without dying. That's good.

42% Oh. It seems Kenway is dead anyway. :(

43% Nope! Kenway's alive! Yay!

45% Ah, okay, the redheads are identical. Twins? Doppelgangers?

46% Oh, Fish... I don't think he's miraculously surviving that.

49% Lol. Yeah, I've been there with voice recognition not know what the hell I'm saying even though people don't act like I have a speech impediment.

56% Word tentacle is weird. Is her arm trying to grow back or is this a parasite?

62% So if a section of powerline is banished from reality, what does that do to the power grid?

66% Really digging this demon appendage.

68% Hmmm... Why was Gez at the quary?

74% Glad I'm not phobic of spiders.

76% Reenacted the Crucification. Damn...

80% Little Bunny Foo Foo. ROFL.

83% That was pretty.

84% It kinda feels like the book is over right now.

85% Interesting that CPS let Wayne stay with nonrelatives instead of putting him in a foster home. When the school decides he's truant, is expect that to change. (I would assume the cops would tell CPS when a single parent is reported missing.)

89% Ok, action is turned back on again.

93% Dissolving the matron's illusion was awesome.

94% Wayne's mama isn't dead! I did not suspect that.

95% They drove to Alaska? I shudder to think what that cost in gas.

95% Ghost Annie. Cool.

96% THE END

I like the solidity of the ending. And I like that the hunting life goes on. I look forward to Book 3

Thursday, May 21, 2020

BURN THE DARK by S.A. Hunt


Rating: A delightful chill from a scary campfire story.

Summary: A kickass woman named Robin has a hit YouTube channel featuring chest-cam coverage of her hunting down evil and extinguishing it. Unknown to most of her viewers, this isn't fiction but her real life. When she returns to her hometown, she teams up with a fabulous pizza boy, a war veteran, and the young son of the new school teacher to try to kill the witches who stole her mother from her.

Would you read more from this author? Absolutely. (In fact, I have! See tomorrow's review to see how I like the sequel to this novel.)


First off, a disclaimer. I know S. A. Hunt online and think she is pretty much one of the most awesome people out there. I say this both to be honest and to explain why I picked up an adult horror novel. (Bought a signed copy of it even!)

That said, I'm absolutely confident I would have enjoyed this book even if I'd never heard of the author before. When I read her Outlaw King Series (not reviewed here, but I've been meaning to reread it and write about it) I saw a very obvious influence from Stephen King. That's here too. But beyond that, I consider Hunt's writing to be of comparable quality to the esteemed Mr King.

This is the first book in a series, but I feel it could also be labeled as the first book in a duology. Malus Domestica Books 1 & 2 form a complete story with a solid ending even though Burn the Dark Alone does not. My main criticism of Burn the Dark is that it ends with a cliffhanger. But the second book was set to be released a few months later, so this didn't bother me too much. The release date of the second book has been delayed by COVID-19, but you should still be able to get your hands on it this summer. (I actually scored an ARC thanks to this humble little blog. That alone justifies writing reviews.)

The cast of this novel is amazing. Robin can be arrogant and rash, but she is nevertheless highly likable and easy to pull for. (The arrogance comes from insecurity and the rashness from passion.) She has a complicated history and a lot of potential for the future. I think I'm really going to enjoy reading more stories about her. And her plush mosquito, Mr Nosey. (I HAVE to love a woman who can kill with her bare hands yet travels with a plush animal. And I may need to crochet a plush mosquito in Mr Nosey's honor.)

Robin's childhood friend Joel (pronounced Jo-elle) is remarkably fun. Although he did remind me a little much of Lafayette from True Blood when we first meet him, he soon became his own person. He also has a complicated past and personality, and as a gay man of color in rural Georgia his life is not an easy one. Over the two books, I think he's the character who shows the most growth.

Kenway is a remarkably believable combat veteran, which is a category of person I frequently find poorly written. I suspect this is because Hunt herself falls under this heading. Kenway is also an artist, which I felt was an interesting combination. He's a strong male who probably deserves the label alpha, but he is consistently compassionate and concerned with helping others. When Robin starts to develop a romantic relationship with him, it's very easy to understand what she sees in the guy.

One interesting thing in this book is the existence of Wayne. He and his friends give off a Stranger Things vibe that seemed to me like something we could have seen from Stephen King. He and his dad, Leon, have just moved into Robin's old house, right across the street from the villains of our tale. Wayne's relationship to the evil witches is really fascinating and it's a lot like Robin's used to be when she was a kid. To children, they seem like nice old ladies. In fact, Robin once believed one of them was her actual grandmother. Wayne doesn't exactly disbelieve Robin that the ladies are evil, but he has trouble reconciling that idea with what he's witnessed of them.

The villains are as complex and intriguing as everyone else. They're witches. It's made very clear that Robin has no problem with the common neo-pagan type of witch we see in the real world and that these witches are something else entirely. They were human once, but it's fair to say that aren't now. And they go around doing things like turning people into trees, then watering the tree's roots with the blood of murder victims. In fact, they have to do this, because the fruit of such trees is what makes them immortal. These ladies though... They seriously border on likable. They go for chapters making the reader go, "Well, they don't seem so bad..." and then -bam!- murdered children or some such. Their ability to garner sympathy is probably the most terrifying thing about them.

The plot is compelling and the style of writing is highly engaging. Although when I gave the book to my husband, he said it felt a lot like reading something I had written, so I may be biased on the issue even though I personally didn't really see what he meant. He also reported enjoying the book, but didn't give a detailed critique of it. I didn't let him see the ARC of Book 2, so he's going to have to wait for the copy I preordered to show up to see what happens next.

Although this series is horror, I felt Burn the Dark was more in the paranormal camp and would compare it to Supernatural. However, I will tell you that you need to be okay with horror levels of gore if you're going to read the second book.

Tomorrow, I'll tell you what I thought of the continuation.


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Below you'll find the notes I took as I read. Clearly, they contain major spoilers.

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Notes

5% A plush mosquito who's seen better days. I like that our kick-ass witch hunter owns this.

7% I like Joel, but feel he should hyphenate his name if he wants people to say Joe-elle. Also... He seems more like a "they" to me, but it's not my business to gender other people.

9% I want to live in a copula! Although I also really need to NOT have a spiral staircase between me and the bathroom at night...

13% Hey, black Monte Carlo. Nice.

25% Okay, evil thing in the bathroom was creepy.

37% Vomited a cat. Oh... Ugh. That is just gross.

38% I appreciate that good witches are a thing.

46% Hmmm ... Something powerful enough to scare the elder witches... I'm suddenly wondering if that thing following Robin around actually means her harm or if it could be protecting her.

51% I was not expecting a giant clown face in the middle of the woods. The kids are right; that is creepy. I wonder what a rollercoaster car is doing or there ... Abandoned amusement park. Cool. (Is the monster really just the grumpy old man who ran the place in a mask? Probably not...)

53% Ah, shit. That was a copperhead, wasn't it? Bit by a copperhead is some bad business.

57% Drugged by a tender hookup. Also bad business. (And was that the gardener? I can't remember his name, but he's tall and red headed and dresses like that...)

68% Ok, that illusion was gross.

69% If I were in Joel's situation, I don't my think I'd go get my car without a cop... Although I guess he is taking a combat vet and a witch slayer. That might actually be better. ... Also, he says the guy doesn't know where he lives but seems to have forgotten that the guy DOES know where he works.

74% Saying that Wiccans worship Hecate seems a hair misleading. She is sometimes invoked as an aspect of the Lady, but she's not a primary focus. And, of course, saying neopagans worship someone should ALWAYS have the word "some" before neopagans because "neopagan" an umbrella term.

77% They are going to take a cop to get the car. Good call.

85% Hmm... Maybe Wayne's mom was a different sort of witch? Something Asian that gets its powers in a different way? (Not sure what all this about Chinatown is. Her name is Japanese... As are yokai, although those could be a concept Japan got from China centuries ago. And in a lot of cities, Chinatown is just generically Asian.)

91% So Robin's biological father is a demon? Interesting.

95% THE END
Very abrupt. Very much leading straight into the second book.

Monday, March 23, 2020

PROMISED BY PROM by Jessica Bucher and M.F. Lorson



Rating: A cozy sweatshirt with your high school mascot on it

Summary: Nora's goal for spring her senior year is to find a serious romantic relationship by the end of the year so that she'll be less upset her friends are going to college in other places and she isn't. And to not be distracted by her friend's brother, because he's off limits.

Would you read more from these authors? Absolutely.

This is the third of the Squad Goals series, and my favorite. It ties everything up in a way that had me misty eyed, leaving me feeling like my actual friends were about to separate and go on adventures apart from each other. It's pretty amazing how much I grew to care about these kids over the course of the series.

Like the first two books, Hot by Halloween and Nerdy by New YearPromised by Prom focuses on a group goal. In this case, Nora wants a serious boyfriend by the end of the year in hopes it will make her feel more like she has a local life when her friends leave for college. So she decides to find some guys who aren't leaving town and go on some dates.

Meanwhile. Max is the brother of one of Nora's squadmates. This puts him off limits, although he doesn't want to be and although he's a year behind them in school and planning on going to the same community college as Nora rather directly into a four-year university and thus will be in town for several years. And he doesn't like this goal at all, which he knows about because he snooped in the book they write it all down in a few novels ago when his sister had it. He's always been the amusingly goofy younger brother of her friend, but he's a friend of Nora in his own right, too. It will have been obvious for some time to readers of the series that the two belong together, and Max is aware of it from the start. But Max knows he can't force Nora's heart, so he watches her go on a series of dates and comforts her after the ones that go all wrong.

Nora likes Max. A lot. But she's never considered dating him for two reasons: 1) She thinks his sister will flip and 2) she thinks he's a bit of aplayer. She's actually right about the first one. But it's quickly apparent to the reader that the reason Max has a string of casual relationships that he cuts off the second he gets the impression the girl is getting attached to him is because he's been in love with Nora for years. He's not sure how to explain that to her without freaking her out though.

The shifting relationship between Max and Nora is incredibly sweet, extremely tender, and sometimes heartbreaking. It's one of those books where you're pretty sure the couple will end up together, but it still hurts to see them make choices that keep them apart.

The resolution is a happy one, although it was also bittersweet. There's a gathering in one of the closing scenes where Nora watches her friends and their boyfriends reflecting that this may be the last time they're all together. And she's right. No matter what, they're unlikely to ever be as close as they are in that scene again.

The book concludes with the Squad Goals notebook being handed to a younger sister who is told to form her own squad and continue the tradition. I hope she does. Maybe if we're lucky we'll even get to read about it.

This book is a great entry in the fields of friendship-to-romance and forbidden-partners-romance. It also also concludes a fantastic series about positive female friendships. I highly recommend readers start with the first in the series and read all the way through for the fullest impact.


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Below you'll find the notes I took as I read. Clearly, they contain major spoilers.

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Notes

6% Well, yeah, Max, you could try to make the goal go away. Or you could just make sure it applies to you, you doof.

10% Now you're on the right track, Max.
Also, I'm loving the dynamic Gray and Simon have developed.

11% I know someone who likes your weird, Nora...

12% Max is coming really close to being honest with Nora already. And she clearly likes him, even though she doesn't seem to know it. What would happen if he followed Simon's advice and just talked to her?

16% Hah. Kid sister Nina knows the score.

23% But WHY haven't you considered dating Max, you silly person? .... Apparently it's 100% that Addy would freak. Well, Addy can get over that.

27% Ok, and she thinks Max is a player. Which I guess makes sense as she doesn't know why he hasn't been serious with any of these other girls.

31% He's totally not wrong that a date should be as easy as hanging out with a friend. He was also right that she didn't actually need rescue in this case. She really was free to drive home.

33% A more astute girl might wonder why Max remembers the guys she's gone out with better than she does... Ah, there we go. "I had no idea you were paying such close attention."

38% lol. Even Nora's dad knows. Daaaamn.

42% There are a lot more typos in this book than the others. Did they fire their editor?

44% He's going to confess his feelings this weekend... But we're only at 44%, so... It may not go well. If it happens. Or it does happen and go well but then Addy is a problem...

45% Sharing a tent... That... Makes things more complicated, doesn't it? There's nowhere to go if you get shot down. So, yeah, it definitely needs to wait until the end of the festival. Which could make the ride home awkward... Maybe this weekend isn't a good idea.

47% Why doesn't Nora want Max to say he loves her? She's looking for a serious relationship, so it's not that that's too much. I guess she's just scared. It is a scary place to be.

50% um... Not to stereotype, but "Mr Perfect" works in a dress shop and knows what was worn by whom to which awards show. Why are people assuming he's straight?

52% Ah. It's his mom's store. That reads slightly less gay, I guess. But, still...

53% Andrew doesn't make her feel anything. So, yeah, friend material only even if he isn't gay.

59% Yeah, Nora really didn't handle that very well. Poor Max.

60% I like the Avett Brothers a lot, but wouldn't pick them to cheer me up if my heart was breaking. I am really sad for Max.

60% I guess Andrew is straight. Go figure.

65% I'm guessing that expression was Addy realizing she's messed up trying to keep Max and Nora apart.

83% Addy called in the strawberry shake. :)

87% Oh, my gosh! That scene was so sweet!

93% Wait, I am confused. It's been 90 days since prom and graduation is next weekend? Who has prom that early???

94% I'm sad about Gray going to school in California. That's going to suck.

95% Max is friends with Andrew now. Nice. The guy really is likable.

96% Dammit, I'm crying. Talk about bittersweet.

98% And the squad goals are passed on... The End.

I'm happy for Max and Nora. I think they have a good shot at being permanent. I'm unsure about Gray and Addy. Going to school in different time zones is going to really strain their relationship, so Nora may have been right that the party was the last time all six of them would be together. But I guess most people don't marry their high school loves even if I did, and most people seem to thinking picking schools without taking your significant other into account is reasonable.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

NERDY BY NEW YEAR by Jessica Bucher and M.F. Lorson


Rating: A glass of sparkling non-alcoholic cider

Summary: Years ago, Lucy betrayed her best friend Simon and they've hardly spoken since. Her goal this fall: make things up to him and regain his friendship.

Would you read more from this series? I have, in fact, already read the entire thing. :)

This is the second in the Squad Goal series. Like the first, Hot By Halloween, it features a trio of friends coming together to help one of them with a life goal. In this case, we're working on Lucy's goal to regain the trust of her once-best-friend Simon after two years of estrangement. This involves joining the service club he leads and making an effort to show that she can be nerdy. (Or geeky as I prefer to think of it.) Losing Simon has haunted her their entire separation and she's willing to do anything to get him back. Either as a friend, or as she suddenly realizes she'd like, as a boyfriend.

Having read the description of this book, I started out thinking Lucy was going to be a mean girl. She wasn't though. Not at all. In fact, she's very nice to everyone and is popular because she's likable rather than because she's worked the system and made people afraid of her. Her concern for the birds at the rescue she starts working at midway through the book is beautiful. And the betrayal of Simon from years ago wound up being something that it seems like they could have resolved back then if they hadn't had the instinct to avoid each other. It was a mistake more than a calculated action, a matter of trusting someone she shouldn't have and then not knowing how to properly resolve the problem.

Simon was also easy to cheer for. His main issue is that he hide from conflicts rather than resolving them, so when his best friend hurt him at the start of their sophomore year, his response was to not talk to her for for two years. It's an interesting contrast to the fact that he heads the school service club, working hard to solve problems that his peers too frequently ignore. But I suppose he isn't the first person to find it easier to wear yourself out cleaning up riverbanks and helping charities than it is to make yourself emotionally vulnerable with the people you care about.

Both Lucy and Simon grow over the course of the story. When it looks like the same thing that originally tore them apart is happening again, they initially react the same way, but quickly realize what doing that before cost them and work to resolve their problem without losing each other again.

Once again, the Squad is an important element with Lucy's friends and her younger brother (who isn't Squad, but is somewhat Squad-adjacent) playing strong roles. The girls really go the distance in this one, even when it means doing humiliating and embarrassing things in front of the entire school. I continue to love the degree to which they have each other's backs.

This book is a good stand-alone and can be read without the other two in the series. In fact, it was the first one I read. The entire series is worth reading though, and it would be better to read them in order. I recommend this novel for  fans of cute teenage rom-coms and the series is excellent for those wanting to see positive female friendships in action.


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Below you'll find the notes I took as I read. Clearly, they contain major spoilers.

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Notes

1% I'm with her on goals. Everyone talks about how important they are and that having them is actually more important than meeting them, but it's depressing how often I fail to reach them.

2% Okay, so her friends are mean TO HER. They must be horrid to everyone in general. Lucy probably is to, but she has already said she feels bad about her ex, so she seems more redeemable. And possibly not so bad. She may just go along with the bitchy rather than actively contributing, which, of course, reminds me of Rina and makes me think she could be okay.

3% Now they don't seem so mean. And they like making amends as a goal. So maybe they aren't awful?

4% Yeah, I definitely relate to Lucy's mom.

17% I haven't figured out what "the incident" was, other than something so bad that best friends stopped speaking to each other for years. I like that Lucy thinks she deserves to feel weird but wishes that Simon didn't have to as well.

20% Wow. Trevor is an asshole. I'm not sure he deserved an apology.

40% Things seem to be progressing really well. They both are aware they're into the other. Is it really going to take another 60% of book for them to realize it's mutual or is something going to mess things up? Asshole Trevor maybe?

 60% Nice first kiss. Read it twice. Still wondering what is going  to provide a challenge for the rest of the book though.

67% Is the obstacle to overcome in the closing third going to be the pneumonia Lucy catches wearing something with spaghetti straps to a rooftop New Year's Eve party?

71% Yep, Trevor strikes.

80% The text says Simon pointed to start the playback, but I think it was probably Max...

85% Owl? I thought that it was a hawk.

86% It is a hawk.

THE END
Very sweet. I am happy. I'm going to read the other two. It'll be a challenge to read the first one though. I want to jump into the third.