THE RETRIBUTION OF MARA DYER: A Book Review

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The Mara Dyer trilogy isn’t quite what I expected it to be. As Mara says, her story is a romance, but it’s so much more than that. It’s a story of the oddities in life, how the strange and unusual walk among us, dangerous and safe. It’s about how monsters lie dormant in our blood. It’s about evolution of self, of relationships, of humanity. It’s a dark series, filled with answers yet leaving the reader not quite sure of—anything, really.

 

Like most trilogies, the second book – The Evolution of Mara Dyer—is by far the strongest. While the first book is good, it’s missing the strangeness of Mara’s story. It’s the closest book to a typical romance, although there are a lot of dark mysterious and curiosities. The second book is—insane. You spend about 98% of the novel unsure of what is true and what isn’t; about what Mara sees and about what Mara only sees. You are thrown into a hall of mirrors, and Mara is leading you out, except she has no idea where the exit is.

 

The final book – The Retribution of Mara Dyer – takes a different format. Unlike the first two, there is no primary setting. This lack of setting heightens the theme of instability.  Like Mara and her friends, there is no “safe space” for the reader to fall back on when they’re trying to distinguish truth from fiction. While they are answers given, there’s always a voice nagging at the back of your head, whispering but is this the truth? Is it?

 

Mara’s story is strange, yet it feels real. The characters are all fantastic, and I ended up liking them a lot more than I thought I would. I love Jamie’s constant pop culture references (which, yeah, are going to feel outdated in a few years time), and I even ended up loving Mara and Noah’s relationship, which I really worried I wouldn’t about midway through the first book. I love how the last book pulls all the pieces together, so much so that you realize that nothing is coincidence. That’s how you tell a story.

 

So maybe the ending wasn’t the big, climatic scene I was hoping for. Maybe it didn’t cause worlds to explode and maybe I kind of wish Mara had been a bit more badass (don’t worry, she still is, it’s just—well. Who is the hero and who is the villain?).  Still, the series ends with a satisfying conclusion, filled with the answers to the questions that most desperately required resolution. While not everything is answered, I quite liked that: I like the openness, and the idea that there is still so much more that Mara and company don’t know. It’s a good ending but still—it could have been more.

 

The Mara Dyer trilogy is phenomenal, the type of series that sticks with you, and makes you question everything you know. It’s the type of series that makes me want to wave the book around and yell at strange to READ IT, READ THIS BOOK. It’s good; what more can I say?

 

5 symbolic necklaces out of 5

NOW I RISE: Book Review

This book…… may have destroyed me a little bit.

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So I absolutely loved And I Darken when I read it a few months back. One of the biggest critiques that I have seen about it is that it can be rather slow paced. And yeah, it is pretty slow, but I never found that to be a problem because the story was so solid. If you found And I Darken slow…. well, you might want to stop reading now.

Because Now I Rise is slooooooooooow. 

At least at the beginning.

I found the first 100 pages or so extremely difficult to get through. I read it, but I wasn’t absorbing it. Once the plot picked up, I even found myself having to flip back to remember who certain characters were and how they were introduced into the novel. I mean, ask me what happened at the beginning, and I’m going to be able to tell you nothing. It was bad.

But then it picks up. I love And I Darken, but now I love Now I Rise even more.

What makes these novels excellent is the characterization. There are characters here that I have never seen before. The relationships are fleshed out and complicated, and I love how different yet similar they all are.

Lada is relentless and completely savage. I love her burning desire, and as much as I love her, I can’t wait until it consumes her entirely. She is such a strong female character, and one who does not renounce her identity as female but proves that she can be woman and strong. In fact, all the women in this novel are strong and ambitious and so much more than the world tries to tell them they are. I admire every one of them.

And Radu… oh, Radu. I hope for only happiness for you. Radu is extremely important to this series, for he is the heart of these novels. He is everything Lada is not, but a lot more similar to her than I believe anyone is willing to admit. Without Radu, the novel would be too harsh, with Lada making hard decisions fearlessly. Radu, on the other hand, struggles with every decision he makes, and is entirely morally grey. His choices and allegiance vary based on the situation as he tries to be “good” but comes to realize there is no such thing. Radu deserves love and happiness, even if he doesn’t believe so himself.

I eagerly anticipate the next book because, honestly, I don’t know how much better it can get, but I know it’s going to. The ending is wonderful, and leaves you craving so much more. I can’t wait to get my heart torn apart. Again.

5 stars out of 5

RELEASE: A Book Review

If you like slice of life stories with a bit of a twist, then you gotta read Patrick Ness’s Release.

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People will tell you that not much happens in this book (untrue). I almost want to say that too much happens– because a lot happens within less than 24 hours– but that’s the point of the story: it’s about the extraordinary in the ordinary. Our protagonist, Adam, begins thinking that today is going to be just another day. Instead, Adam is torn apart, bit by bit, as every piece of his life is unraveled until he finally reaches– you guessed it– release.

It’s kind of great.

What makes this greater is that there are actually two narrative storylines going on in this text. Ness played with the idea of the phenomenal story being told in the background in The Rest of Us Just Live here, and he plays with it again in Release. While Adam is living a “normal” day (it’s not normal) something extraordinary is happening in his sleepy little town, but he’s entirely unaware. It makes Adam’s story seem a lot more special in some way, and when the stories eventually link up (because you know they do), it makes everything feel…. magical. Fulfilling. Like this was how it was always meant to be.

This book is a character study. Through it, we learn all about Adam Thorn, and we don’t learn much else. I love that. I love the focus on the singular, and I love how it’s not told through a very personal, diary-esque first person narrative. Instead, we read the story of Adam, or at least, as much of it that can happen within a day.

The best chapter is the first chapter, but it’s also the worst chapter. I say this because I am a fan of Mrs. Dalloway, and the first chapter is very Virgina Woolf. It’s superb, and anyone who has read Mrs. Dalloway is clued into it right away (parallel opening lines, anyone?). However, it is also the worst chapter because I feel like the text hasn’t found its voice yet. If you’re reading the first bit, and not getting into it, I strongly suggest you keep reading. It gets easier, and better, once both Ness and Adam find their narrative voice, and the text stops being a homage and becomes something unique and special.

Because all Ness novels are unique and special.

Now, I guarantee someone, somewhere, is going to try to ban this book. There are sex scenes and they are somewhat explicit. It’s something that probably would have made me uncomfortable as a young teen, but it’s something that by sixteen or seventeen, I would have loved to read, just to have it represented. Especially gay youth. SUPER important representation for them.

Overall, I thought this book had the trademark Ness quirky-ness but in a much more sophisticated voice than a lot of his other works. I definitely recommend it to fans of the every day and to people who don’t have it quite figured out just yet, but are working hard towards that moment of release.

3 stars out of 5.

GEEK LOVE: A Book Review

Note: this book is not about comic con geeks falling in love.

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The best part about reading Geek Love is getting to tell people what it’s about. “I’m reading this strange book,” I’d say. Then they’d say “Oh? What’s it called?” “Geek Love,” I’d reply as I watch their noses crinkle. Then, I would clarify, “It’s about carnival freaks.”

But is it really fair to say that’s what Geek Love is about? Yes, the novel is about a husband and wife who decide to breed their own carnival freak show. Yes, it features a child with flippers for limbs, a set of conjoined twins, a “albino, hunchback dwarf,” and a child who appears to be a “norm” but is anything but. Yes, there is some squicky relationships and family love that goes far too far and unhealthily deep. Yes, Geek Love has the most bizarre and terrible characters you will meet, and yes, you will be uncomfortable and disgusted, and yes, it is everything it sounds like it will be, but it is also so much more. 

Geek Love is a disturbing novel about what it means to be “human” and the lengths people go to in order to feel special. Essentially, Geek Love is one of the most fundamentally human books I have ever read. Which means that, yes, you will find yourself relating to it more than you ever thought you could.

The novel is a reflection of both the desire and the disgust for difference that exists within us all. We love the absurd because it allows us to feel normal; but what the novel shows us is how we hate the normal because it makes us feel purposeless and useless.

What I loved most is how every single character is despicable and unlikeable in their own ways. They all do horrific things, things that no human should ever do, yet they seem to do it without a second guess. The choices they make are different than what most people would make because of the world they have created for themselves. Yet, these choices feel if not acceptable at least logical in their world. Perhaps the most disturbing part is how easy it is to love these characters, and how people who do disgusting things can be so close to your heart. I cried for these people. But what’s worst is that I forgave them, even when I knew what they did was wrong.

Everyone I talk about this book with says they want to read it. I will admit, this is probably because I absolutely adored it. The writing can be a bit dry at times, dense with words, and the plot is slow, but it’s this slowness that lets you sink into the world, lets you understand the carnivalesque, lets you feel almost… almost like you could be one of them. But you’re not. And the novel never lets you forget that.

I will warn you,  as I warn everyone I talk to this book with, it is highly disturbing and not for those with weak stomachs or hearts. There is a lot that is messed up, twisted to the point where you can’t believe people would do such things and yet… you understand their choices exactly.

Because, Geek Love shows us, we’re all monsters, and if we aren’t, we all crave to be one.

A LIST OF CAGES: A Book Review

Wow… Just… wow.

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Sometimes, you find a book on a whim. You see it at the bookstore, read the synopsis and put it back, whispering “next time.” It took me 5 months before I bought A List of Cages but I am so glad I did. I had heard nothing about it, but the girl at the bookstore got excited when she saw me with it, saying that she had heard it’s supposed to be fantastic. Rightfully so: this book definitely deserves more hype, because it is a gem.

Okay, first off, this book deals with some SERIOUS topics, but it does it in a very genuine way. If you’re like me and you read the publisher’s summary, then you know exactly what this serious topic is (and here we go, I’m about to tell you, cover your eyes if you don’t like spoilers!!!!!!!! … it’s child abuse). There are lots of stories dealing with this issue, but A List of Cages is special to me because everything feels so real: the pain, the confusion, but also the happiness and hope. This isn’t a “they all get better the end” type of story, but rather a story where the effects of pain are addressed, with a hopeful outlook in the end. There’s so much life in this book too, so that even when the story ends, you know there’s so much more left in the lives of Adam and Julian. And while I would love to see a slice of that, I’m glad we don’t. Let my boys heal together, and love together, and be the family they always should have been.

Both Adam and Julian are fantastic characters, each with their own issues that are addressed but not entirely solved. There’s a lot more healing both need to do, and I know that they can do it together. There’s so much love in this book, so much that it feels almost like it can heal you too (which is nice when you’re clutching the book to your chest so the pain you feel for them doesn’t seep out everywhere). They’re both so lovable, it’s hard not to fall into their story and desperately wish for the best for both of them. They deserve the world.

(Also can I say that Adam’s voice– of the popular, extroverted kid with ADHD– is actually one I’ve never read before in fiction and I’m highly grateful for it? He’s so fun, and I love how he has his problems too. He’s sunshine, while Julian is the stars being washed out by the moon).

I don’t want to say much in fear of saying too much, but this book is phenomenal, and the ending had me screaming and falling onto the floor. It’s incredible story, dealing with serious topics in a gentle, but realistic, voice. I highly recommend it to anyone who likes YA and sad (but ultimately uplifting!) books.

5 (thousand) out of 5 (thousand) stars in the sky.

THE GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO VICE AND VIRTUE: A Book Review

Historical LGBT+ is the best genre, sorry, I don’t make the rules.

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Ah, what can I say about The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue? I could say that it’s an important book, not because the protagonist is a bisexual male, but because it bothers to show this side of history at all. LGBT people have always existed, hidden within the pages of history, and this book lets them thrive even while showing how, yes, it was a very dangerous and scary life to live at times.

(Don’t worry, there’s a happy ending).

I could say it’s a fun book, filled with adventure and sticky situations. Maybe it’s not as crazy adventurous as I expected it to be; instead, it’s a bit more realistic in its insanity, and the situations they find themselves in seem rather plausible. It’s a great roadtrip-style narrative, one that you feel like you could love. And with just a touch of magic, the story flies off the page. I found myself easily flipping through chapter after chapter to get to the end to figure out how they get through the mess they’ve created for themselves.

That mess includes one of the best romances I’ve read in awhile. Is there anything better than double unrequited love? Monty, the protagonist, moons over his best friend, Percy, and is very open to the reader about his affections– which he considers unrequited. HOWEVER it’s very clear to the reader — and any character with eyes– that this love might not be as unrequited as Monty thinks…. It’s frustrating to watch these boys stumble and hurt over a love they think could never be returned, but deliciously so. Their love story is one for the ages.

Monty, I should mention, is a conceited asshole, but of the type you can’t help but love. Percy is soft with rough edges. And Felicity is a beautiful genius who deserves the world. The only thing better than these characters is watching them grow into their skin and develop to become even better people. It’s beautiful, frankly.

So in case you haven’t noticed, I really loved this book. I’d like to personally thank Mackenzi Lee for writing historical lgbt+ YA fiction– the world needs, needs!, more books like this.

I have no bad words for this book.

5 grand tours out of 5

PETER DARLING: A Book Review

When I first heard about this book, I laughed. I’m not laughing now.

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Okay, so, when I first found Peter Darling, I kind of laughed out loud when I read the premise. It sounded kind of ridiculous: a love story between Peter Pan and Captain Hook? What kind of book is that? Then I read the summary again and… wait. Peter is Wendy? I shook my head and closed the tab.

But then I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

I had to read it.

The brilliance of Peter Darling is the idea that Peter Pan is the true identity of the boy the world insists on calling Wendy.  Trans Peter is absolutely beautiful, and makes complete sense in the world created within the pages, where Neverland is a refuge for the rejects and outcasts of the world. It’s the only place Peter felt like he could be Peter, and not Wendy everyone insisted he was. It’s beautiful. 

There’s so much that goes on within this short book. There’s this soft trans narrative, the pain of growing up and becoming who you really are, and, of course, the love story. Now. I was surprised with how delicately and naturally the love between Peter and Hook emerges. It feels genuine and sweet and honestly? I kind of love it. A lot.

Yes, this book is short, and that feels like its biggest flaw. While I would have loved more, at the same time, I’m glad it ends where it does. The pacing can be fast, but it still feels real. Nothing felt “sudden” or unexpected to me and I felt that what needed to be said was said, and said beautifully, within these short pages.

I shouldn’t be surprised that I loved Peter Darling, but I am. This book accomplished what every rewrite wishes to: it makes me few it as equivalent to the original, and potentially canon, too. Trans Peter is definitely a ship I’m hoping on; just call me captain.

4 fairies out of 5.