Book Review: Date Me, Bryson Keller by Kevin van Whye [MILD SPOILERS]

Date Me, Bryson Keller by Kevin van Whye
Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: May 19, 2020
Source: Borrowed

What If It’s Us meets To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before in this upbeat and heartfelt boy-meets-boy romance that feels like a modern twist on a ’90s rom-com!

Everyone knows about the dare: Each week, Bryson Keller must date someone new–the first person to ask him out on Monday morning. Few think Bryson can do it. He may be the king of Fairvale Academy, but he’s never really dated before.

Until a boy asks him out, and everything changes.

Kai Sheridan didn’t expect Bryson to say yes. So when Bryson agrees to secretly go out with him, Kai is thrown for a loop. But as the days go by, he discovers there’s more to Bryson beneath the surface, and dating him begins to feel less like an act and more like the real thing. Kai knows how the story of a gay boy liking someone straight ends. With his heart on the line, he’s awkwardly trying to navigate senior year at school, at home, and in the closet, all while grappling with the fact that this “relationship” will last only five days. After all, Bryson Keller is popular, good-looking, and straight . . . right?

Kevin van Whye delivers an uplifting and poignant coming-out love story that will have readers rooting for these two teens to share their hearts with the world–and with each other.

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS

After seeing Date Me, Bryson Keller pop up on a bunch of recommendation lists and seeing a ton of rave reviews, I hopped right over to my library to put a hold on the audiobook. I really, really wanted to like this book. June was such a good reading month, but it ended on a bad note with this one.

I don’t even know where to begin.

Maybe with the pitch:

What If It’s Us meets To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before in this upbeat and heartfelt boy-meets-boy romance that feels like a modern twist on a ’90s rom-com!

I loved What If It’s Us and really liked To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. I adore romantic comedies. This… this is possibly the worst comparison I’ve ever seen. If by “What If It’s Us,” you mean “this is a gay romance,” then okay, maybe. And if by “meets To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” you mean “that involves fake dating,” then I guess. But the rom-com? And especially a 90s rom-com? No. There was not one funny line in this book. This book is sadness on top of homophobia on top of drama.

But anyway, let’s move on to the premise. It’s weird, but I made a strong effort to suspend my disbelief so that I could get some enjoyment out of this book. The story goes that popular boy Bryson Keller has made a bet that he’ll go out with one new person each week. He has to agree to date the first person that asks him out on Monday morning until the end of the day on Friday. No funny business, nothing physical, but they’ll go out on dates. It’s all fake for the bet, but everyone is clamoring over themselves for the chance to date him. Presumed straight, Bryson only dates girls… until Kai Sheridan asks him out, and Bryson says yes. The stipulation is that they’ll fake date in secret, because Kai isn’t out yet. I don’t think I need to put the fact that they end up together under spoiler tags since there would be no book without it. They end up together. And I have many, many things to say.

A side note regarding the premise before I get started with my review: I have seen on Goodreads that the entire premise of this book is lifted directly from Seven Days by Venio Tachibana & Rihito Takarai, so make of that what you will. I haven’t read Seven Days so I can’t say if the stories play out in the same way.

I do want to preface this next part of my review by saying that I am a straight woman and therefore cannot actually comment on the LGBT rep in this book. I know that the author set out to write an ownvoices novel and that’s great. What I can comment on, though, is that the very strict gay/straight binary that every character is shoved into is very off-putting. Every character is gay or straight. Every character either likes boys or girls. Even Bryson Keller, who has only ever expressed interest in women and never had an inkling that he might not be 100% straight until he started fake dating Kai, is suddenly just… gay. He gets one “hmm, I might be bi” throwaway line before that’s completely tossed out the window. And I know it’s true that people can realize they’re gay after exclusively dating the opposite sex. I know that sexuality is a spectrum and can be fluid. I just worry that this “you’re either gay or straight and there’s no other choice” mentality is doing more harm than good.

Also, just something that confuses me. Typically, when you have a fake dating plot in a book, there’s a reason. Maybe you want to make someone jealous. Maybe you’re trying to keep someone safe. Maybe it’s for publicity or a job or citizenship. There are countless reasons for fake dating in a book, and they’re all very public. What is the point of fake dating in secret? That was something that bothered me throughout the entire book and there was never really an answer for me. I’m not saying that Kai and Bryson had to publicly date, because I understand that Kai wasn’t out (and neither was Bryson, I guess) but this just seemed to be the flimsiest possible excuse to have them spend more time together in a weird semi-platonic/semi-romantic way.

Next, the narration. OH MY GOD, the narration. It is the most overly descriptive, unnecessary blocks of text that I’ve read since Handbook for Mortals. Kai can’t just be sad. No, he has to narrate that he’s feeling sad, he’s crying, tears are running down his face, he’s experiencing emotions, his sadness is visible to anyone who looks at him. When he goes to drive, he has to tell us that he walks over to the bowl where his family keeps all the car keys and looks for the ones he’s looking for and finds them and then walks to the door and turns the knob and walks out the door to the car that he’s about to drive. Exhausting. Every mundane detail of life does not need to be narrated. The reader understands that the character needs keys to start the car, and if they somehow don’t, they probably won’t notice that you’ve left it out of the narration.

And can we talk about how overdramatic Kai is? Like, yes, I get it, teenagers are overdramatic. I was once an overdramatic teenager too. But Kai is on a whole different level. His parents, upon finding out that he’ll be going to a concert with another person, ask the perfectly reasonable question of who that person is. And Kai just flips out. He’s like “OH MY GOD MOM AND DAD STOP WITH THE THIRD DEGREE, WHY ARE YOU ALWAYS TRYING TO BE SHERLOCK AND WATSON GOD I’M JUST GOING TO A CONCERT.” Maybe times have changed, but back when I was an overdramatic teenager living under my mother’s roof, she did expect to know where I was going and who I was going there with, especially if it was out of town.

Moving on from that, though, is the fact that this book, marketed as a gay YA rom-com, is just sad. People get outed against their will. Parents are unsupportive. Friends are unsupportive. There are multiple fights. Homophobia runs rampant. And while the overarching point might be “there’s nothing wrong with being gay,” it sure takes a long time to get there.

Random other gripes: The constant use of Harry Potter references. Unrealistic dialogue. The last line being “Gay means happy too.” Why do the characters use the word “ointment” so much? Are they talking about Vaseline or something? I’m confused. (I’m just getting petty now, I’ll stop.)

In the end, I’m not really sure why I gave this book two stars. Maybe because it just wasn’t on the same level of dislike as my recent one-stars. Definitely not recommended, though.


Have you read Date Me, Bryson Keller? What’s the last book that disappointed you?
Let’s talk in the comments!

Find me all over the internet: Goodreads | Twitter | Bloglovin’

ARC Review: Jennifer Strange by Cat Scully

Jennifer Strange by Cat Scully
Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Links: AmazonTBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: July 21, 2020
Source: ARC via Netgalley

Jennifer Strange is cursed with the ability to give ghosts and demons a corporeal body with just the touch of her hand. All she wants is to learn how to control her new gift. Instead, her father drops her in the care of her older sister Liz, leaving only his journal as an explanation.

Jennifer and Liz haven’t spoken to each other since their mother died, but when the supernatural residents of Savannah, Georgia find Jennifer and her powerful gift, the sisters must learn to trust each other again and uncover the truth about their parents. If they can’t sort out their differences, they’ll not only destroy the veil between the living and the dead but fall into the hands of a rival family who wants to claim the Sparrow power for themselves.

JENNIFER STRANGE is an illustrated novel – a campy romp for fans of BUFFY, EVIL DEAD, and SUPERNATURAL. Cat’s illustrations unveil the story of Jennifer’s family history in the form of a journal with an art style akin to SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK.

I want to start my review by saying that the main reason I didn’t like this book was that I was under the (false) impression that it was a graphic novel, since that’s how it was categorized on Netgalley. This is not a graphic novel. It is a novel with the occasional illustration. And by “occasional,” I mean maybe one every two or three chapters.

The concept of this book is good. It reminds me of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which I love, and Rebel Belle by Rachel Hawkins, which I thought was a ton of fun. In this book, Jennifer is a normal teenage girl until demons start showing up around her. She has no idea what’s going on and all she has is a mysterious journal that her father gave her before unceremoniously dumping her on her older sister.

Unfortunately, I can’t help but think that this story would have been a thousand times better if it were told in graphic novel format.

Because, the thing is, the writing is pretty weak. Instead of worldbuilding that feels natural, we get a lot of infodumps through dialogue. Jennifer meets characters who magically know everything that she doesn’t, and even though she has a journal from her father that contains all of the information she needs, she just casually pages through instead of, you know, sitting down to read it so she can stop complaining about how she doesn’t know anything. There’s also a strange lack of emotion in the book, like when a character is taken and someone says, “Damn it. The Banshee got her.” Shouldn’t there be an exclamation point in there somewhere? Maybe some fear? Any kind of feeling?

The story is also very jumpy, hopping kind of haphazardly between normal events like eating breakfast and taking a shower and, like, demons destroying the city. The transition between the two is typically someone throwing up, which I think I counted seven times within the first 25% of the book, at which point I stopped counting. I wish it would have had more of a transition, or just any kind of transition other than constant vomiting. I’m just not sure why that was necessary.

Anyway, back to my point on the graphic novel. I think it would have hidden a lot of the problems with the writing, and it would also have looked pretty cool. The brief snippets of art we get are really good and I imagine that they’d translate really well into a full graphic novel format. It’s just a shame that it’s miscategorized on Netgalley. I hope it won’t be marketed incorrectly to the general public, because I could see that causing a lot of problems.


Have you read Jennifer Strange? Have you ever thought you’d like a story better if it were told in a different format?
Let’s talk in the comments!

Find me all over the internet: Goodreads | Twitter | Bloglovin’

Book Review: Chopsticks by Jessica Anthony & Rodrigo Corral

Chopsticks by Jessica Anthony & Rodrigo Corral
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: AmazonTBD • Goodreads
Publication: February 2, 2012
Source: Gift

After her mother died, Glory retreated into herself and her music. Her single father raised her as a piano prodigy, with a rigid schedule and the goal of playing sold-out shows across the globe. Now, as a teenager, Glory has disappeared. As we flash back to the events leading up to her disappearance, we see a girl on the precipice of disaster. Brilliant and lonely, Glory is drawn to an artistic new boy, Frank, who moves in next door. The farther she falls, the deeper she spirals into madness. Before long, Glory is unable to play anything but the song “Chopsticks.”

But nothing is what it seems, and Glory’s reality is not reality at all. In this stunningly moving novel told in photographs, pictures, and words, it’s up to the reader to decide what is real, what is imagined, and what has been madness all along….
 

The thing about Chopsticks is that it takes about a half hour, at most, to read this book. It’s mostly photos, drawings, ticket stubs, and souvenirs. There are only a few sentences of actual story, and yet, somehow, I completely understood what was happening.

Or, at least, I thought I did.

Because the other thing about Chopsticks is that at some point, you start to realize that something is off. And then you go back and you flip through over and over and over again trying to figure out what exactly happened to these two characters.

I’m not going to get into what exactly happens in this book, because I think a lot of the fun is in figuring that out for yourself. I will say that I think there are at least two different interpretations, but probably more. The more that I think about this book, the more I like it.

If you like stories that are told in an unconventional way, I would highly recommend this one.

#mm20: author introduction


Have you read Chopsticks? What’s the last unconventionally told story you enjoyed?
Let’s talk in the comments!

Find me all over the internet: Goodreads | Twitter | Bloglovin’

Book Review: Crisis in the Red Zone by Richard Preston

Crisis in the Red Zone by Richard Preston
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: AmazonTBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: July 23, 2019
Source: Borrowed

The 2013-2014 Ebola epidemic was the deadliest ever–but the outbreaks continue. Now comes a gripping account of the doctors and scientists fighting to protect us, an urgent wake-up call about the future of emerging viruses–from the #1 bestselling author of The Hot Zone, soon to be a National Geographic original miniseries.

This time, Ebola started with a two-year-old child who likely had contact with a wild creature and whose entire family quickly fell ill and died. The ensuing global drama activated health professionals in North America, Europe, and Africa in a desperate race against time to contain the viral wildfire. By the end–as the virus mutated into its deadliest form, and spread farther and faster than ever before–30,000 people would be infected, and the dead would be spread across eight countries on three continents.

In this taut and suspenseful medical drama, Richard Preston deeply chronicles the outbreak, in which we saw for the first time the specter of Ebola jumping continents, crossing the Atlantic, and infecting people in America. Rich in characters and conflict–physical, emotional, and ethical–Crisis in the Red Zone is an immersion in one of the great public health calamities of our time.

Preston writes of doctors and nurses in the field putting their own lives on the line, of government bureaucrats and NGO administrators moving, often fitfully, to try to contain the outbreak, and of pharmaceutical companies racing to develop drugs to combat the virus. He also explores the charged ethical dilemma over who should and did receive the rare doses of an experimental treatment when they became available at the peak of the disaster.

Crisis in the Red Zone makes clear that the outbreak of 2013-2014 is a harbinger of further, more severe outbreaks, and of emerging viruses heretofore unimagined–in any country, on any continent. In our ever more interconnected world, with roads and towns cut deep into the jungles of equatorial Africa, viruses both familiar and undiscovered are being unleashed into more densely populated areas than ever before.

The more we discover about the virosphere, the more we realize its deadly potential. Crisis in the Red Zone is an exquisitely timely book, a stark warning of viral outbreaks to come.

So, fun fact, Richard Preston is friends with one of my previous employers. I’ve met him, he was perfectly nice, and I always felt weird about reading his books because what if I hated something he wrote and then I had to look him in the face and pretend I didn’t? Well, fortunately for me and my reading life, I’m far removed from that job now and Preston has a new-ish book about, of all things, a highly contagious virus with no known vaccine and no foolproof treatment. It seemed timely, so I gave it a chance.

And let me tell you, this book made me want to simultaneously keep listening so I’d learn more and stop listening so I could go take a shower. That takes talent, I think.

The spread of Ebola is something that I’ve found mind-boggling since the outbreak in 2014. The small hospital I worked at held Ebola drills. I was trained to ask people if they’d been traveling, if they or any of their close contacts were experiencing any of a long list of symptoms, and who to contact with any suspected cases. This is a disease that causes bloody vomit, bloody diarrhea, bleeding from the eyes, ears, nose… basically blood just pouring out of the body at any opening. The very idea of someone casually walking into a doctor’s office while actively suffering from Ebola seemed laughable. The idea of any kind of pandemic coming to my town seemed impossible back then. Not so much now.

The thing is, the amount of medical professionals who got (and further spread) Ebola because they “forgot” their PPE is honestly terrifying. If doctors and nurses and researchers can go running, unprotected, into a room where dozens of people are infected with a highly contagious disease that’s spread through contact with infected bodily fluids, then it’s no wonder this disease spread like wildfire. There were so many accounts of doctors going to take blood samples or biopsies, only to realize after the fact that they weren’t wearing gloves. There were so many accounts of professionals who’d been exposed and gone about their normal lives like if they just ignored it, it would go away. This was much more disturbing to me than the cultural practices that led to Ebola’s spread between family members.

I will admit that the book can be a little confusing as Preston jumps around from one outbreak to another and back again with little differentiation. This is the main reason that I gave the book four stars rather than five. Overall, though, it was a very, very good book and I would recommend it if (and only if) you’re okay with very, very descriptive accounts of the effects and symptoms of Ebola.

#mm20: author introduction


Have you read Crisis in the Red Zone? Is it on your TBR?
Let’s talk in the comments!

Find me all over the internet: Goodreads | Twitter | Bloglovin’

Mini-Reviews: The Fire Never Goes Out, The Woods Vol. 1, & An Embarrassment of Witches

The Fire Never Goes Out by Noelle Stevenson
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: March 3, 2020
Source: Borrowed

From Noelle Stevenson, the New York Times bestselling author-illustrator of Nimona, comes a captivating, honest illustrated memoir that finds her turning an important corner in her creative journey—and inviting readers along for the ride.

In a collection of essays and personal mini-comics that span eight years of her young adult life, author-illustrator Noelle Stevenson charts the highs and lows of being a creative human in the world. Whether it’s hearing the wrong name called at her art school graduation ceremony or becoming a National Book Award finalist for her debut graphic novel, Nimona, Noelle captures the little and big moments that make up a real life, with a wit, wisdom, and vulnerability that are all her own.

I’ve read many things by Noelle Stevenson but hardly knew anything about her, so when I saw this graphic memoir show up on my library’s Overdrive, I knew I had to check it out.

I think the first thing I want to say is that this isn’t a typical memoir. It’s a lot of doodles and sketches and early comics of hers with little wrap-ups of each year from 2011 to 2019. There’s nothing to really tie everything together and it comes across as a lot of anecdotes and lists of accomplishments. And that’s fine, I just had to adjust my expectations a little bit.

The book does have a nice discussion of mental health, and it was interesting to see Noelle come to accept herself and her sexuality. There are some definite content warnings here for self harm and overwhelming sadness. But overall, the book comes across as very hopeful.

I don’t know that I would recommend this to someone who’s not already a fan of Noelle’s, but if you’ve enjoyed her work and want to learn more about her, this might be worth a read.


The Woods, Vol. 1 by James Tynion IV
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: September 3, 2014
Source: Borrowed

On October 16, 2013, 437 students, 52 teachers, and 24 additional staff from Bay Point Preparatory High School in suburban Milwaukee, WI vanished without a trace. Countless light years away, far outside the bounds of the charted universe, 513 people find themselves in the middle of an ancient, primordial wilderness. Where are they? Why are they there? The answers will prove stranger than anyone could possibly imagine. 

This is the third of Tynion’s series that I’ve had the pleasure to start, and it’s also the one that takes the most effort to get into. It’s not that there’s anything overtly wrong with this series. It’s set at a high school that just, out of nowhere, gets plopped down into the middle of nowhere on an alien planet. As expected, things descend into chaos as the school’s administration tries to figure out what to do and certain students and teachers take things into their own hands.

This reminded me a bit of Something is Killing the Children, which is another of Tynion’s books that I’ve recently read. It took me a little while to separate the two in my head, but once I did, and once the story picked up, I really enjoyed this.

I’m curious to see where this story goes!


An Embarrassment of Witches by Sophie Goldstein & Jenn Jordan
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: March 3, 2020
Source: Borrowed

A coming-of-age urban fantasy set in a world full of animal familiars, enchanted plants, and spell-casting that explores the mundane horrors of breakups, job searches, and post-graduate existential angst.

Life after college isn’t turning out exactly as Rory and Angela had planned. Rory, recently dumped at the gate of her flight to Australia, needs to find a new life path ASAP. What do you do with a B.A. in Communications and a minor in Southeast Asian Spellcraft? Maybe her cute new housemate Guy is the answer she’s looking for (spoiler alert: he isn’t).

Meanwhile, Angela is buckling under the pressure of a high-stakes internship in a cutting-edge cryptopharmocology lab run by Rory’s controlling mother, who doesn’t know Rory is still in town… and Angela hates keeping secrets.

An Embarrassment of Witches is the story of two childhood friends learning how to be adults–and hoping their friendship can survive the change.

I checked out An Embarrassment of Witches on a whim, mostly because I liked the cover and the title, and it was mostly fine. It’s definitely not the greatest graphic novel I’ve ever read, but it’s also far from the worst.

I loved the color palette and the witches’ familiars. I loved the magical university. I loved all of the magical takes on our world, like Taco Spell instead of Taco Bell. What I didn’t love was the virtual absence of plot. This is a graphic novel that’s just about two witches in their mid-20s trying to figure out life, but that’s about it. I kept expecting some actual storyline to show up, and it never really did.

This isn’t a bad graphic novel by any means, but I’m definitely not recommending that anybody run out to the store to buy it.


Have you read any of these books? Have you read any good graphic novels recently?
Let’s talk in the comments!

Find me all over the internet: Goodreads | Twitter | Bloglovin’