Uprooted It Is Not

Cover of the book The Waking Land by Callie Bates

Title: The Waking Land
Author: Callie Bates
ISBN: 9780425284025
Publisher: Del Ray
Publication date: June 27, 2017
Page count: 400
Genre: YA Fantasy
Source: NetGalley
Rating: 2/5 stars

Goodreads description:
Lady Elanna Valtai is fiercely devoted to the King who raised her like a daughter. But when he dies under mysterious circumstances, Elanna is accused of his murder and must flee for her life.

Returning to the homeland of magical legends she has forsaken, Elanna is forced to reckon with her despised, estranged father, branded a traitor long ago. Feeling a strange, deep connection to the natural world, she also must face the truth about the forces she has always denied or disdained as superstition powers that suddenly stir within her.

But an all-too-human threat is drawing near, determined to exact vengeance. Now Elanna has no choice but to lead a rebellion against the kingdom to which she once gave her allegiance. Trapped between divided loyalties, she must summon the courage to confront a destiny that could tear her apart.

My Review:
I was excited to receive a chance to read The Waking Land – it has been compared to Uprooted by Naomi Novik, which I loved. And maybe if it hadn’t been, my expectations wouldn’t have been so high and I would have enjoyed it more. Alas.

In recent years, I’ve been trying to be more open to unlikeable protagonists for a variety of reasons, but I just canNOT with Elanna. Selfish, bitter, wishy-washy, naive, angsty, self-victimizing (in the “people only like me for my powers WOE IS ME BOOOOHOOOOO” vein) – I mean, I get that she’s supposed to be 19 and sometimes those descriptors come with the age, but UGH. I had whiplash from how often she changed her tune. Basically? Whatever she THOUGHT was happening was NEVER happening, which took all the tension out of the book. You think that guy is a bad guy? Surprise, 1 page later you find out he’s not AD NAUSEUM. Fool me once, etc. 

I found the magic in the book poorly described, which is too bad because it had a lot of potential. Elanna IS the land, but the descriptions of being both a singular person and the land incarnate were few, lacking, and just not believable. I am HERE for magic and have a strong ability to suspend disbelief, but I was just not convinced. It felt like such a missed opportunity.

I really wanted to like this book – I love a good fantasy story with magic, a strong female protagonist and revolution – but this one just fell short for me. Convoluted to the point of not interesting with a main character who I never felt much sympathy for – I just wasn’t convinced by this story. 

Mini Review Monday 4/17/17

Picture of a set of homemade bookshelves filled with books, a few board games

Wherein I catch up on reviewing some books!

Girl Mans Up by M-E Girard

4.5 Stars! I really enjoyed this contemporary YA.  Pen has a lot going on – she’s genderqueer (but doesn’t really have the vocabulary to describe her experience), she’s got a sketchy/manipulative best friend, Old World parents who do NOT get her at ALL, a great older brother, and she’s really into gaming. When one of her friend’s exes seems to be struggling, Pen gets accidentally pulled in.  Through that, a new relationship, and a school project, Pen works on figuring out who she is and the kind of friend she wants to be. If you liked Gabi, A Girl in Pieces (which I loved and highly recommend!), I think you would like this, too.

Nevertheless, She Persisted by various authors at Tor.com

For International Women’s Day Tor.com did a cool thing – they asked a bunch of authors to write flash fiction/very short stories, each starting with the now (in)famous phrase, Nevertheless, She Persisted.  These are really fun! I knew and had read most of the authors, but there were several that were new to me and I’m excited to check out more of their work. My favorites were Astronaut by Maria Dahvana Headly and Margot and Rosalind by Charlie Jane Anders. They’re all free to read, so go check them out

The Wanderers by Meg Howrey

This was a rare DNF (did not finish) for me. It was strange – I really enjoyed how clever the writing was – Meg Howrey knows her way around a catchy phrase. And yet…nothing happened. I don’t want to be one of those people who needs plot to be central and lots of Bang! Flash! Boom! to keep me interested (I swear I’m not), but I think my expectations were really high for this and I just couldn’t get into the creeping pace. There were a LOT of narrators in this, which I’m pretty neutral about in general, but every single time we switched perspectives I found myself pissed off.  I’ve heard people compare this to The Martian and I do NOT get this AT ALL. This is a verrrry introspective story with almost no plot events. I stopped at about 50%, after finding a review on GoodReads that assured me that Nothing continued to happen for the rest of the book. I kind of wish it had been a short story. 

Octopus Pie Volume 1 by Meredith Gran

4 Stars. I kept seeing volumes of this comic on display in my library’s YA Graphic Novel section – but never Volume One, which was always checked out. I finally got my hands on this collected web comic and I’m glad I did. Eve is such a perfectly curmudgeonly 20-something living in Brooklyn not too far out of college. She ends up with a stoner roommate who was also a childhood friend, thanks to her mom. This is a funny look at an awkward time of life, but it also touches on some pretty deep stuff surrounding identity. I’m looking forward to reading Volume 2.

Twice Tempted (Night Prince #2) by Jeaniene Frost

3 Stars. Right around this time, I started suffering pretty badly from a neck/shoulder injury (from sleeping, thanks/fuck you aging!) I found myself pretty unable to read with my eyeballs, but audiobooks seemed to work a-ok. Because I was distracted by pain a lot of the time, I just wanted something totally mindless, a story to be absorbed in without requiring me to think AT ALL. This was the right choice! My library’s Hoopla collection has a LOT of audiobook romances, something I’d never tried before and honestly thought would be weird and awkward. I was not wrong, but I also enjoyed it more than I thought!  

I read Once Burned (Night Prince #1) way back in 2013, and I wasn’t sure if I would remember enough to jump into #2, but it was fine. This book reminded me why I prefer standalone romances (paranormal or otherwise) – the HEA from the previous book has to be upended in order for there to be a next book, and the conflict is usually stupid and frustrating. *so much drama.* And so much of it could have been avoided with a few simple conversations. The MC, Leila, was extremely woe-is-me!!! I’m counting myself lucky that I didn’t actually injure myself from rolling my eyes SO HARD. The hardest.

Regarding the audiobook-romance aspect –  LORD! The narrator seriously got into the role – REALLY committed. *blushes* Definitely an earbuds experiences. Anyway. This review was a lot more about me than the book. Sorry not sorry. It is what it is!

Cherry by Lindsay Rosin

4 Stars! If I had had this book in late Middle or High School, it would have been falling apart from how many times I would have reread it – it’s kind of the next generation (and age group’s) Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. A frank and realistic look into teenage girl sexuality, Cherry isn’t only about sex – it’s also a fantastic story of friendship. These girls have each others’ backs, and it is marvelous to behold. This book could have easily gone the way of cheesy after-school-special, but it does not. There is honest talk about masturbation, orgasm, various kinds of sex, and the individuality of a person’s sexuality – basically, it made me want to cheer. I kind of feel like it should be required reading for most if not all teens.

Other bookish things…

ERMERGAD I joined Book Riot’s new Insiders community and it is SO FUN! The Slack channels are hilarious. I did ask myself,  geez, did you really need *another* place to talk about books and the answer was HELL YES YOU DID IT IS AWESOME. It really is! The new releases index is making it easier for me to request high quality galleys and keep an eye on books I really want via a Watchlist; I’m REALLY looking forward to the Read Harder podcast (I have some really tricky categories that have me kinda stumped); and again, the Slack channel is the BEST. If you are in the market for a fun bookish community, Treat Yo’ Self 2017 and sign up for Insiders (I highly recommend the Epic level, but you can check it out for only $3/month)!

What have you been reading lately? Tell me below! 👇

Review: Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida CĂłrdova

Cover of the book Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova on a white background with tiny yellow flowers

Title: Labyrinth Lost
Author: Zoraida CĂłrdova
ISBN: 1492620947
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Publication date: September 6, 2016
Page count: 336
Genre: YA Urban Fantasy
Source: Library
Rating: 4/5

Goodreads summary:
Nothing says Happy Birthday like summoning the spirits of your dead relatives.

Alex is a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation…and she hates magic. At her Deathday celebration, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her power. But it backfires. Her whole family vanishes into thin air, leaving her alone with Nova, a brujo boy she can’t trust. A boy whose intentions are as dark as the strange marks on his skin.

The only way to get her family back is to travel with Nova to Los Lagos, a land in-between, as dark as Limbo and as strange as Wonderland…

Review: 4 Stars!

I really enjoyed this! It has familiar tropes that you can slip right into (heroine who doesn’t appreciate her gifts and acts rashly without understanding the whole situation, a little bit of a love triangle, and a quest to redeem her actions) – but it felt totally fresh. The underworld of Los Lagos was really original – I loved all the fantastic creatures we met there (and some were pretty scary!). The description of the colorful landscape itself was really great – I would *love* to see this is as a movie or mini-series! I can see it as supersaturated, so many purples and oranges…

This book was a page turner – the short chapters might have had something to do with that? Whatever it was, I liked it, I felt like I was flying through it without rushing at all. The pacing is absolutely perfect – no lulls or long drawn-out boughts of hand-wringing.

Alex felt totally believable to me as a teenager – she’s confused, she’s afraid of her magic, she’s unsure of her feelings – but she’s also not taking any shit, she’s brave, and she stays true to herself. Her growth as a character over the course of the book felt really authentic. I worried a bit about The Chosen One trope, but I think the author handled it in a really cool way – I won’t say anymore because I hate spoilers.

Side note: The Devourer reminded me of a scarier, waaaay meaner version of David Bowie’s Jareth, The Goblin King, from the movie Labyrinth (which is one of my all-time FAVES). She had a much more developed backstory though (I mean, who the hell is Jareth? How did he become the Goblin King?!) ANYWAY, she’s a worthy foe, and I want to see someone’s rendering of her cool steel and bone dress and mask.

The system of magic that CĂłrdova created is really cool and original, and I thoroughly appreciated her Author’s Note at the end where she explains what’s real, what she used as inspiration for the fictional pieces, and where you can learn more about each facet.

Also: it’s rad that this book is populated 100% by people of color. And, bonus queer rep. If that’s a thing you try to read more of (I do!), then know that this book has it.

All in all – two very enthusiastic thumbs up to this book. It’s fun, it’s heart-felt, and it’s super satisfying. I will give a side WTF to that epilogue, buuuuut, I guess since it’s the first in a series, we’re just going to have to come back to see what’s up with that in Book 2! Very much looking forward to the next adventure.

Review: Follow Me Back by A.V. Geiger

Cover of Follow Me Back by A.V. Geiger

Title: Follow Me Back
Author: A.V. Geiger
ISBN: 1492645230
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire / Wattpad
Publication date: June 6, 2017
Page count: 368
Genre: Contemporary YA
Source: NetGalley
Rating: 2/5 stars

Summary (from GoodReads): Tessa Hart’s world feels very small. Confined to her bedroom with agoraphobia, her one escape is the online fandom for pop sensation Eric Thorn. When he tweets to his fans, it’s like his speaking directly to her…Eric Thorn is frightened by his obsessive fans. They take their devotion way too far. It doesn’t help that his PR team keeps posting to encourage their fantasies. When a fellow pop star is murdered at the hands of a fan, Eric knows he has to do something to shatter his online image fast—like take down one of his top Twitter followers. But Eric’s plan to troll @TessaHeartsEric unexpectedly evolves into an online relationship deeper than either could have imagined. And when the two arrange to meet IRL, what should have made for the world’s best episode of Catfish takes a deadly turn…Told through tweets, direct messages, and police transcripts.

Review: Ok. Look. I’ve read some seriously top-notch fanfiction over the years – fantastically written, well-researched, the whole gamut. I have deep, deep respect for fanfiction writers. I also really enjoy YA, and I know that so much of YA can and does have appeal beyond the YA-aged audience.

But this reads like very underdeveloped, sophomoroic, wish-fulfillment fanfiction by a very, very young person.

This just felt…young. Not in topic, but the writing style. Yes, there was a plot. There were twists and turns. But it is ALL telling and nooooo showing. It’s a bit like a paint-by-numbers book. I am holding your hand and telling you every single thing I want you to see/hear/think, and I’m not leaving anything up to interpretation. No metaphors. No subtext.

For a while I thought this would be a 3-star read – it’s fast, it’s easy to read, the police interrogation documents keep you wondering what all this tweeting and DM-ing can possible lead to. But. Nah. I didn’t hate it – but I rolled my eyes. A LOT. And by the 70% mark I was skimming a lot of the filler text. At that point, I just wanted to see the resolution, so I didn’t waste a ton of time on reading every word carefully (because by then I knew that I wasn’t going to miss a great turn of phrase or something particularly underline-worthy).

SPOIILER:

The “twist” ending felt soooooo tacked on. Boooooo. It felt like a total last ditch effort to make people talk about this book. “OMG! What do you think happened?! Why?!? How?!?” I don’t care. I see in GoodReads that there is a sequel forthcoming – I will not be reading it.

If you need a high calorie snack type of book, this is your bag of greasy potato chips. I’m not angry that I read it, but I can tell that I will spend exactly 0 minutes thinking about it in the future.

This books was provided to me by NetGalley and the publisher in exchage for an honest review. Thanks to both.