Book review: Eliza and her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

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Eliza Mirk is weird.  She’s shy.  She’s a loner.  She’s also the creator of the wildly famous webcomic Monstrous Sea, and she’s meticulous about her privacy.  You see, she can face her fans (and her critics) from behind a computer screen.  She can participate in group chats and release her art to millions.  But dealing with even one fan in person?  That might be enough to send her over the edge.

When Wallace Warland transfers to Eliza’s high school, she finally begins to come out of her shell.  She starts doing things outside of her house, talking to people outside of the internet. When Wallace tells her that he’s one of Monstrous Sea’s biggest fanfiction writers, Eliza still keeps her identity a secret. But despite all of Eliza’s efforts, her secret identity is eventually revealed to the world, and everything she’s so carefully constructed falls apart.

Well, what can I say aside from wow?  I loved Francesca Zappia’s Made You Up and was a little hesitant to read Eliza because what if it wasn’t as good?  But it was so good that I’m kicking myself for waiting so long.

I loved Eliza.  I felt so bad for her and I wanted to protect her and keep her safe from all her stupid classmates and haters and everybody who was anything less than in love with her.  I loved Wallace.  I felt so bad for him and I wanted to protect him and keep him safe from everybody in the world who saw him as some kind of emotionless dumb jock.  I loved Emmy and Max, Eliza’s online friends who were always there for her and reinforced the idea that a friend is a friend, regardless of whether you’ve met face-to-face.  I even loved Eliza’s siblings, Sully and Church, who came across at first as your typical aloof teenage boys and turned out to be so much more.

Eliza brings up some important issues about mental health and content creators and how nobody should hurt themselves to make their art.  Something that I think fans often forget is that a real person is behind that screen, on the other side of that pen, or recording that album.  Content doesn’t just show up out of nowhere, and yes, sometimes it takes a little longer than expected.  Sometimes the creator goes on hiatus.  Sometimes the creator falls right off the face of the earth, never to be seen or heard from again.  And that’s okay.  Because the creator’s mental and physical health is so much more important than what they’re making.  What good is content if it’s killing the creator?

My only criticism of this book is that I saw literally every twist and turn of the plot coming.  That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing because it was more fun to see how Zappia would resolve the conflicts, but I did wish for just a touch more of the unexpected.

Still, I thought that Eliza was an amazing book and I would love to read both Monstrous Sea and rainmaker’s fanfiction about it.

Final rating: ★★★★☆

Top Ten Tuesday: Best of 2016

Happy Top Ten Tuesday!  It’s already the last one of 2016!  Today’s theme is the best of 2016.  I read a lot of great books this year, so rather than agonize over which ones to include, I’m using this as a general overview of my favorites.  In early 2017, I’ll have a more detailed list available for you, broken down by genre.

Below are Goodreads links for all titles included in the graphics:

[since you’ve been gone] [koreatown] [are you there god? it’s me margaret]
[what we saw] [the unexpected everything] [lured in] [you know me well]
[me before you] [some kind of perfect] [made you up]

What were your favorites of 2016?

Top Ten Tuesday: New-to-me authors of 2016

Whoa, it’s been months since I last did a Top Ten Tuesday!  I happened to scroll down while I was preparing a list of my top new (to me) authors of 2016 and saw that I’d flagged this topic as one I absolutely had to do.  What are the chances that the timing would be so perfect?

So, without further ado, here are ten authors (listed alphabetically) that I read for the first time in 2016 and will, without a doubt, continue to read in the future:

  • Melissa Chambers.  I read Chambers’ The Summer Before Forever and was actually pretty surprised to find a young adult book that really delicately handled a romantic relationship between stepsiblings.  I’m really curious to see what she’ll come up with next.
  • Rebekah Crane.  Of all my Kindle First picks, Crane’s The Odds of Loving Grover Cleveland is one of my favorites.  A motley crew of teenagers helping each other overcome their problems at a picturesque summer camp?  That’s just my kind of story.
  • Melanie Harlow.  BookBub often alerts me to free erotica, and nine times out of ten, it’s absolutely awful.  Harlow’s Frenched was a great exception to the rule, and I’ve already got an eye out for more of her work.

  • Aaron Hartzler.  When What We Saw came out earlier last year, my Goodreads feed was flooded with positive reviews.  It took awhile for my library to get it, but it was absolutely worth the wait.  Now I am waiting patiently for more of Hartzler’s work to show up.
  • Hazel Kelly.  Kindle Unlimited is a tricky thing.  There’s an awful lot of books available, and an awful lot of them aren’t very good.  But sometimes, you find a really good author whose books are well-written and don’t just feature the same plot over and over with different characters.  Kelly is one of those authors.
  • Robin Roe.  I haven’t yet reviewed Roe’s A List of Cages, but it hit me hard.  This story of a young boy with an abusive uncle and his friend who struggles to help him ripped my heart out.  I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.
  • Tiffany Truitt.  Seven Ways to Lose Your Heart still stands out as one of the cutest (and also sexiest) books I read this year.  I fell in love with the characters and world created by Truitt.
  • Danika Stone.  If you’re looking for a good book about nerd culture, look no further than Stone’s All the Feels.  I have yet to read another book that so clearly captures the level of obsession I can get with a fictional universe.
  • Siobhan Vivian. I read two of Vivian’s books this year and was pleased with both.  The one I particularly liked was her new release, The Last Boy and Girl in the World.  I am so excited to see what she releases next.
  • Francesca Zappia. Saving the absolute best for last, Zappia’s Made You Up is one of my all-time favorite reads.  I absolutely adored the characters that she created, and I loved that we never quite knew whether what was happening was actually the truth.  I have so much respect for her as an author and I know she’s going to go on to do great things.

Which authors, if any, did you fall in love with this year?

Book review: Made You Up by Francesca Zappia

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I have been wanting to read this book for awhile now, and luckily for me, it was finally not checked out at my library!  I thought I’d like it.  It sounded like something I might enjoy.  I didn’t expect to fall head-over-heels in love with it.

Alex is a teenage girl suffering from paranoid schizophrenia.  She experiences delusions and hallucinations and often relies on her trusty digital camera to help her decipher what’s real and what she’s made up in her head.  After an unfortunate incident involving spray paint and the gym floor at her old high school, she heads off to East Shoal High School for her senior year.  It’s there that she finally finds true friends who like her in spite of her problems.

Miles is the teenage boy that everybody’s afraid of.  He’s made a name for himself by being willing to do just about anything to anybody… for the right price.  But that’s something he needed to do, because without that reputation, he’s just a skinny boy with a weird accent and no friends.  Miles isn’t just your stereotypical bad boy, he’s a complex character with his own backstory and his own motivations.

Now, I’m not a doctor, and I don’t have schizophrenia, so I can’t really tell you whether the portrayal is accurate.  But I can tell you that the emotions this book made me feel were insane.  My heart went out to Alex as she struggled to decipher what was real and what was in her head.  As she fought with her mother about how much freedom she should be allowed to have.  As her world was shattered when it turned out that one of the staples in her life wasn’t real.  Or when things she thought she had to have made up turned out to be real.  I think I went through a complete range of emotions while reading this book.  I consider that a good thing.

The thing that I think I loved the most about this book, though, was that there’s no instalove to be found.  It’s not like Alex and Miles lock eyes from across the room, and suddenly they’re meant to be.  Their connection builds slowly and realistically, and best of all, Miles doesn’t save Alex from her illness.  He doesn’t have a magical touch that cures her.  Sure, she feels safer when he’s around since she knows he’ll never lie to her, but he encourages her to get treatment and supports her when she does.  Imagine that.

Since we’re inside Alex’s head, we’re never sure what’s real and what’s not. I loved that. She’s the perfect unreliable narrator because she’s not purposely misleading us.  She’s not lying to further an agenda.  She’s telling her story as she sees it, even if how she sees it isn’t really how it is.  Are events as strange as they sound?  Are her classmates and teachers really how she describes them?  Did a snake really just pop down through the ceiling?  Some answers we get, and some we don’t.  And, the thing is, we really don’t need to know for sure.  Half the fun of this book was trying to figure out what was real and what wasn’t.

I’m sure that this book isn’t perfect, but I absolutely adored it.  I have to say, I feel sorry for the book that comes after this one.

Final rating: ★★★★★