Not Otherwise Specified

teaserbox_14435678Title: Not Otherwise Specified
Author: Hannah Moskowitz
Genre: Contemporary, Realistic, YA
Rating: ★★★★★ | 4.5 out 5.0

warnings: biphobia, bullying, ED, homophobia

Etta Sinclair doesn’t fit in anywhere, not with the Disco Dykes, who turn against her when she begins to date a boy. Not at ballet, where she’s too curvy and defiant to follow the strict rules of the discipline. Not even at home, where her mother can’t even bring herself to say the word ‘bisexual.’ She is, as far as she can tell, Etta Not Otherwise Specified.

But when she hears of an opportunity to audition at Brentwood, a prestigious performing arts school in New York City, Etta sees it as her ticket out of her rural Midwestern town. But practicing for the audition brings her into the orbit of Bianca, a talented singer from Etta’s eating disorder recovery group. Bianca is sick, much sicker than Etta, and she may not even want to get better. But she’s the first person to love Etta without condition. Etta quickly becomes friends with Bianca, Bianca’s handsome older brother James, and James’ friend Mason. Being with them, though, makes Etta question some of her own assumptions, and question the way she thinks of herself and who is wants to be.

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A Torch Against the Night

1-2Title: A Torch Against the Night
Author: Sabaa Tahir
Genre: Young Adult, Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Rating: ★★★★☆ | 4.0 out of 5.0

I wasn’t actually sure if I wanted to read this. The first novel I enjoyed immensely, but as with all series, time mellows the fires of passion, and you’re left with the embers of a dying devotion to a book you don’t really remember too much about. I just wasn’t sure if I was ready to spend money on this novel. AND THEN. The heavens parted, the stars opened and poured their lights upon the parched winter soil, and it turned out that my friend had an ARC of A Torch Against the Night that she was willing to loan me, and then I didn’t have to worry about the problem anymore. Huzzah!

A Torch Against the Night picks up immediately after An Ember in the Ashes, with Laia and Elias escaping the city with a half-baked plan to free Laia’s brother Darin from the notorious Kauf Prison. It can be a little jarring to pick up here, in large part because I’d forgotten what had happened leading up to it. The specifics of their escape, the people who helped and hindered them, even the Scholar rebellion were all totally forgotten, and diving back in was something of a challenge.

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Out of Darkness

perez-outofdarknessTitle: Out of Darkness
Author: Ashley Hope Perez
Genre: Realistic Fiction, Historical Fiction
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

warnings: sexual assault, rape, CSA, attempted lynching, murder, child death, racism, slurs

As I’ve grown older, I’ve noticed that my tolerance for grimdark has gone massively downhill. It just no longer interests me anymore. This world makes me sad enough; why do I need to look to books to make me cry?

That’s how I felt about Ashley Hope Perez’s Out of Darkness. It’s probably the best book I’ve ever given two stars to.

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The Steep and Thorny Way

22838927Title: The Steep & Thorny Way
Author: Cat Winters
Genre: Young Adult, Mystery, Magical Realism
Rating: ★★☆☆☆ | 2.5 out of 5

I’ve been listening to a lot of songs that give me southern gothic vibes lately. That, coupled with the fact that I’m currently in Georgia and the fact that I’ve been marathoning Preacher means that The Steep and Thorny Way has been exactly the kind of novel I’m looking for. Moody, stormy, a revenge narrative smack dab in the middle of Nowhere, Oregon, where the glamour of the ’20s seems to have packed its bags and skipped out of town.

Hannalee Denney is the only biracial girl in the rural town of Elston, and her father the only Black man, until his death at the hands of a reckless driver. But Hannalee and her mother are trying to move forward. Her mother’s married the local physician, and Hannalee is adapting to this new life. But then her father’s murderer gets released, and he’s telling a story different from the one she heard. According to him, Hannalee’s new stepfather is the one who killed Hank Denney.

If the title wasn’t enough of a giveaway, the novel is a loose reconfiguration of Hamlet set in rural Oregon, complete with chilling ghosts and possible poison and the presence of the Klu Klux Klan. And friends, I really wasn’t sold. I really admire books with a commitment to concept and that would have been necessary to the success of this novel.There are ways of grounding the supernatural into more realistic portrayals of racism and homophobia and I think this was really well done in Libba Bray’s Diviners series, but this necessitates the author to be willing to take the idea of the supernatural to its logical extremes. But Steep & Thorny Way kept pulling back, much to the detriment not only of the atmosphere, but also of the overall narrative.

This wouldn’t have actually made me quit the novel, though, because I’ve read a lot of novels that failed to live up to their concepts but still turned out pretty enjoyable. What made this novel join the 33% club was its clunky writing and complete lack of subtlety. This is likely a result of Winters wanting to address a lot of the racism and homophobia in the time period she’s writing in, so I can’t really fault her for it, but the writing was so heavy-handed the process of reading became the hardest part of the narrative. Sometimes a light touch is all that’s needed.

Character interactions make no sense. Conversations go from Point A to Planet X in the space of a few sentences, and rather than feeling organic, they feel as if they have agendas: the point of Paragraph Z was to convey Y information. Characterisation is also all over the place. It’s as if the novel got so caught up in its messaging that it forgot that it had a story to tell. Which is really such a shame, because it would have been an interesting one.

The Agency Series (Y.S. Lee)

Title: The Agency
Author: YS Lee
Genre: Action, Historical Fiction, Mystery
Rating: ★★☆☆☆ || 2.0 stars

In some ways, it’s deeply unfair to rate these books as a series. In others, it’s the only way to rate it at all. As individual books, they were mostly competent, interesting reads. I’m generally a huge fan of revisionist Victorian novels (particularly if there is a mystery element) that feature intrepid girls (particularly if they are intrepid girls of colour), but I found that the more I read the books, the more frustrated and impatient I became with them.

The Agency follows Mary Quinn, formerly Mary Lang, an Irish-Chinese girl who was saved from the noose to be given a second chance at life. She takes this second chance to turn herself into a member of the Agency, a covert all-female private detective agency that utilises stereotypes about women to go undercover as maids, companions, and governesses––all in the name of the case. In each of the four books, Mary is sent on a different case––uncovering the truth behind the smuggling of Hindu artifacts into England while posing as the paid companion of a spoiled young lady, solving the death of a bricklayer at the building site of the Houses of Parliament and the clock tower in the guise of a twelve year old boy, even enjoying a stint in Buckingham Palace as a maid chasing down a string of petty thefts in the palace. This setup allows for an almost infinite amount of permutations––Lee could certainly have extended the series indefinitely if she so chose, so it’s something of a minor miracle that she chose to complete it at four. This is also part of why I found myself enjoying the novels less and less.

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Skinwalker

skinwalker

Title: Skinwalker
Author: Faith Hunter
Genre: Action, Adventure, Mystery, Urban Fantasy
Rating: ★☆☆☆☆ || 1.0 star

Jane Yellowrock doesn’t remember anything about her life. She was twelve when she walked naked out of the forest with no recollection of her past beyond the fact that she’s a Skinwalker. Years later, she’s become an accomplished vampire hunter contracted to come to New Orleans––to work for vampires. New Orleans has been plagued by a rogue vampire, who aside from attacking humans, has also been turning on his own. And though Jane heads to Louisiana determined to claim a kill that will put her on the map, what she ends up finding may be more than she bargained for.

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Cinder & Ella

22724488Title: Cinder & Ella
Author: Kelly Oram
Genre: Realistic Fiction, Contemporary Fiction, YA
Rating: ★☆☆☆☆ || 1 star

warnings for: in-universe ableism, death, suicide ideations/attempts

Can someone tell me why this has such a high rating on Goodreads? I truly would like to know, because this book was fucking awful. Like I’m sorry, did we travel back in time to 2003? Because that was the last year this book would have been acceptable to me, and even there would have been a question mark punctuating my enjoyment. And several exclamation points following. (FTR, I would have been seven or eight, and I still might have looked down my nose at this book.) It’s just sexist hogwash, is what it is.

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