Bites

Pub Date: October 10, 2017
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Author: Website
Info: Goodreads

Here is a thing everyone wants:
A miracle.

Here is a thing everyone fears:
What it takes to get one.

Any visitor to Bicho Raro, Colorado is likely to find a landscape of dark saints, forbidden love, scientific dreams, miracle-mad owls, estranged affections, one or two orphans, and a sky full of watchful desert stars.

At the heart of this place you will find the Soria family, who all have the ability to perform unusual miracles. And at the heart of this family are three cousins longing to change its future: Beatriz, the girl without feelings, who wants only to be free to examine her thoughts; Daniel, the Saint of Bicho Raro, who performs miracles for everyone but himself; and Joaquin, who spends his nights running a renegade radio station under the name Diablo Diablo.

They are all looking for a miracle. But the miracles of Bicho Raro are never quite what you expect. (goodreads.com)

Here’s the thing: I have kind of a love/hate relationship with Maggie’s writing. I HATED the Lament series and as a result didn’t even attempt The Wolves of Mercy Falls series. I read THE SCORPIO RACES and thought it was pretty good. I no (haven’t read the last one yet). And now we get to ALL THE CROOKED SAINTS.

Meh.

I feel like this was a book where the publisher was like, Maggie write a book because you word good. And Maggie gave them a book with words and they published it. I didn’t think it was necessarily overwritten. I did like the fairy tale-esque sort of style she was going for. But I felt it was really rambly in a trying-to-be-quirky sort of way that I really wasn’t digging. This felt like sort of an experiment she was trying and for me it didn’t quite click.

All those rambly, dangly loose ends do end up tied up at the end, and rather nicely. Everything felt far less rambly and random and scatterbrained at the end and I actually rather liked the end. Just not thrilled with the road she took to get there.

I liked the world she developed so close to my own home (Arizona, this story is set in southern Colorado) so I felt pretty rooted in the setting itself. I liked the sort of magical realism she dabbled in with the miracles and the process through which people have to go through in order to come out the other side of them. I just didn’t feel all that connected to any individual character because she kept hopping all over the place to tell everyone’s stories.

It’s a whimsical story in its darkness and light, but for me it was read from a distance. I didn’t feel invested in anything. But that’s the trouble with fairy tales, isn’t it? Personally I think they’re a gamble in that you can tell a tale that either sucks a reader in or leaves them at a distance. Then again that’s really true of any writing. But doubly true to these kinds of tales.

Maggie paints a good scene. She’s descriptive in ALL THE CROOKED SAINTS without being overwritten. I just didn’t connect with the particular style she was going for. Didn’t love it; didn’t hate it. Just kind of meh. I look forward to her Ronan books though. Absolutely.

3.5

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

August 15, 2017

Published: November 1, 2016
Publisher: Ace Books
Author: Website
Info: Goodreads

The RAGE tournaments the Virtual Gaming League’s elite competition where the best gamers in the world compete in a fight to the digital death. Every kill is broadcast to millions. Every player leads a life of ultimate fame, responsible only for entertaining the masses.

And though their weapons and armor are digital, the pain is real.

Chosen to be the first female captain in RAGE tournament history, Kali Ling is at the top of the world until one of her teammates overdoses. Now she s stuck trying to work with a hostile new teammate who s far more distracting than he should be.

Between internal tensions and external pressures, Kali is on the brink of breaking. To change her life, she ll need to change the game. And the only way to revolutionize an industry as shadowy as the VGL is to fight from the inside. (goodreads.com)

I’ll admit ARENA started a little slow for me. It’s not that I wasn’t enjoying it but I wasn’t engrossed in it either. Just kind of reading the words as words and getting myself from one end of the book to the other.

But once Kali’s issues really started developing, and Rooke came into play, that’s when things got good, in my opinion. It became less of a focus on these games that the group played in order to win some tournament (where there wasn’t a whole lot at stake a la Hunger Games, just contracts and prize money and fame) and focused more on the individual, the group dynamic, and bucking the system through peaceful protests. It all really grew on me the more Kali came into herself and broke out of her role within the Games.

I like the world that Jennings develops, especially since it’s not much different from the world we know today. It’s a relatable distance in the future where tech has changed enough that we have these immersive gaming arenas and virtual gaming is a televised sport (although the fact that the players can actually feel the things being inflicted on them is disturbing in a skirting-the-edges sort of way), but the rest of the world hasn’t changed all that much. It’s not this super-distant into the future look. Just a couple decades where Nintendo is still relevant in a nostalgic sort of way.

Kali is a great character that has to rocket herself over a ton of hurdles in order to get from one side of the book to another. She has a major event happen to her toward the beginning that rocks her world in a rather destructive way. Because of that she practically nose dives off a cliff before being dragged back over by the last person she thought would help her, and the last person whom she thought she’d learn anything from.

I like how the story, despite all of the technological advances in gaming, fell back on very old world philosophy in order to get the team through the Games. It was refreshing. As was Kali working through her issues. It bordered on a Lifetime movie sort of read where things fell into place a little too nicely and a little too neatly, but not so much that I couldn’t suspend my disbelief nor did I stop rooting for the characters. I was okay with some sweetness and the more I read the more I liked the message the book was sending.

If I say much more I’ll spoil things, but I liked it enough to add GAUNTLET, the next book in the series, to my want list. I want to see where Kali takes everything, especially after where she left it off at the end of ARENA. The book was different than what I thought I was getting. It just feels that it’s further in the future than it really is, but that really worked in its favor. Definitely worth a read for older YA and the NA crowd about a young woman trying to find out who she is and where she fits in on her own terms. Really enjoyable.

4

I received a copy of this book from the publisher through Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

August 5, 2017

Published: September 4, 2012
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Author: Website
Info: Goodreads

Down below, she was considered an adult. Now, topside in a town called Salvation, she’s a brat in need of training in the eyes of the townsfolk. She doesn’t fit in with the other girls: Deuce only knows how to fight.

To make matters worse, her Hunter partner, Fade, keeps Deuce at a distance. Her feelings for Fade haven’t changed, but he seems not to want her around anymore. Confused and lonely, she starts looking for a way out.

Deuce signs up to serve in the summer patrols—those who make sure the planters can work the fields without danger. It should be routine, but things have been changing on the surface, just as they did below ground. The Freaks have grown smarter. They’re watching. Waiting. Planning. The monsters don’t intend to let Salvation survive, and it may take a girl like Deuce to turn back the tide. (goodreads.com)

I had two major issues with this book and it looks like, based on re-reading my review of the first book, that I had the same, or at least similar, issues in that one too. But they’ve gotten a bit more pronounced.

Stalker. Rapist, cruel overlord of some gang of Peter Pan kids in the ruins before getting picked up by Deuce and Co. Abused the crap out of Tegan. Gets a pass because he was never taught otherwise. Former abused Tegan eventually comes around and sees things Deuce’s way about Stalker and she’s all like yeah, you’re right. He didn’t know better. I’ll start being nicer to my rapist.

No. No no no no no.

The reason is he did what he had to do in order to survive. Yeah . . . a lot of other people didn’t do anywhere near that and they survived just fine. There’s a line to be drawn between doing what needs to be done to survive and being a sadist. Stalker says he didn’t enjoy what he did. Yet he did it anyway. No. You just have to not be a psychopath to see that once you start hurting someone and that causes them pain, you stop.

Stalker didn’t have a choice. He did what he had to do in order to survive. No. He made active choices. He didn’t have to rape women in order to survive. As a leader he didn’t have to cultivate an environment of sadism and pain in order to survive. He chose that. Let’s not excuse that, shall we? I’m not above thinking that people can do some shitty things when put into certain situations. Hive mind is a thing, but most people aren’t killers for the sake of killing and even more people aren’t rapists. They weren’t on drugs. They were just themselves. Symbiotic relationships, sure. But those proclivities need to be there to begin with in order for them to manifest, especially when it comes to rapists. Stalker is a rapist. Period. And it really bothers me that Tegan was made to forgive him because he didn’t know any better. Not a fucking excuse.

And then there’s Deuce’s language. I wouldn’t otherwise have an issue with it if I wasn’t brow-beaten with the fact that there were so many words she didn’t know. She’s barely literate, can barely write, doesn’t know what hubris means, or adopted, or gas, or weeding, or irrigation. Yet she uses words like immutable, reticent, demonstrative, indolent, prepossessing, and statements like “gleaned their meaning from context.” Make up your fucking mind. Does she have the vocabulary of a college graduate or not? It was so incredibly annoying and such intense authorial insertion I wanted to throw the book. To the point where despite actually enjoying the story and character development I really don’t know if I can suffer another book with this level of inconsistency.

And one more minor thing: seems rather plot-serving to have farmland OUTSIDE of the gated community. No one thought of that? Ever? The original framers weren’t like hey, so why don’t we gate in larger swaths of land so we don’t have to deal with the flesh-eating zombies outside? And in the 100 years of its existence no one was ever like, you think we should extend these walls? It’s such an incredibly unnecessary risk I’m almost like you people kind of deserve to die for that level of stupidity. And the thing is they tried to be self-aware about that but the reasoning was so weak I just rolled my eyes at it. They never did it because it was too dangerous . . . uh . . . what? Does the town itself not exist? And you dunces have to go out there and farm every damn year for 100 years so far? Not much by the way of planners, are we?

Despite all of that, though, it’s actually a really good story. Remove Deuce’s inconsistent voice (and only in regard to that, actually) and the Stalker forgiveness, and the derps in the town, the story’s really good. The character development is really good. Deuce is so unapologetic in the way she fights, both humans and Freaks, that I love her for it. When she has to defend herself against human attackers there are no Hollywood moments of unnecessary conversation or posturing and no moments of conscience about killing and let me just really injure you and leave you here so you can serve the plot later and come back really pissed. Nope. Dude dead. And quick. No guilt, not nothing. He was a useless threat and she eliminated him. I love that about Deuce. I don’t love that she’s a rapist apologist, but you know. I guess you can’t have it all.

This is one of those series that if I came across the next book I’d probably read it just to see where it goes. Like I said, the story itself is actually really good and I think YA needs more hardcore, no bullshit characters like Deuce. But the issues I mentioned above are really pervasive and really huge where they really ruined my reading time here. And considering where OUTPOST ends and where it’s going, I’m really afraid for some Luke and Laura bullshit and I can’t take that (Google it if you don’t know what I’m talking about).

So I’m not going to completely cross it off my list, but I’m not going to go out of my way to read the next book either. If it happens it happens. If it doesn’t I won’t lose sleep over it.

3

Published: August 1, 2011
Publisher: Arthur A Levine Books
Author: Website
Info: Goodreads

Selene grew up in a palace on the Nile under parents Cleopatra and Mark Antony – the most brilliant, powerful rulers on earth. But when a cruel Roman Emperor takes the country and whisks the princess to Rome against her will. She finds herself torn between two young men and two possible destinies – until she reaches out to claim her own. (goodreads.com)

Whatever you do don’t read CLEOPATRA’S MOON and CLEOPATRA’S DAUGHTER by Michelle Moran too close together. They’re the same story. Luckily it’s been long enough since I’ve read the latter that I can’t remember details although I did remember some of the big details. For instance I knew how the story ended before I got there. Granted if you’re more familiar with the history you’ll know it already anyway. Two excellent authors writing the same story. Other than I loved the latter I won’t be comparing the two because I don’t remember enough detail.

That being said, CLEOPATRA’S MOON was excellent. Shecter did a fantastic job of inserting all of this historical information and making it a part of the story instead of piles of unnecessary information for the sake of having done the research. The world became its own character, weaving itself into the story and thriving around the characters themselves. I saw, smelt, and felt everything Shecter was writing.

The story itself was incredibly moving. It truly is heartbreaking watching what is rightly a child (although don’t tell her that) struggle to remember where she came from and grasping onto the last shreds of her life while being thrust into such terrifying unknown. And the ending, major historical event aside, was fantastic for Cleopatra Selene’s dawning realization. It was exactly what she needed. I certainly found myself tearing up in spots. Shecter has a knack for drawing feelings out of characters and making you feel every little bit of what they do. Little Ptolly. Ugh. My heart.

I loved how Cleopatra Selene fought for her mother’s and father’s memories every step of the way. She never let anyone sully her memory of her parents even when Augustus tried to drown out their excellence in his own smear campaign in order to make himself look better. It’s the author bucking against history too and I love it. History smeared Cleopatra into the dirt and the more books, fiction or non-fiction, that we can get that attempt to erase that craven vixen image the better.

If you want history to come to life before your eyes and read an excellent story with finely crafted characters while you’re at it, read CLEOPATRA’S MOON. You won’t want it to end.

5

Published: April 5, 2016
Publisher: Tor Teen
Author: Website
Info: Goodreads

Becket, walking her dog one winter evening, fears it’s an abandoned baby left out in the cold. But it is something else—something evil—and it tricks Becket into opening a doorway to another realm, letting a darkness into our world, a corruption that begins transforming Philadelphia into a sinister and menacing version of itself…but only at night.

The changes are subtle at first, causing Becket to doubt her senses and her sanity. But soon the nightmarish truth is impossible to deny: By day, the city is just a city, but at night it literally comes alive with malevolent purpose. Brick and steel become bone, streetlights turn into gallows, and hungry alleys wait to snare mortal victims. Terrified citizens huddle indoors after dusk, as others succumb to the siren song of the night, letting their darker sides run wild.

Once, Becket’s biggest problems were living up to her police commissioner father’s high expectations and a secret crush on her best friend’s boyfriend. Now she must find a way to survive and protect her loved ones…before the darkness takes her as well. (goodreads.com)

How horribly disappointing. It sounded so good and even the blurb by Kendare Blake, whom I love, said it was dark and horror-ridden and fantastic. I don’t normally give author blurbs any regard, but I love Blake’s work so yeah. It’s going to carry some weight.

The world itself was actually really awesome. This insidious infiltration of this other dark, fantastical world into modern Philadelphia was terrifying, the way things changed, the way things existed in the corner of your eye, maybe you were seeing things, maybe you weren’t. The build-up with that was fantastic. And then how people started to change and basically just live on their ids, creating terror where the constructs, inanimate objects come to life, couldn’t get. And how all of this happened at night and went back to normal during the day. It’s terrifying. It really is.

But that’s about all the good I found the book. Becks is a vaguely condescending teen who does NOTHING for 95% of the book before taking really dumb and poorly thought out action at the end that’s entirely antithetical to the “think everything through cop’s daughter” mentality she built up during the entire book. The entire book where if she’s not getting pushed around by her selfish friend, she’s either commuting to and from school or cowering in her house. Becks literally does not move the plot at all. It moves her. This is, like, a cardinal sin of writing. Yet here we are.

Right before I started reading this, I was listening to a bunch of podcasts that recap Point Horror novels and one book they were doing was real heavy in ableist language around mental illness. One of the podcasters deals with a mental illness on a daily basis and she expounded on how harmful this kind of language is and how likening a mental illness to the worst thing that could possibly happen to a person is so incredibly damaging.

Then I started reading NIGHTSTRUCK and was dumbstruck by the number of times terms like crazy and variations of spaz were used. Not to mention Becks thinking multiple times that she’d rather have a brain tumor than lose her mind (when trying to figure out if the night changes she was seeing were real). Had I not listened to those podcasts I don’t know if I would have been as sensitive to such language, but seeing as how I did listen, and how pervasive this language was, I felt like I was getting slapped every time I read it. It was incredibly heavy-handed in the first half of the book and then trickled down, but was still there. Kind of awful.

And then back to Becks’s condescension, because she’s supposed to be this enlightened, smart kid who’s in AP everything yet runs her mouth about mental illness like it’s nothing yet won’t call a dick a dick when she sees it in some iron work. It’s a phallic symbol. Every. Single. Time. Phallic symbol. And it was mentioned multiple times because it’s really what started drilling into Becks’s head in figuring out what’s going on. It’s the marker she uses to bring Luke into everything. Not a dick or a penis or a schlong. Phallic symbol. Yet she doesn’t know to cool her shit about mental illness. Slightly inconsistent there.

I wanted to like NIGHTSTRUCK so bad. The world is so creepy and how it comes into fruition is just fantastic. But everything else just sucks. Becks is a less-than-appealing character who is barely tolerable most of the time, inconsistent in her intelligence and decision-making abilities, and literally does nothing for most of the book. Great, so does she do a whole lot more nothing in the sequel? Guess I’m not going to find out because I’m not going to read it. And that makes me sad.

2