The Hating Game: Sally Thorne

So, surprise surprise! This isn’t YA fiction. I guess I’d classify it for adults. Also… it’s a romance novel. (・□・;)
I don’t read romance novels, usually. They aren’t a genre that I enjoy, plus I will freely confess that I am a squeamish person and while I can be clinical about sexual health and education, I hate hate hate sex/arousal scenes in media. They make me super uncomfortable. I can appreciate that a lot of other people enjoy them, but it’s not my thing at all.

So, then, Pratyu, you dummy. Why did you pick up this book? I totally judged a book by its cover, that’s why. It’s because the Goodreads algorithm suggested it to me, and I thought it was a slice of life book about a girl fighting for a promotion in her publishing company. Turns out that the person she’s competing against is the irresistible Joshua Templeton, a golden-skinned, dark-haired, dusky-eyed heart-throb.
I would have been really condescending towards this book, which follows a lot of romantic tropes, but it’s actually very progressive for the genre. That’s why I went ahead and tried to read until the end, though I skipped like 75% of the book because it was graphic arousal-and-sexual-tension stuff. It got even worse towards the finale, with the graphic scenes. Even the kisses went on for like a page and a half… yeah, there was stuff that I ignored entirely, but I don’t think it detracted from my overall understanding of the plot.

I really like Lucy Hutton, the protagonist. She’s funny (“Want a phone book to sit on? How’d you get so small?” / “I shrank in the wash.”) and excitable, and a bit immature. She collects Smurf dolls. She would be dangerously toeing the line of manic-pixie-dream-girl, but she doesn’t have the air of pretentiousness that those characters lean towards. Lucy’s really stubborn and says way too much– she really should think before she speaks– but for all intents and purposes, her introspection reads easily. Maybe that’s why I like her, because she’s honestly a very simple person. She enjoys food. Books. She wants to work hard and be as cool as her boss one day. Her biggest fault lies in the fact that she’s a bit of a doormat because she wants to make everyone happy.

Also, she’s very self aware: “Immediately, I give myself a little mental slap. Fishing for compliments is a cardinal sin.”

There are sappy parts of the book where Lucy starts to pore over the details of Joshua, like his eyes and his hands and his freckles and all of that stuff. It’s pretty cute; her intentions are entirely innocent. She’s just admiring this person that she believes is the most handsome man that she’s ever seen. She genuinely wants to make him feel good about himself, and she wants to appreciate his beauty. It came off as very sweet and further drives how sincere she is in everything she thinks and does.

Joshua Templeton is a bit more difficult to pin down as a character. I can’t bring myself to fully like him because he’s sort of the embodiment of toxic masculinity. He’s this big, powerful manly guy, who’s so scary and intimidating that it’s mentioned once or twice in every few chapters. ((But his name is Joshua. lmao))
I don’t want to deride him for perpetuating what I believe to be a stereotype. In fact, I write in my own time, and I have a few characters– actually, a lot– that are just as hyper-masculine. So it’d be hypocritical of me to be such a harsh judge.
I’m going to try to examine him with a positive bias. Aside from his strapping macho beefcake aesthetic, he’s got a softer part to him. Which is also kind of cliche, now that I think about it. He’s not a bad character, just emotionally obstructed and with probably an entire tree up his ass, what with the businesslike, cutting, frowny-no-man tendencies. He’s also got territorial issues– when a guy named Danny starts displaying interest in Lucy, he gets all growly and back-off with him, and just becomes a jerk in general, which I didn’t really like.
Around Lucy, when they start opening up to each other more, he finds himself constantly surprised by her lack of a filter. Also, I think that her constant compliments make him a bit shy, which is funny. He’s an asshole to everyone but he tries hard to be nice to her, though he ends up offending Lucy a few times– but she grows from the experiences. For example, when he claims in front of his boss that he won’t need help beating her (sometime after they’ve established their interest in each other); she’s crushed that he still doesn’t consider her to be a worthy opponent. Joshua tries to recant his words but she’s hurt for a while, until she decides to stop wallowing in self-pity and get her act together and show him just how much he’s underestimated her. I like that about Lucy. “Don’t get mad, get even.”

Another small thing that I liked– Lucy isn’t this slender, tall, supermodel person. She’s small and (I imagine) plump. She eats a lot, and she enjoys what she eats. In the book, near the wedding, she puts on support underwear “to smooth out any lumps,” and it’s refreshing to read. Although in retrospect… when I first read that line I thought it was maybe a body-positivity thing, but later she takes her dress off and the support underwear is described as like sexy lingerie, so maybe the author was just setting up for a sex scene… :’-) aw man. Totally misconstrued that.
Half the book is sex & arousal & romance; a quarter of it is them hating each other; and the last quarter is Lucy fawning over food.

An interesting thing about Joshua is that he’s been objectified in most of his relationships. This presents an actual problem in his life: he’s handsome, but with the personality of an angry dish-rag. This takes a toll on his sense of self-worth, and he starts wondering if maybe he isn’t meant to be end-game for anyone. Maybe he’s just the fun, one-night stand. The mysterious bad-boy who’s good for a few months of wild, sex-filled passion, before moving onto husband material. His self esteem, by the time he meets Lucy, is nearing rock-bottom.
Lucy’s guilty of objectifying him too– she tells him, constantly, about how hot he is and all of that stuff, and he confesses to her later on in the book about how he’s unfamiliar with anyone wanting him for more than a good time. I thought that this was an interesting reversal of the common “pretty-woman” trope, where the hot chick is only ever sought after because… she’s hot. Anyways, Lucy makes it a point to stop being so creepily and obviously carnal around him, which I think is beneficial to their relationship. It helps Joshua understand that she’s not after him for the same reasons.

Also, it’s revealed that he’s very shy towards the end of the book. Up until now we think that he’s mean to strangers because he’s just an ass by nature, but Lucy realizes while giving him a long diatribe about how rude he’s being at his elder brother’s wedding that he’s actually a very awkward person. He’s not “shy and soft,” he’s “shy and covered in military-grade armor.” or something like that. It was an example of good labeling by the author; usually I encourage allowing the reader to think for themselves, but in this case, Lucy affirms our beliefs. Also, it’s funny that rather than painting him as a stoic, Ms. Thorne reveals that he’s just a bit demure.

It got harder to read towards the end because there was so much yeah. They were falling in love and there was even an entire chapter that was just a sex scene, and then most of the end was a sex scene. I was skimming through their dialogue to figure out what happened with the promotion situation, and I think I caught something like Joshua had accepted a position at a different company– which was kind of disappointing. I wanted to see who would win, but oh well. It was a good way to save their relationship and keep him in a high-ranking job. Verryyyy convenient.

Also, there were hints of a love triangle but they were avoided; that tension only came up once or twice during the book. Lucy has another suitor, Danny, from graphic design, and he pisses Joshua off. Actually, Joshua’s like a rabid raccoon when it comes to Danny; hissing and spitting. It’s kind of off-putting. But Lucy likes it, so whatever, I guess. And she’s not interested in Danny after confirming that Joshua likes her, and she didn’t date him to spite Joshua– she did it because she made up a whole thing about having a date and was worried that he’d tease her if he found out that she was lying, so she roped Danny into this mess. Poor Danny, though, the guy spends a Saturday working on a project for her and Joshua chews him out on the phone (though I guess he was being a little creepy– “What are you wearing?” and so on, so maybe J was justified.)
There’s a kind of weird part where Joshua’s like “I want you to kiss Danny and tell me which one of us was better,” which… I don’t really know if that was supposed to be a sexy thing? Or if he was just feeling competitive? Or if his ego needed stroking? But that was bizarre. I mean, don’t take my word for it, I found a lot of this book bizarre.
Then there was Mindy, who was shoehorned in at the end to introduce jealousy on Lucy’s part. Mindy’s the tall, tanned blonde of Joshua’s dreams– supposedly. And she’s marrying his older brother. Lucy is rightfully appalled at the fact that Josh brought her as his date, to his ex-girlfriend’s wedding. That was a screw-up of abysmal proportions but they talk it out and it’s fine, and it’s okay in my opinion because the love triangle mess only lasts for like, a chapter.

Man. I’m realizing now that maybe I’m just generally terrible at romance. That would explain a lot, actually, ahaha. ٩(͡๏̯͡๏)۶

I said earlier that this book is progressive for the romance genre, but I think that’s a rash statement on my behalf, because as I said before, I haven’t read that many of its books. It’s not fair of me to judge these stories harshly just because they’re romance novels; they have their own merits. So I’m going to say that it was progressive, in general.
I thought that the story was good, though I missed out on a lot of it… haha. I’m loathe to give it a numerical ranking because I don’t really have any idea what to compare this book to. I guess that if you’re into romance, you could check it out– but if you’re a prude like me, it might be too much :’-)

This was the author’s debut novel so I want to take a moment to appreciate her writing style: it flowed together, there was a lot of internal monologue, and it never felt like she was stalling the story. There were a lot of situations that seemed weird to me, and like they were too timely to be coincidence, but I mean… it’s a romance novel. It had to have some of those situations, like oh no, this hotel has no more rooms so we’re stuck together. So I guess that it’s appropriate for the genre.

All in all… I personally wouldn’t recommend this book. I’d feel weird doing so, to any of my friends. But if you like romance novels, then I would say that it’s not a bad one to read. Like I mentioned earlier, it’s progressive and the characters are multifaceted. Josh is still kind of a caricature, but he’s okay as far as love-interests go… even in YA fiction, you’ve got the broody bad boy. Except he’s not actually a bad boy, I guess; he’s the number-crunching assistant to the CEO of a publishing company. So the furthest thing from a bad boy.

Anyways, I don’t think I wasted my time reading this book, as I felt after trying out The Golden Braid or Hotel Ruby, so it was a fairly successful endeavor. I wish I hadn’t skipped so much of it but… yeah.
I hope I helped someone out with this review, LOL. Happy reading!

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Pratyu’s Favorites: Girls Supporting Girls

I’m gonna start a new segment.

So I’ve been told that my favorite books appear to be very random. There’s no mode or method to my selection of novels. I think so, too. I’m going to try to put down some of my favorite themes in a series of posts, so we’ll see how that goes.

One of my favorites is, as the title says: girls supporting girls. Strong friendships between women, be they strangers or sisters or whatever. And, I mean, you could argue that some of the romantic relationships that crop up between female characters in stories are “strong relationships”; but what I’m talking about is completely platonic. Girls supporting girls because of solidarity, with no other motives. Not because they think, hey, that girl is cute; not because they see her and go, huh. She could be useful to my mission. I like the relationships that crop up solely because these girls have a genuine interest in creating camaraderie. I think that it’s a really important thing to uphold, and I’m glad to see more authors that forge friendships between their female characters rather than pitting them against each other.

So let me go ahead and mention a few that I can think of right now:

The Lunar Chronicles: Marissa Meyer

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[Ages 12+]

These books feature strong ties between multiple female characters: Cinder, Cress, Scarlet, Winter, and Iko find themselves growing more and more interdependent as they continue on their mission to defeat the Lunar Queen. Sure, there are boys. There’s romance; but I think that at the core of these books is deep and loyal friendship, and that’s what makes them really heartwarming.

 

The Goose Girl: Shannon Hale

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[Ages 12+]

This book is based on one of my favorite fairy tales, but it also features Ani and Enna, two girls from completely different social situations: Ani is a princess, only, she’s been betrayed by her handmaid (these sequence is one of those female friendships that goes sour…) and needs to take refuge. Enna is the girl that offers her the warmth of friendship while she’s hiding from her bloodthirsty handmaid.
Though the book doesn’t focus too much on Ani and Enna’s relationship on purpose, there are lots of instances between the two that soften even the hardest of people. Enna proves over and over again that she’s the most trustworthy person in the world, and even though she’s only known Ani for a short time– she’ll protect her. Ani, reciprocally, shows herself to be a good person in a bad situation, but she recognizes the sanctity of Enna’s friendship, and the girls support each other through the trials and tribulations they face over the course of the novel.

 

Code Name Verity: Elizabeth Wein

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[Ages 12+]

When a British plane crash-lands in Nazi-occupied France, only one of the two girls inside will survive. “Verity” is a young woman arrested by Nazi soldiers and subsequently forced to tell her story: how she became friends with the pilot, named Maddie; her role back with the Allies; and why she left Maddie to burn in the wreckage of the crash. Each new revelation brings with it a tangle of new secrets, tainted with betrayal but sweet with the hope of escape.

Code Name Verity is one of my favorite books of all time despite being historical fiction, which isn’t my genre of choice. It’s a gorgeous story, one filled with tragedy and loss and laughter and hope, and it all centers around a friendship that grows between these two girls, despite the war ravaging the world. Despite the fact that they have lost one another. I love it especially because it’s written in a diary format, with the first-person perspective, which allows for a more intimate look into the characters. Plus, also, the story’s amazing.

 

The Second Guard: J.D. Vaughn

[Ages 12+]

I’m really enjoying this series, with its training school and enthusiastic students; a conspiracy that’s bound to drown them all in darkness; and four little rebels who refuse to bow down to greater powers, in hopes of restoring peace. It’s a light read and it’s fun, with intriguing subplots, dynamic characters, and an overarching main story that ties everything together.

The story takes place in a land called Tequende, where the second-born child is given to work in either the Queen’s Guard or become an indentured servant. Sun Guilder Talimendra has dreamed of this moment for her entire life– to finally work with the brave soldiers that make up the Guard– and arrives at Alcazar, their school, with unbridled delight. Despite the blood and tears shed, she forges strong friendships and quickly begins to establish herself as an admirable pupil– only for everything to come crashing down when a terrible secret is discovered.

Although the relationship between Tali, Zarif and Chey is the most established one, there’s also the matter of Tali and Brindl– who was Tali’s roommate for all of ten minutes before absconding to work as a kitchen maid. The two girls dislike each other at first; Tali thinks that Brindl gives up too easily, and Brindl feels defensive and annoyed with Tali’s entitlement. Still, as the mystery behind Alcazar draws them more deeply into a conflict zone, Tali and Brindl are forced to make nice. Their relationship is expanded upon in the second book, The Shadow Guard, which is told from the point of view of Brindl herself.

 

Streams of Babel: Carol Plum Ucci

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[Ages 13+]

I’ve read this book over and over again, and every single time I do, I’m swept away by the story. Streams of Babel is, well… I’m not really sure what genre it would fall under. It goes like this: in the peaceful neighborhood of Trinity Falls, New Jersey, everything is fine and dandy until suddenly, two women die of brain aneurysms within twenty-four hours. The government determines that a deadly biochemical agent has been released in the water. From there, the story follows five main characters: Scott and Owen, the golden boys of Trinity Falls; Rain, dream girl extraordinaire; and Cora, shy and invisible, but suddenly thrust into the limelight.

Cora and Rain are from opposite ends of the social spectrum, which is what makes their subsequent friendship so interesting. Rain is a bombshell, vivacious and full of spunk. Boys follow her wherever she goes; she is the sun and the sky. Cora, on the other hand, likes to think of herself as a mouse. She’s reserved, distant, and makes it a point to take up the least amount of space possible. Sad and sweet, she believes that no one notices her but we learn later that she’s merely too intimidating to be talked to; an ice queen. Fire and ice are forced together as a mutated virus  devastates their bodies, making for a beautiful story and a solid rapport between these two girls.

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I think that’s a good list for now. I know I probably repeated “I love” and “my favorite” so many times throughout this piece but honestly, it’s all genuine. I think that I learned a lot about friendship from the aforementioned novels as well; about what it means to be a good friend. Who says you don’t learn anything from fiction?
I hope this list finds its way to anyone who needs it. ❤ Happy reading! ❤

Six of Crows: Leigh Bardugo

I’ve actually read this book twice over; once in 2015, then again about a month ago, and despite having read it before, I was still completely engrossed in the story. I think that’s how you know you have a good book: re-readability value. And this book ranks very high on my re-readability list.
Six of Crows is probably my favorite book out of those published in the last five years. It’s got everything I love: charming thieves and con-men; a intricately-established world with all sorts of quirky details; and an undercover mission. What’s weird is that I tried out the Grisha trilogy (? I think there are only three books?) by Ms. Bardugo, but I just couldn’t get into them. On the other hand, SOC was one of those books that I made myself read slowly so that I could really analyze each chapter. It was such a gorgeously derived story, and its fame is well-deserved.

I think that going through the summary would be gratuitous because everyone should read the book for themselves. I’ll just talk about the things that really made this book for me, instead.

I’ve read several book that try to establish beloved villainous characters, but I think that Six of Crows is the most memorable success that I’ve ever encountered. Kaz Brekker is your main baddie; he’s an enigma of a man, but deadly and terrifying. He’s only seventeen years old, but he’s got all the reputation of a mob boss. Brekker doesn’t dish out second chances; he acts out of spite and vengeance, but somehow manages to always be ten steps ahead of his enemies; he’s cold and calculating and sadistic, but he’s so witty that it’s hard not to love him. It’s hard not to be in awe of him. And as a reader, you delve more into his background, so you get attached quickly. Brekker is someone that you want on your side, but you certainly don’t want to underestimate or trust. He’s like chaos incarnate.

Inej is his right-hand man (woman?), kidnapped as a young girl of nine and sold to the owner of the Menagerie, which is a brothel especially made for those with foreign tastes. Inej endures a hard year there before encountering Brekker, a patron of the brothel for reasons more industrial than sex, who buys her off of the Madam’s hands and employs her as his wraith. As the wraith, Inej sneaks around the twisted streets of Ketterdam, gathering secrets for Kaz to use to his advantage. She’s a ghostly thing: quiet, serious, and grounded, but as the story goes on we’re exposed to a more vulnerable Inej. One who laughs and cries and hurts and smiles. She’s quick to capture your heart… and the hearts of her supposedly-heartless partners.

Kaz and Inej were, by far, my favorite characters, but I definitely appreciated the other characters, too: Jesper, the lighthearted sharpshooter with a damning gambling addiction; Wylan, the baby of the group and a demolitions expert, dealing with his own shameful secrets; Matthias, a Fjordan and former grisha-hunter (by the way! The grisha are these powerful, magical people from a country called Ravka, who have been demonized and hunted down by Fjordan grisha-hunters; kind of like the Crusaders of olden times) who has been imprisoned in what could be described as a more intense Alcatraz; and Nina, a sassy Grisha heart-render, who has the power to control your blood and your heart and who is very deeply in love with someone that she shouldn’t be in love with.

The whole team works together really well. If you’ve been reading my reviews for a while, you probably know how much I appreciate stories that revolve around friendship. Six of Crows is interesting because all of these people are swindlers and crooks, and they definitely shouldn’t be so close but they have to depend on each other for the sake of the job. It’s an interesting position to put them in: their lives are on the line, and there’s no room to mess up.

The book, as I mentioned above, also has these dazzling descriptions of each setting. I felt like I could see Ketterdam right in front of me; Ms. Bardugo fleshes out her world with so much care that you can taste the salt in the air of Ketterdam, feel the biting chill of Fjorda, smell the tang of metal and blood in Hellgate.

And the plot never feels slow or contrived. Everything fits together like a perfect jigsaw puzzle, and the ball keeps rolling. I think it was Stephen King who said in his book, On Writing, that one thing many authors get wrapped up in is their power of description. They forget that the ultimate goal is to move the story along. Six of Crows flows beautifully in that aspect; you get tons and tons of description, but it never gets tiresome because the story doesn’t ever stutter or come to a halt.
Okay. I’m going to end my review of the book there because I could honestly go on for pages about why you should read it. This is the one book in my review blog that I highly recommend to anyone, because if you enjoy a good adventure story, prison-breaks, thievery, underhandedness, betrayal, and incredible world-building, you should love this book.

If you’re still not convinced, check out the official character art by illustrator Kevin Wada; his work was so on-the-button that I got all nostalgic just looking at the images:

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They’re super gorgeous.

Okay. Also, I wanted to highly recommend that if you enjoy this book, you should definitely try out Dishonored by Arkane Studios. It’s such a beautiful game and it’s got this incredible atmosphere that I found really similar to Ketterdam. I truly believe that playing this game and exploring Dunwall before starting out Six of Crows contributed immensely to my enjoyment of the book. Here’s my review of Dishonored, if you want to find out more. Even if you don’t enjoy the game, you should definitely try listening to the music while reading the story; it’ll enhance your experience 1000%.

Happy reading! I really hope everyone enjoys this story as much as I did! 🙂

[ARC] Retribution Rails: Erin Bowman

Erin Bowman is a master at crafting endings.

I finished an ARC of Retribution Rails only moments ago and I’m sitting here with a big, dumb smile on my face because it was the perfect amount of closure and such a gorgeous tribute to the first book. By the way, you could totally read Retribution Rails without reading Vengeance Road first, but I wouldn’t recommend it. There are quite a few cameos that made me do the dumb grin, and I don’t think you’d have the same overall experience if you hadn’t read Ms. Bowman’s prior novel before trying this one.
First, let’s get the disclaimer out of the way: I received this book free, from NetGalley, in exchange for my honest and unbiased review. Now onto the review.

Retribution Rails, rather than being a sequel, is a companion novel to Vengeance Road. If you’d like a refresher, here’s my review of the latter.
The story follows Charlotte Vaughn and Reece Murphy, two young Westerners trapped in unfortunate situations. Reece—better known as “The Rose Kid”—is a renowned outlaw and feared for his supposed cruelty. He works with The Rose Riders, a gang who introduced themselves in Vengeance Road, but this faction runs under Luther Rose, the half-brother of Waylan. Reece has been forced to ride with the outlaws for years, all due to an unfortunate mission that leaves him at the mercy of Luther.

Charlotte Vaughn is a young, aspiring journalist, determined to make a name for herself despite her conniving Uncle, who has stolen credit for everything good and credible that her family has done. With the death of Charlotte’s father, the owner of a mine and an investor in several large projects including the A&P Train Line, Uncle Gerald has sunken his fingers into the remains of the Vaughns’ fortune, and it’s up to Charlotte to thwart his plans.

We’re reintroduced to several familiar settings, like Prescott and Wickenburg, and two very dear characters: Kate and Jesse Colton. That was such a welcome surprise; I figured that the two of them would make a cameo appearance, but they’re very much central to the plot and have an active role for at least three quarters of the story. Also… they’re expecting! It’s so fun to see Kate as the hardcore pregnant lady, a baby in her tummy and two guns in her hands.
We get to look into their family dynamic, ten years after the events in Vengeance Road, which I thought was really sweet on Ms. Bowman’s part. She totally could have written them off—“Oh, Jesse and Kate are fine and living somewhere and they have two kids,” but no. She fleshes out their story even further, and I’m glad for it.

I’m dying because I don’t want to give away too much information, but also I want to talk about everythingggg. It was so good!

Let’s talk villains. Luther is just as dastardly, just as driven, and just as unforgiving as his deceased brother; but rather than going after money, like Waylan, Luther operates off of a skewed sense of love and loyalty. He truly loves Reese Murphy as a son, though his way of displaying that love is horribly twisted. Kate states in the first book that “money makes monsters of men,” but Luther’s motivation is stated clearly and on his own terms: “Love makes us do odd things.” And I think that this quote encompasses the theme of the entire book. Every character in this story is working out of compassion: Reese, to make right his sins. Charlotte, to save her family. Jesse and Kate, to protect the safe-haven that they’ve created together. Gold is an afterthought in this story, which I thought was a good decision on Ms. Bowman’s part, because not only do we explore a new set of characters that are fundamentally different from the cast of Vengeance Road; we also get to observe aspects of characters whom we are already familiar with, so we don’t get tired of them. Not that I could get tired of Kate and Jesse.

Another cool thing about this story is that Kate and Jesse were really young in the first book; I think something like seventeen and around twenty, I’m not sure. In this one, they’re each ten years older. They’re adults. They deal with the situation with all the experience and confidence of adults. I’m not sure exactly how to describe it, but you can tell that they aren’t the same since the events in Superstition Canyon and everything that happened afterwards.

While I initially found Charlotte pretentious and a bit whiny, her character development is stunning. She’s an admirable person from the beginning: as a journalist, she wants to chase the truth. By the end of the novel, her desire to state the facts and reveal the truth to the world remains, but she’s come to understand that humans are complex beings, not entirely black and white, and this affects her world-view greatly. Reese is also incredibly dynamic, but what I found most interesting is that he starts off as a character who very much craves death but by the end of the tale, he’s learned that in order to move past everything he has done, he’s got to face his demons. A lot of gorgeous moments of character maturation crop up, especially when Reese has to betray his gang, who are pretty much the only family he’s had for the past few years. And there’s a ton of introspection that plays into both characters, which makes them much more relatable and much more sympathetic.

What was most noticeable for me was the rapid change in dialect. Charlotte speaks like a journalist: her words are clear, free of the if’ns and yers and the western accent that’s so tangible in any other character’s speech. She also strings together long sentences that are full of analogies, metaphors, and description. I remember thinking that her thoughts read like a novel, and I think it’s an interesting detail that Ms. Bowman included on her part. I appreciated it. And that ending. Oh my goodness. She kept me on my toes even after all the action was over.

I’ve already said so much and I want people to form their own opinions, so that’s it for my review. I really, really loved this book, and I thought that it was a perfect way to end the story of Jesse and Kate, while also introducing us to a new cast of equally intriguing characters. I think that she could definitely do more with the series, focusing on the Native Americans or perhaps another aspect of the Wild West, but I highly recommend this series to anyone with interest in the gun-slinging, fast-paced, high-octane-high-stakes adventures of cowboys and outlaws.

[ARC] Witchtown: Cory Putnam Oakes

Ugh, I feel like I’ve been writing so many downer reviews lately and I’m sorry about that. I don’t want to; if I had a choice, I wouldn’t write these at all, but I’m obligated to since I received the book for free from NetGalley, in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.
So moving on. I’m going to try to be concise, and I’m going to make it a point to write about the things that I did like. This is Ms. Oakes’s first book, so there are going to be some kinks, but I commend her for having the drive to write an entire novel in the first place. It’s not an easy thing  to do.
So… onto the review, I guess.

I recently finished up an ARC of Witchtown, the debut novel of Corey Putnam Oakes, and I have to say that I did not find it very immersive. The story follows Macie and Aubra O’Sullivan, a mother-daughter duo of thieves who infiltrate “havens,” which are like real-world reservations but for witches, and rob them of every penny they have.  Macie’s starting to experience some doubts about their lifestyle, but she doesn’t have much of a choice in the matter. Her mother is a powerful witch (a Natural witch, born with powers, as opposed to a Learned witch, who learns how to use magic) who won’t take “no” for an answer, as she recently found out in their last escapade, where a Very Bad Thing happened to someone that she loved very much.

This is another case of “the premise of the story was good; the execution was not.”

Macie wasn’t fleshed out much; we barely see into her past. The only things that we’re made aware of are the facts that she had a boyfriend in the last town, and things went down terribly; and she has no powers, which has affected her for pretty much her entire life. Also, who is her father? We never find out, but that’s a thing, too. He’s barely mentioned and doesn’t seem to make much of an impact on her character. Aubra is the personification of narcissism and abusive to boot, so she’s a terrible person—not even a likeable villain, which isn’t bad, because you can’t always root for the villain in a story. The rest of the cast, which consists of the members of Witchtown, are forgettable save Talya and Kellen, the only two people that are somewhat fleshed out after being designated Macie’s friends.

My problem with this story is that it wasn’t cohesive. The first three quarters of the book are made up of random subplots that are strung together, like Macie buying some supply depot in the market-place and struggling with an angry poltergeist that haunts it (what was that even about, I don’t understand why this was included in the story), and Macie struggling to hide the fact that she’s Void (she has no powers) from the other townsfolk, and Macie getting magic lessons from Kellan (who refuses to believe that she’s Void,) and, you know, random slice-of-life stuff. Of course, it all comes together in the end, but the links are weak and far too flimsy to make for a good M. Night Shyamalan-esque twist.

The last quarter is when the main plot—let’s steal everything this town has—comes into play. Macie decides that she doesn’t want to do this anymore. She goes to Aubra and demands that they settle down in Witchtown, and Aubra basically laughs her off. Then Aubra gets it in her head to burn the town down and steal the insurance check, so the game changes drastically, and it’s up to Macie to stop her.
The main point of the story did like a backflip at the end. It changed, not completely, but enough to make obsolete the buildup from the first half of the book. And there’s so much weird stuff going on in the story that no one, other than the immediate main characters of Talya, Kellan, the mayor and Macie, acknowledge. Like the swarm of locusts that invades the town, or the depot, which is constantly burning down, or the rowan-laced water.

I’m also kind of annoyed that the summary lied to me. I was promised this cool story about witches and thievery and robbing a town, but the story was actually a coming-of-age, escaping-the-abuse tale. That wouldn’t be bad, if the blurb had been forthright about it. I guess I expected Six of Crows and I got something resembling Matilda.

There are some loose threads at the end of the story: Witchtown is still broke. Though Macie saves it from being burned to the ground, the books are still forged and the town is still running on fumes. I guess that Percy was a big detractor to their welfare, having staged a lot of the problems that were occurring like with the rowan in the water and stuff, but that never is explained. Talya likes some guy in the book whose name I can’t remember because he only crops up once or twice, but he’s still attached to Autumn, another side-character, and there’s no resolution in that. Also, this guy has something about him because Talya, apparently, gets this wonky, distant gaze when she looking into his past (Talya’s power is being able to see people’s secrets, which is a seriously cool power, but is rarely utilized), and that’s never explained. Aubra just vanishes in the end. She leaves behind all her money, but she disappears without a trace. What happened to her? And what was with the poltergeist, Bradley, who haunts the depot? Is he just going to stay there forever, or is his husband going to crop up sometime? They mention Stan like once, and then never again. I’m guessing that Ms. Oakes is writing a sequel or a companion book—I hope she does, because there’s potential for another story there.

My last complaint is about all the deus ex machinas. Lord, the worst one was when Kellan summons the ghost of that old woman who died in the beginning, the only other Natural witch in the town. He literally throws her ashes into this magic trap that Talya makes (speaking of which, how does Talya know how to do these things? She was far more interesting than Macie, but all we ever learn is that she was abandoned in Witchtown by her parents) and starts mumbling in Latin and then boom—there’s a ghost. When asked about how on earth he did that, he just shrugs and says something about making it up as he went along.
Kellan! You summoned a ghost! The ghost was able to choke a living woman! This ghost could touch people! That seems really powerful!
And the explaining away of what happened with Macie. I’ll appreciate that there was buildup, with the moonstones and the weirdness over her lack of power at the beginning, but the buildup was really weak. Also, the whole thing about the moonstones clouding Macie’s memory seemed to be put in the story as an afterthought.

Another thing was that Macie is so afraid of being revealed as a Void witch and being marked and turned into an outcast. Apparently, that happens—Void witches are branded and shunned from both Witchy and human society. But then, Talya is also rumored to be Void, but nothing bad happens to her. She works for the mayor in the archives, I mean, she’s totally fine. She interacts with the other townspeople and other than thinking that she’s a little strange, no one does anything about her. It’s possible that I missed a line where this is explained away—that she’s keeping it a secret, too—but then it’s stated that first of all, Macie knows, and second of all, the mayor’s ex-secretary, Lois, was the one who spread rumors about Talya being Void. So why isn’t there any repercussion to that? Talya is a free woman, for all intents and purposes. Witchtown does nothing to their only supposedly Void witch, which leaves the question of why is Macie so terrified of being found out? They won’t do anything to you, kid.

I did appreciate the worldbuilding. There was a lot of thought put into Witchtown, like the whole concept of being totally independent, eco-friendly, etc. Ms. Oakes lay out the town so that it was easy for the reader to imagine. I think that one thing that I would have appreciated would be a map in the beginning of the book, so that we could kind of see exactly what she had envisioned. There was good LGBT representation; there was a lesbian couple (one of the Elders and the baker, which was kind of funny,) and then the poltergeist and his husband, although… I guess the “bury your gays” trope is subverted because the Elder and the baker are alive and well. And the baker, I think her name is Gayle, makes an impact on the story despite not being as fleshed out as any of the main cast members.

The characterization of witches in the book was interesting, with the whole idea of the caste-systemy style of power in play, with the Learned witches being less sought-after than the Natural witches. Also, the weakness of Learned witches to rowan, and Natural witches to angelica. Also, Macie’s flair for herbology was a good character trait that presented itself naturally, rather than feeling contrived.

Darn. I said I would keep this concise. :’-)
I wish that I could give this book a higher rating, but it really didn’t hold my attention. There were parts of the story that were really good, but it didn’t get interested until the last three chapters. Everything before that felt like fluff, like the kind of stuff that goes between chapters of a romance-y, finding-your-way-through-the-world sort of story. Anyways, my review could be totally different from someone else’s. I do hope the author the best with the release and thank you so much to HMH Books for the free copy of Witchtown.

Graceling: Kristin Cashore

The cover reminds me a bit of Ruined (Amy Tintera), doesn’t it? Since this book came out earlier, I’m guessing that Ms. Tintera’s designer took a cue from this book.

Graceling is the first of the Graceling Realm books, a series by author Kristin Cashore. It follows Katsa, the niece of a cruel king, graced with the ability to kill any man with her bare hands since the tender age of eight. By the time the book starts, she’s around seventeen (I think) and very much miserable under her uncle’s strict rule. She works as his thug: going around to kill, torture, and maim those whom he deems disrespectful or conniving. Katsa hates this life, but doesn’t see what else she could do—that is, until she meets Prince Po.

First off, I’m gonna confirm that this is a shining review; I really, really loved this book. At first, I was kind of thrown off by the sheer power that Katsa possessed—it’s not something typical of a YA heroine. And it was amazing. She’s literally going around, throwing people to the ground, cutting off limbs; she’s like the scary thug that gets featured in these fantasy YA novels, but… it’s Katsa herself. The heroine. Our protag. It was fantastic. All of her fight scenes had me going “YEAH YOU BEAT HIM UP” even though I’m very much an uncombative person.

Superhuman power aside, Katsa’s really atypical for a female character. She’s blunt—to the point of robotic—but unlike, for example… I can’t think of any examples. It’s past midnight. Anyways, unlike most of the aloof, blasé femme fatales of YA fiction, Katsa’s more of a gentle giant. She’s not a giant, but she’s got the heart of one. Ahaha. My point is, Katsa’s the type of powerful thug that is ruminative, contemplative, wonders about the magic in the world. She’s innocent, for all of the blood on her hands, but she’s practical, which is probably why she’s survived for so long in the king’s court.

Katsa’s best friend is her cousin—the king’s son. You’d think that this would mean a budding romance between the two, but that’s not true; they’re just friends. And I know you’re probably like PRATYU WHAT THE HECK THEY ARE COUSINS. I just realized this as I was typing it. That they are cousins. Duh, there wouldn’t be a romance.  You dumbo, Pratyu. I guess I just didn’t connect those two things together BUT keep in mind that this is kind of a medieval-y setting. It wouldn’t be that mind-blowingly weird for two cousins to get married during ~then~.
Still, I recant my previous statement. I guess it’s not so cool that they were just friends—but it was relieving? I don’t know, I feel like my foot is in my mouth now. LET’S MOVE ONNNN.

Prince Po! He’s fun. He’s kind of the manic pixie boy to Katsa’s tired thug persona. But this isn’t a bad thing. I think I say that a lot in my reviews, “this isn’t a bad thing,” but it’s not! I swear! He’s really fun and he’s charming, and he’s the only one thus far that can hold his own in a fight against Katsa.
Their initial meeting is… memorable. Also.
I like that the characters all keep their own secrets and that these secrets are revealed to us through the story. There’s no third-person-omniscient-knowledgeable-about-all-thing going on here, we’re just as clueless as the reader. For example, the antagonist is not who you would expect to be the antagonist, and his power is incredible as well. There was a lot of thought going into what these character’s abilities are and how that affects their personalities and motivations—how it’s reflected in their personalities and motivations.

Honestly, while I was reading this book, I was like huh. I’d give this 4/5 stars. But THEN. I got to the part with King Leck—and that changed the game entirely. I was so thrilled! It was nice.

Alsoooo the introduction of BITTERBLUE who is the sweetest little usurped-and-hardened little queenling that I’ve ever… read. Read? Sure. I loved her! I really loved all of the characters in this book, and that’s an impressive feat. I’m not saying that I’m hard to impress, but to get the reader to care about all of the characters in a novel is difficult. Miss Cashore managed it.

I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a kickbutt female protagonist, an adventure story that twists and turns like a Shyamalan movie, a truly terrifying antagonist… anyone who enjoys a good book. Please, do yourself a favor and pick it up!