Review: Starfish

feda6ff582bd90c13e597298e4e5b4c2-ya-books-starfishStarfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman

Release Date: September 26, 2017

Publisher: Simon Pulse

[UPDATED] I’m changing themes to Trigger/Content warnings, as I’d like to start adding them to my reviews: attempted suicide, parental abuse, emotional abuse, sexual assault/abuse, anxiety

My Rating: ★★★★

Goodreads Summary: Kiko Himura has always had a hard time saying exactly what she’s thinking. With a mother who makes her feel unremarkable and a half-Japanese heritage she doesn’t quite understand, Kiko prefers to keep her head down, certain that once she makes it into her dream art school, Prism, her real life will begin. But then Kiko doesn’t get into Prism, at the same time her abusive uncle moves back in with her family. So when she receives an invitation from her childhood friend to leave her small town and tour art schools on the west coast, Kiko jumps at the opportunity in spite of the anxieties and fears that attempt to hold her back. And now that she is finally free to be her own person outside the constricting walls of her home life, Kiko learns life-changing truths about herself, her past, and how to be brave.

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My Review

I’m going to start off by saying while I really, really appreciated this book, it was not an easy read. There were a few times where I had to put it down and do something else for a little bit before I could come back to it. Even though it was difficult, I think this fact made this book feel even more real. If I wasn’t invested in the characters, I wouldn’t have had a hard time reading it.

The portrayal of anxiety in this book is the most accurate I’ve ever read. I can’t even begin to explain how relatable the anxiety in this book was for me, since I suffer from anxiety and panic attacks. It meant a lot to me to see myself reflected so strongly in a character, and to hear her story told beautifully and accurately. I also appreciated that this book didn’t follow the trope of “love cures all” (mental illness). Our main character is going to struggle with these things for the rest of her life, and falling in love won’t cure that.

This was also the first time I’ve really seen truly awful, but realistic emotional abuse depicted on the page. I’m lucky enough to have parents who love me more than anything, and they are in NO way like Kiko’s mother, but I can see parallels with how Kiko’s mother treats her and how a lot of parents believe they can treat their children. I can relate to the feeling of never being good enough for your parents, and being constantly anxious that you’re going to let someone down. Seeing the relationship between Kiko and her mother was fascinating, though also incredibly frustrating and painful. My only complaint is that both Kiko’s parents seemed a little bit flat, and I wish their characters had been developed a bit more.

I also wish Kiko’s relationships with her brothers could have been explored more. We did get a bit towards the end, but I wish there had been more of a close relationship between the siblings. It would have made some things in the plot even more interesting to examine and explore, particularly with Kiko being the middle child.

By far my favorite aspect of this book was the depiction of Kiko’s art. I want all of these pieces made and hung in my room immediately. I loved watching Kiko’s art develop along with her character, and the descriptions of her art at the end of each chapter made the emotional impact so much stronger. This combined with the lovely writing style broke my heart so many times, and I wish I could have seen the art physically on the page, rather than just in words.

Another aspect that I loved about this story was the discussion of race, and how racism can be internalized and institutionalized. Racism isn’t always one race against another, you can have racist ideas about your own race, depending on how you are raised to view your culture. It was so intriguing to watch Kiko discover her own culture for the first time, and really view it in a positive way.

Apart from all this, I absolutely adored Jamie and Kiko’s chosen family. All of the characters that Kiko meets along her journey are so supportive and loving, and it made me really happy to see her come into her own, away from all the horrors of her biological family’s life.

-Sky

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Review: There’s Someone Inside Your House

15797848There’s Someone Inside Your House by Stephanie Perkins

Release Date: September 26, 2017

Publisher: Dutton Books for Young Readers

Themes: ya, horror, bullying, romance

My Rating: ★★★★

Goodreads Summary: One-by-one, the students of Osborne High are dying in a series of gruesome murders, each with increasing and grotesque flair. As the terror grows closer and the hunt intensifies for the killer, the dark secrets among them must finally be confronted. International bestselling author Stephanie Perkins returns with a fresh take on the classic teen slasher story that’s fun, quick-witted, and completely impossible to put down.

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My Review

I received this book as an eARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

I’m going to start off by saying that I NEVER read horror books. Ever. I can handle horror films occasionally, but I don’t really enjoy them, and I think I’ve only read one other horror book in my entire life. This is a Stephanie Perkins book, so how could I not pick it up? How could I resist?

This book certainly did not disappoint. It was TERRIFYING. Fair warning for this that there is a ton of guts and gore. This book is not for the squeamish. The horror aspects of this book were well-exectuted – though I can’t really compare it to other books of the genre – it was surprising, suspenseful, and creepy. I wasn’t expecting the things that happened to happen, and I liked that we got to read from different perspectives, so the murders didn’t come as second-hand information.

On top of the super creepy plot, we also got the classic Stephanie Perkins romance. I forgot how well Stephanie Perkins writes cute and fluffy romances. I loved Ollie and Makani so much, and the character development between these two was actually amazing. I was expecting there to be a huge focus on the murder mystery, but we got a lot of character development and romance, too.

There was also a good amount of attention spent on Makani’s friends. While there wasn’t as much character development as there was for Makani and Ollie, there was still more than I expected. I also loved how supportive all the characters were. Even though they have their ups and downs, they definitely love each other, and getting to see them interact and joke around was a joy.

Overall, this book was surprisingly enjoyable, since I’m not really into horror. I liked the scary bits more than I was expecting to, but I appreciated that the romance offered a break from the creepy blood and guts sections. Stephanie Perkins is definitely still one of my favorite authors, and this book is no exception.

-Sky

Review: Odd and True

28078791Odd and True by Cat Winters

Release Date: September 12, 2017

Publisher: Amulet Books

Themes: family, sisters, disability, ya, fantasy, historical fiction, monsters

My Rating: ★★★★1/2

Goodreads Summary: Trudchen grew up hearing Odette’s stories of their monster-slaying mother and a magician’s curse. But now that Tru’s older, she’s starting to wonder if her older sister’s tales were just comforting lies, especially because there’s nothing fantastic about her own life—permanently disabled and in constant pain from childhood polio. In 1909, after a two-year absence, Od reappears with a suitcase supposedly full of weapons and a promise to rescue Tru from the monsters on their way to attack her. But it’s Od who seems haunted by something. And when the sisters’ search for their mother leads them to a face-off with the Leeds Devil, a nightmarish beast that’s wreaking havoc in the Mid-Atlantic states, Tru discovers the peculiar possibility that she and her sister—despite their dark pasts and ordinary appearances—might, indeed, have magic after all.

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My Review

Cat Winters’s books are always pleasant surprises for me. They’re never quite what I expected, but I love them anyway. Odd and True was no exception to this rule. I went in expecting a sister version of Supernatural, and while that was similar to what I got, there was a lot more focus on the family and the relationship between Od and Tru than I was expecting.

I absolutely loved Od and Tru, but I think Od was my favorite. Since we were only getting Tru’s perspective in the present, I felt she wasn’t quite as developed as Od, so I’m not sure  she had as much of a personality as Od, but I still loved her nonetheless. I also appreciated the disability rep. While I don’t use a cane, I’ve been considering getting one for about a year now, so it was nice to see Tru’s disability on the page, and how it didn’t stop her from doing all the things she wanted to do.

The pacing of the book could be a little slow at times, particularly in the present, but I loved how Winters wove Od and Tru’s chapters together, so we got bits and pieces of the past that helped make the present make sense, rather than dumping it on us all at once. I wish we’d gotten to know a little bit more about Od and Tru’s mother, but I also wasn’t a huge fan of her, so maybe I don’t. Mixed feelings.

My favorite thing about this book by far were the characters. Od and Tru have such a complicated past, and I absolutely loved Uncle Magnus. Morally gray characters with a heart of gold are the best. I also thought Cy was a very interesting character, even though we didn’t get to see much of him and he wasn’t very likable. Another thing I really appreciated about this book was that everything was wrapped up, and I felt like I got a lot more closure than I was expecting. I don’t feel like there were any loose ends that were left hanging, which is something that I usually notice in books like this.

Overall, while this book wasn’t quite what I expected, Cat Winters does not disappoint. I fell completely in love with the characters, and I loved exploring the dynamics of this weird, fascinating, and “marvilus” family.

Review: Mr. 60%

51bbq4kobhl-_sx333_bo1204203200_Mr. 60% by Clete Barrett Smith

Release Date: August 22, 2017

Publisher: Crown Books for Young Readers

Themes: cancer, drugs, family, friendship, school

My Rating: ★★★★

Goodreads Summary: Matt Nolan is the high school drug dealer, deadbeat, and soon-to-be dropout according to everyone at his school. His vice principal is counting down the days until Mr. 60% (aka Matt) finally flunks out and is no longer his problem. What no one knows is the only reason Matt sells drugs is to take care of his uncle Jack, who is dying of cancer. Meet Amanda. The overly cheerful social outcast whose optimism makes Matt want to hurl. Stuck as partners during an after-school club (mandatory for Matt), it’s only a matter of time until Amanda discovers Matt’s secret. But Amanda is used to dealing with heartbreak, and she’s determined to help Matt find a way to give life 100 percent.

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My Review

I received this book as an eARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

I was not expecting this to make me such an emotional wreck. I knew it was going to be emotional, but not THAT emotional. This book was beautiful, and packed a powerful punch for a book that’s less than 200 pages.

Matt was such an interesting character, because he never tried to be anything he wasn’t. He didn’t pretend, didn’t do anything just to do it. He only did things that were absolutely necessary, and new exactly what he needed to prioritize, and what was important to him. He wasn’t trying to hide anything from anybody, but he didn’t flaunt himself either. He just flew under the radar as much as possible.

loved Amanda. I so rarely read about characters who are fat and are completely unabashed about that fact. It was so refreshing to read about a confident, happy, fat girl. I wish we’d gotten to know her a little bit more, and gotten to see more of her past, rather than just the little teasers we did get.

The writing was good, though there wasn’t anything particularly special about it. It did the job and served its purpose, but I don’t think flowery writing would have fit very well. It reminded me a little bit of John Green’s writing, not flowery but still utterly profound, with some pretty amazing one-liners stuck in there.

The ending felt a little rushed to me, and I feel like this book could have been a little bit longer, so we could have gotten to know some of the characters a little bit more. I would have like to see more of Matt’s mother, and more of her story and relationship with Matt. I felt like her story wasn’t quite addressed enough for me, though I understand what was trying to be done by leaving her out of the story.

I requested this book on a whim, because I saw a raving review, and I’m so glad I decided to pick it up. It’s an amazing and heart-breaking story, all folded up into a short, but powerful book.

-Sky

Review: Mask of Shadows

Mask of Shadows by Linsey Miller51ut0c0hfyl-_sx328_bo1204203200_

Release Date: August 29, 2017

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Themes: YA fantasy, gender fluid mc, competition, pick-pocket

My Rating: ★★★★

Goodreads Summary: Sallot Leon is a thief, and a good one at that. But gender fluid Sal wants nothing more than to escape the drudgery of life as a highway robber and get closer to the upper-class—and the nobles who destroyed their home. When Sal steals a flyer for an audition to become a member of The Left Hand—the Queen’s personal assassins, named after the rings she wears—Sal jumps at the chance to infiltrate the court and get revenge. But the audition is a fight to the death filled with clever circus acrobats, lethal apothecaries, and vicious ex-soldiers. A childhood as a common criminal hardly prepared Sal for the trials. And as Sal succeeds in the competition, and wins the heart of Elise, an intriguing scribe at court, they start to dream of a new life and a different future, but one that Sal can have only if they survive.

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My Review

I received this book as an eARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

I haven’t read a book like this in a long time. I forgot how much I missed high-risk, competition fantasy. I’ll start off by saying I can see where people draw parallels to other series like Throne of Glass and The Hunger Games, and why they might not like this book because of that. Honestly, though, that’s why I loved this book so much. I’d seen a few negative reviews that called this book unoriginal, but I completely disagree. There are certainly parallels that can be drawn between this series and others, but this book clearly stands on its own, is is certainly original.

One of the best aspects of this book is Sal, our main character. I’ve never read a book with a gender fluid main character, and Sal was a lovely introduction. It was so nice to read a book about a character in a world where they are (mostly) accepted for who they are.  The discussion of gender was really interesting, and I learned a lot from it. Sal was open and willing to discuss and explain their preferences when it came to their gender, and most of the characters were perfectly willing to use Sal’s preferred pronouns, and learned when they made mistakes.

The world-building in this was fantastic. I was never confused about what was going on, and the world sounds fascinating. I particularly enjoyed the Left Hand, and the purpose they serve in the kingdom. Many series have one person who serves the king or queen as their “right-hand man”, so it was refreshing to see a group of people serving under the queen, rather than just a singular character.

Speaking of characters, I loved them. All of them. Ruby was my favorite by far, but I loved Amethyst and Emerald as well. The only thing that I took issue with was I wish we’d gotten to know more of the contestants’ names, because sometimes it was hard to keep track of who everyone was. The ones we did get to know, though, were complex and  dynamic, which was refreshing, since I was expecting them to be simple stock characters.

Overall, this book was a pleasant surprise, and I can’t wait to see where the series goes next. The ending absolutely wrecked me, and I still haven’t quite recovered, but I’ll take the next book right now, thanks…? …. Please? I need it.

-Sky

Review: The Witchfinder’s Sister

The Witchfinder’s Sister by Beth Underdown

Release Date: March 2, 2017 (look, I’m catching up, see?)

Publisher: Viking

Themes: witch trials, adult fiction, history, religion, patriarchy, females, mental illness

My Rating: ★★★

Goodreads Summary: 1645. When Alice Hopkins’ husband dies in a tragic accident, she returns to the small Essex town of Manningtree, where her brother Matthew still lives. But home is no longer a place of safety. Matthew has changed, and there are rumours spreading through the town: whispers of witchcraft, and of a great book, in which he is gathering women’s names. To what lengths will Matthew’s obsession drive him? And what choice will Alice make, when she finds herself at the very heart of his plan?

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My Review

I received this book as an eARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

First of all, can we have more books about the witch trials? In general just more historical fiction set in the Tudor/Elizabethan era? Because I’m here for it. This book was really interesting, and it was partly based on a true story, which just made me even more excited to read it. I’d love to see more books about witches and the witch hunts in the 1600s.

I enjoyed the writing, I wasn’t expecting this book to be in first person, but it ended up working really well to build the suspense, since I never knew anymore thank Alice did about what was going on around her. My only complaint about the writing was that it felt a little disjointed at times, and the dialogue didn’t seem to fit the Old English of the era. I couldn’t always tell how much time was passing, and that made it difficult to keep track of the plot.

As far as the plot goes, it was a little slow, and because of the writing it could sometimes be confusing. Despite the slower plot, I flew through this book, much faster than I thought I would. I never got bored and wanted to put it down, even when there wasn’t much happening, because there was always just an edge of suspense. There were a few aspects of the plot that kind of got left behind, however, and I would have liked to see them resolved at the end of the story. There were some creepy, “witches-are-real” events that happened that I don’t think were ever really addressed, and it kind of hanging. The things that did get wrapped up were done well, though. I appreciated that we got some real closure at the end.

This book was a quick, enjoyable read about a subject that I’ve never really seen before in a book, but there wasn’t anything especially great about it. The writing was simple and engaging, but the plot was a little slow and disjointed, and I ended up spending the middle of the book just trying to figure out what was going on. The end, at least, wrapped up the main plot line nicely, even if some got forgotten along the way.

-Sky

Review: The Bone Witch

30095464The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco

Release Date: March 7, 2017 (I’m catching up on my ARCS, I swear)

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Themes: ya, fantasy, witches, magic, coming-of-age

My Rating: ★★

Goodreads Summary: Tea is different from the other witches in her family. Her gift for necromancy makes her a bone witch, who are feared and ostracized in the kingdom. For theirs is a powerful, elemental magic that can reach beyond the boundaries of the living—and of the human. Great power comes at a price, forcing Tea to leave her homeland to train under the guidance of an older, wiser bone witch. There, Tea puts all of her energy into becoming an asha, learning to control her elemental magic and those beasts who will submit by no other force. And Tea must be strong—stronger than she even believes possible. Because war is brewing in the eight kingdoms, war that will threaten the sovereignty of her homeland…and threaten the very survival of those she loves.

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My Review

I received this book as an eARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

I wanted to love this book. When I first read the blurb for it on Goodreads, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. Then, when I did get it, I proceeded to put it off for six months, as you do. It was a combination of being put off by some negative reviews and just my general laziness. Then, this month I became absolutely determined to catch up on my ARCs. Unfortunately, I DNF’d this book at 32%. I just couldn’t do it.

From page one of this book, I got some Tiffany Aching vibes from the plot of the story (girl finds out she is a witch, enters the world of witches and learns to become one from other old and sassy witches). However, Bone Witch took everything I loved about the Tiffany Aching series, and did it very poorly.

The writing was much too flowery for my taste, and this in combination with the scattered world-building left me totally confused as to what I should be picturing as I read. At first I was getting a Mexican/Hispanic magic system vibe, but then I also got Asian magic system vibe, and I had no idea what kind of time period I was reading. I was surprised that despite so much heavily detailed description, I still had no idea what was going on.

Combine this with pretty much no plot, and there weren’t really any reasons for me to want to keep reading. The only thing left were the characters. With the Tiffany Aching series, the characters were my favorite part. In this book, there were so many characters that we didn’t really get to know anyone very well, not even our main character Tea. I think eventually there may have been more of a focus on a select few characters, but I wasn’t invested enough in the ones I had met so far to find out.

I’m really disappointed that I didn’t enjoy this book more, and I can see where some people might enjoy it, especially if they didn’t mind the flowery writing, but it just wasn’t for me. When I started it, I realized I was moving so slowly through it that I thought I was going into a reading slump, but I picked up another book and flew through it, so I knew that it wasn’t me that was slowing me down.

-Sky