Chaotic Good: YOU HAVE TO READ IT

Chaotic Good by Whitney Gardner

Published by Knopf, scheduled for March 2018

Genre: YA, Contemporary

Pages: 256

THERE AREN’T EVEN WORDS. I INHALED Chaotic Good. I read it in one sitting and will absolutely, definitely be buying a copy to read again. It’s my favorite book of the year. Of several years. Let’s get into it.

Can we please talk about this cover? It’s so beautiful. I’m in love.

Cameron’s cosplay–dressing like a fictional character–is finally starting to earn her attention–attention she hopes to use to get into the CalTech costume department for college. But when she wins a major competition, she inadvertently sets off a firestorm of angry comments from male fans.

When Cameron’s family moves the summer before her senior year, she hopes to complete her costume portfolio in peace and quiet away from the abuse. Unfortunately, the only comic shop in town–her main destination for character reference–is staffed by a dudebro owner who challenges every woman who comes into the shop.

At her twin brother’s suggestion, Cameron borrows a set of his clothes and uses her costuming expertise to waltz into the shop as Boy Cameron, where she’s shocked at how easily she’s accepted into the nerd inner sanctum. Soon, Cameron finds herself drafted into a D&D campaign alongside the jerky shop-owner Brody, friendly (almost flirtatiously so) clerk Wyatt, handsome Lincoln, and her bro Cooper, dragged along for good measure.

But as her “secret identity” gets more and more entrenched, Cameron’s portfolio falls by the wayside–and her feelings for Lincoln threaten to make a complicated situation even more precarious. 

Dear Dwayne With Love

The premise of Chaotic Good intrigued me immediately, because your girl is a nerd. I’ve played D&D, Call of Cthulhu. I’ve spent many a Friday night in a room with a bunch of dudes playing tabletop games. I kicked EVERYONE’S ass at Geek Battle. This book sounded like it would be a love letter to nerdiness, and I knew if that was the case, I would adore it.

It does not disappoint.

It brings up SO many points about what it’s like to be a girl in nerd culture. Some MUCH needed reflection on the male gate-keeping of nerd culture. I knew I would love it, but I didn’t know just how much.

I also really love the girl-dresses-as-guy-to-infiltrate-guy-space thing.

See All the Stars by Kit Frick

The writing is perfect. Effortless, easy. Hilarious.

There are also many cartoons throughout the book, showing what is happening within the D&D campaign, and I love this touch.

The pacing is spot on. I flew through this book in a couple of hours. It’s also exactly as long as it needs to be, which isn’t super long! Every word is absolutely necessary. A perfect YA novel.

(These are the chapter headings, can we please talk about how cute they are?)

See All the Stars by Kit Frick

I LOVE these characters.

We have Cameron, our narrator, who is funny and smart and witty and so passionate about what she does. I love a YA with a narrator who knows exactly what they want and goes the hell after it. Cameron goes through some very significant harassment, the kind we all remember from the likes of Gamergate, and she throws herself further into her work, her designs. We need to see more of this. Cameron also stands up for herself, which is gorgeous and beautiful and I’m here for it.

Cooper, Cameron’s twin brother, is amazing. Their dynamic, their effortless back and forth, is one of the beautiful things about the novel. He plays D&D with her even though he’s not about it, and lets her borrow his clothes. That’s a pretty damn good brother.

Why and Lincoln, two of the guys from their D&D campaign, add SO MUCH to the story. Again, here, every character is necessary. There’s no fluff. Lincoln’s grandma who runs the fabric store, Cameron and Cooper’s parents, even Brody, the dudebro in the description. Every character brings something unique to the novel.

Cameron stays in her boy clothes for a bit longer than is necessary, because she relishes the safety and anonymity of being an average guy. It’s all throughout the story: at one point she mentions how much easier it is to shop in a comic book store as a boy. In another part, walking alone at night, she talks about how she would normally be scared. But she’s in her guy clothes, and thus, “invisible.”

I think everyone can benefit from reading something that shows so clearly what it is often like to be a girl and eventually a woman. It goes way beyond being a D&D geek or cosplayer, these things are practically universal.

We also have two main gay characters, woot woot!

I’m gonna do something I never do here, and tell you beautiful people a personal story.

I am a HUGE fan of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I have a tattoo on my book arm of a 42 that says “DON’T PANIC” going through it. Walking along in Portland, one day, I saw a guy in a DON’T PANIC shirt, and I stopped him and said, “Hey, omg I love your shirt!” And was gearing up to nerd out with him, and he literally, to my face, said, “Please, bitch.” And walked away from me. Stuff like this happens ALL. The. Time. Nerd girls will forever have to prove their nerdiness, and it’s honestly bullshit. Soooo maybe you can see why this book struck such a chord with me, and why it probably will with many others.

When I Cast Your Shadow by Sarah Porter

I honestly squealed out loud. I cried. I screamed. I ADORE THIS BOOK. The general geeky goodness combined with an important message simply cannot be beat. Readitreaditreadit.

Each of these gorgeous photos links to the IG post, show these some love!

*I don’t own any of the photos used for aesthetics in this post. Each photo links to where I found it!*

Friends and Other Liars and My Misplaced Expectations

Friends and Other Liars by Kaela Coble

Published by Sourcebooks Landmark, Feb 6th, 2018

Genre: Adult, Contemporary

Pages: 368

Hmm! I’m pretty torn on Friends and Other Liars, and I think it comes from how I just expected something drastically different. So let me go ahead and explain what did and didn’t work for me, and see what you think!

Loving this cover.

To all my old friends:
So here you all are. Nice to see you can show up for a person once he’s dead.

When Ruby St. James returns to her hometown, it is to the grave of her old friend Danny, a member of a group that was, ten years ago, Ruby’s whole world. The crew made a pact back then: stay together, stay loyal, and stay honest. But that was before all of the lies.

Because even friends keep secrets. They just don’t stay secret for long.

Now Danny has left behind a letter for each of them, issuing one final ultimatum: share your darkest betrayal to the group, or risk it coming out in a trap he has created. When past mistakes resurface, the lines of friendship blurb, and four old friends are left trying to understand what it means to lie to the ones you love best.

Dear Dwayne With Love

So when I heard about Friends and Other Liars, I was immediately on board. It combines SO many things I love: secrets, lies, alternating timelines, multiple POVs, big ensemble cast, big group of friends, someone returning home after a long time away, letters from beyond the grave, BLACKMAIL FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE.

I was SO here for this book.

So… I’m sorry (and surprised) to say I don’t really love it. I expected mystery, suspense, a Pretty Little Liars vibe. Friends and Other Liars is actually, really, a pretty run-of-the-mill contemporary story. Now, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. It’s just not what I expected, and because I was always waiting for the mystery and intrigue to start, I was left feeling fairly unfulfilled.

I expected dark and twisted, and was given a will-they-or-won’t-they love story.

See All the Stars by Kit Frick

I like the writing. Simple and effective. We have two timelines: now, when the characters are all around 28, and then, which goes through their time in high school.

Narration is first person and switches between three characters, though through the vast majority of both present and former timelines, Ruby is our narrator. I think this is one area where I was a little let down. When the narration first switched, I thought we’d get to see through the eyes of everyone in “the crew,” which is what they call their friend group.

I kept thinking there was a pacing issue, which turned out to be my misplaced expectations. It starts awesome, with Danny narrating his own funeral, and all the characters gathering to receive their blackmail letters. Then it slows way down, with Ruby telling us the story of her and Murphy, her best friend and something of a love interest.

I guess I thought the secrets, the blackmail, would play a bigger part. After the initial excitement, we don’t even hear about them again until about halfway through.

See All the Stars by Kit Frick

This is another disappointment, as the crew is such a huge part of the story, yet most members of the crew get very little screen time. Until halfway through, I barely felt I knew any of the members other than Ruby and Murphy.

I like Ruby. I feel for Ruby, I root for Ruby. The rest of the characters I barely feel I know well enough to judge. Except Murphy, who I don’t love. He treats Ruby terribly, both in present and past timelines, and she pines, and it’s exhausting.

I went in expecting this full and rich friend dynamic, and ended up feeling underwhelmed by it. I wanted a big ensemble, not just Ruby and Murphy.

When I Cast Your Shadow by Sarah Porter

I think this is just one of those times where I, personally, could not connect to what is not a bad book. I just wanted something different, and didn’t know until much too late that I had expected all the wrong things.

*Each of these beautiful photos links to an IG post, show these people some love!*

*I don’t own any of the photos used for aesthetics in this post. Each photo links to where I found it!*

Not Quite Loving The Beloveds

The Beloveds by Maureen Lindley

Published by Gallery Books, scheduled for April 2018

Genre: Contemporary, Adult

Pages: 336

Well, y’all. The Beloveds has me stumped. I wanted to love it, I should have loved it (female psychopathic narrator? Come on). I loved some parts and really, really didn’t love others. So! I haven’t done a pro/con list in some time, here we go.

Jane of Austin by Hillary Manton Lodge

An exploration of domestic derangement, as sinister as Daphne Du Maurier’s classic Rebecca, that plumbs the depths of sibling rivalry with wit and menace.

Oh, to be a Beloved—one of those lucky people for whom nothing ever goes wrong. Everything falls into their laps without effort: happiness, beauty, good fortune, allure.

Betty Stash is not a Beloved—but her little sister, the delightful Gloria, is. She’s the one with the golden curls and sunny disposition and captivating smile, the one whose best friend used to be Betty’s, the one whose husband should have been Betty’s. And then, to everyone’s surprise, Gloria inherits the family manse—a vast, gorgeous pile of ancient stone, imposing timbers, and lush gardens—that was never meant to be hers.

Losing what Betty considers her rightful inheritance is the final indignity. As she single-mindedly pursues her plan to see the estate returned to her in all its glory, her determined and increasingly unhinged behavior—aided by poisonous mushrooms, talking walls, and a phantom dog—escalates to the point of no return. The Beloveds will have you wondering if there’s a length to which an envious sister won’t go.

Jane of Austin by Hillary Manton Lodge

The Writing

I have to say I was drawn in by The Beloveds immediately. Sister stories of all kinds intrigue me, (is there a more complex relationship dynamic than that of one between sisters?) and the book opens immediately with Elizabeth confessing that she has hated her sister from childhood on. That, to me, is compelling. The writing feels almost antiquated, but not in an unpleasant way. I could easily see it happening any time within the last fifty years, which makes the novel feel timeless. It is clever, very witty and sharp. The writing is probably what kept me intrigued through my cons.

Elizabeth/Betty/Lizzie

I am SO here for female psychopathic narrators. With men there seems to always be a sexual element to insanity that I simply cannot get behind. Elizabeth is brilliant, maniacal, manipulative, and completely unaware of how crazy she is. I adore it. I adore her. I can’t help it. She’s COMPLETELY unlikable, so don’t confuse my meaning, but I cannot help rooting for her even when she’s planning murders because she is so damn believable. THAT’S what I need from a narrator. They can be a heinous individual, but I need to believe in their causes and somehow root for them. And this accomplishes that for me. If you need a narrator you can love, Elizabeth is not for you. But I bet she’ll keep your interest.

The Art Gallery

(I almost wrote “Art Dealership”? It’s eleven at night. I’m tired.) For a portion of the book, Elizabeth works at an art gallery with her husband. The way she speaks about art is absolutely gorgeous. I’m a painter and art history nerd, so I may be partial. But this was also part of what makes Elizabeth’s love for her childhood home so believable. She doesn’t love people, doesn’t appreciate them. She loves and appreciates beauty, and it’s so apparent in how she speaks about art.

The House

Pipits! The House, called Pipits, is something really interesting. Elizabeth speaks about Pipits like it’s a lover. Like she’s in love. That sounds crazy but it works for her. The house speaks to her, she talks often about its voice. The house agrees with her, is occasionally disappointed in her. Pipits has personality.

Jane of Austin by Hillary Manton Lodge

The Pacing

About 100 pages in, things nearly come to a halt. From this point, all the way to the end, for me, the book crawls and drags. Many, many pages of “I hate them, they’re in my house, I should be in my house, I must get them out of my house,” to then get to a couple pages of action, and back to the inner monologue. Again, I love the writing. I find Elizabeth’s inner monologue fascinating. Absolutely not for this much of the story, though. The Beloveds takes place over many years, and boy does it feel like it. “Angry Woman Wants Her House” is a good enough premise, but certainly not enough plot. It was all I could do to keep from skimming after a certain point.

The Characters

The peripheral characters have very little life or personality. I am willing to give (only slight) allowances on this, and here’s why. Elizabeth is clearly psychotic. She has no regard for a single other human being. So, I can see how, through her eyes, other characters could be flat. However, I really needed more. Henry, Elizabeth’s brother in law, has at least some dimension. He has anger, he has emotions, he has a hobby. Gloria really has none of this. She’s a complete dud. She’s boring, simple, lacks any discernible personality. For me, it would have been better had Gloria been an actual person, rather than a symbol of everything Elizabeth has wanted but not obtained.

The Total Lack of Closure

Basically, Elizabeth spends a good portion working on one plan to get what she wants. Then a little bit planning her next scheme. Then? Nothing. I mean. Actually nothing. She messes with her neighbors, spends more time angry. I cannot stress this enough: nothing else happens. There’s no real ending, no closure, no sense of anything having really taken place. This is just incredibly upsetting for me, and ultimately my least favorite part of a novel that showed promise.

Each of these gorgeous photos links to the IG post, show these some love!

*I don’t own any of the photos used for aesthetics in this post. Each photo links to where I found it!*

Bookish Boyfriends Can Be Your Newest Book Buddy

Bookish Boyfriends by Tiffany Schmidt

Published by Amulet Paperbacks, scheduled for May 2018

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance

Pages: 272

Okay. I was immediately attracted to Bookish Boyfriends. The premise just sounded way too cute, and I knew that if it was half as adorable as it sounded, I’d be on board. I had NO IDEA how much I would love this book.

Bookish Boyfriends

The first of two books in an intended paperback original series about a girl whose classic literary crushes manifest in real life. Merrilee Campbell, 16, thinks boys are better in books, chivalry is dead, and there’d be nothing more romantic than having just one guy woo her like the heroes in classic stories. She’s about to get the chance to test these daydreams when she, her best friend, Eliza, and her younger sister, Rory, transfer into Reginald R. Hero High, where all their fantasies come true—often with surprising consequences.

See All the Stars by Kit Frick

The writing is so. effing. cute. Fun, hilarious, intelligent. The word that comes immediately to mind is effortless. The tone is so lighthearted that I flew through the pages easily and readily. At no point did it slow down or become less interesting for me.

See All the Stars by Kit Frick

The characters are just completely phenomenal.

Two pages in, I made a note about how much I adore the relationship between Merrilee, our narrator, and her best friend Eliza. I LOVE girl friendships. Love them. The good, the bad, the in between. I want them all. This one is possibly one of my favorite friendships in all of YA.

I could write an essay about how much I love Merrilee, our narrator, who is fifteen and boy crazy. What is refreshing is that she’s boy crazy for boys in books, hence bookish boyfriends. She is SO quirky (describing her style as “toddler-chic” is something I love), SO silly. But also brilliant and unapologetically herself. We could all stand to be more like Merrilee. I’d like more girls to be comfortable with being both math geniuses and romance junkies. Her loyalty and friendship to Eliza is admirable and gorgeous and something all people should aspire to.

We have Eliza, a gorgeous girl obsessed with biology who is an excellent friend to Merrilee, even if she doesn’t get the romance thing.

And a whole slew of side characters all distinct and beautiful. I won’t even get into the leading men, except to say that I love them, also.

I’m also OBSESSED with Merrilee’s English teacher, though this is an area where I’m extremely biased.

This book has SO MUCH TO SAY ABOUT WOMEN. It is subtle; feminist undertones are there, constantly, but it isn’t enough to be off-putting to those less inclined to our ways. I LOVE loud, bold, in-your-face feminism but I also love that I’m seeing a lot of this, like, thinly veiled girl power in YA.

I love that the female characters in this book give you a ton to think about. We tend to think of girls (and ultimately women) as one thing. People are told to forget how multi-faceted teenage girls can be, and I think Bookish Boyfriends is a great example of their complexity.

When I Cast Your Shadow by Sarah Porter

I LOVE books like this where the tone is just so fun and lighthearted. No apocalyptic stakes, no end of the world around the corner. A girl and her life and her friends and her first experiences with dating.

I think this is great for people who like the softer side of YA. No cursing, no partying, no drugs or drinking. The kids are 15, so I think this is super fitting.

All in all this is just a great, quick read and I can’t wait for the next book!

 

***

*Note: My reviews are full of opinions. I may love a book. May want to marry it like the kid in the commercial for Peanut Butter Crunch (1999 was a great year for cereal and commercials, look it up). I may say a book is the best thing to happen to me since I started shaving my big toe. None of these things mean it is objectively good. I recognize that. Many times throughout my life, I have given a book I swore to be a life-changer to a friend/boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/acrobat. Shaking, quietly weeping, I’d hand it (and my heart) over. Only to find out several weeks later that for them the book was good, maybe even great, but not the life-giving, soul-renewing magic I’d purported. You may not like a book I recommend. Sue me.

**Please don’t sue me, I just write here.

Time Bomb Novel

Time Bomb: A YA that Goes There with Social Issues

Time Bomb by Joelle Charbonneau

Published by HMH Books: scheduled for March 2018

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Suspense

Pages: 352

I just want you to know it took ALL my self-control to NOT name this review something silly and insanely punny like TIME BOMB IS EXPLOSIVE or something.

Time bomb was one I felt could really go either way! I was nervous about a few things but I really like this one!

Time Bomb Novel

All the Wrong Chords Book

A congressman’s daughter who has to be perfect. A star quarterback with a secret. A guy who’s tired of being ignored. A clarinet player who’s done trying to fit in. An orphaned rebel who wants to teach someone a lesson. A guy who wants people to see him, not his religion.

They couldn’t be more different, but before the morning’s over, they’ll all be trapped in a school that’s been rocked by a bombing. When they hear that someone inside is the bomber, they’ll also be looking to one another for answers.

Time Bomb Novel

I was intrigued by the premise immediately. I am very sensitive to school violence/guns/the way America handles (doesn’t handle) guns/the way schools handle (or don’t) safety in general. Given these issues, I was worried about how well I would handle this. But I feel this is done really well.

I am a mother, with a 5th grader in America and deal with these fears enough already, and this definitely reminded me of that. So I wouldn’t go so far as to say trigger warning? But several times while reading while my kiddo was at school, I wondered where he was and how he was doing and mildly fretted.

The Writing

The writing is third person, but alternates through the perspectives of the six main characters. I couldn’t help but draw parallels between this and One Of Us Is Lying.

The narratives for the different characters feel different enough that alternating so often through so many characters isn’t awkward or uncomfortable.

Time Bomb is written very well. It takes place over the course of only one day, (really, only a few hours of one day), so the pacing is definitely something I was worried about. It holds up so well, though. It is nerve-wracking and suspenseful and everything you want from a book with such high stakes.

The Characters

I won’t get too crazy specific on each character. I didn’t like all six of them. Really, I only liked two. Two and a half. But, I found all of them incredibly believable and (mostly) relatable. Some people aren’t going to be likable in a stressful situation, and the reactions feel natural and real.

We have Rashid, a Muslim boy, dealing with exactly what you would expect in the aftermath of a bomb. Tad, a gay, mixed-race kid. Diana, a senator’s daughter obsessed with being perfect. Frankie, the quarterback. Z, a kid already thought to be a trouble-maker. And Cas, a victim of bullying.

Given these characters, a lot could have gone wrong. I do think these things, especially the treatment of Rashid’s faith by the author and the treatment of Rashid by the other characters in the book, were handled very tactfully. (I am not Muslim, so I can only say this from my limited perspective. It felt real and natural and not gimmicky, and a great way to talk about race/religion. The kids talk among themselves about these things, and I think it’s handled very well.

Even the shitty kids find a balance and look out for one another, for the most part, and I am a HUGE fan of stories where kids come together. So that was possibly my favorite aspect.

When I Cast Your Shadow by Sarah Porter

One, I don’t feel the ending is all that much of a surprise. I did guess it a little more than halfway through. I guessed the correct bomber, though I was wrong about the motivations which did make it interesting. I did feel moments of this were fairly irrational? But I don’t want to go into spoiler territory.

I also really need to figure out how I feel about cursing. SO, y’all know I curse a bit. That being said, I have no problem with books with no swearing. I pointed out in my review of The Lost Causes that they didn’t curse, and I thought that was cool because it felt authentic even if I have a hard time believing so many kids from different backgrounds don’t curse in a stressful situation. What happened here though was that there were, like, filler swear words? Like there’s LITERALLY A BOMB GOING OFF and a kid thinks: Oh, hell! Now maybe I’m being crazy, but I do NOT think oh, hell, when serious shit is going down. You know? It almost made me laugh? And pulled me out of a fairly serious narrative. Like. Take the words or leave them but don’t add filler words.

Overall, I think this is a very interesting read with some important things to say. It’s available to request on NetGalley!

Thanks to NetGalley for advanced access to this book in exchange for an honest review!