ARC Review: The Lady Rogue by Jenn Bennett

The Lady Rogue by Jenn Bennett
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: September 3, 2019
Source: ARC via publisher

The Last Magician meets A Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue in this thrilling tale filled with magic and set in the mysterious Carpathian Mountains where a girl must hunt down Vlad the Impaler’s cursed ring in order to save her father.

Some legends never die…

Traveling with her treasure-hunting father has always been a dream for Theodora. She’s read every book in his library, has an impressive knowledge of the world’s most sought-after relics, and has all the ambition in the world. What she doesn’t have is her father’s permission. That honor goes to her father’s nineteen-year-old protégé—and once-upon-a-time love of Theodora’s life—Huck Gallagher, while Theodora is left to sit alone in her hotel in Istanbul.

Until Huck arrives from an expedition without her father and enlists Theodora’s help in rescuing him. Armed with her father’s travel journal, the reluctant duo learns that her father had been digging up information on a legendary and magical ring that once belonged to Vlad the Impaler—more widely known as Dracula—and that it just might be the key to finding him.

Journeying into Romania, Theodora and Huck embark on a captivating adventure through Gothic villages and dark castles in the misty Carpathian Mountains to recover the notorious ring. But they aren’t the only ones who are searching for it. A secretive and dangerous occult society with a powerful link to Vlad the Impaler himself is hunting for it, too. And they will go to any lengths—including murder—to possess it. 

Let me just start this review off by saying that The Lady Rogue was one of my most anticipated books for the entirety of 2019. Jenn Bennett is one of my all-time favorite authors (if not the favorite, I mean… just look at that drawing of me holding Starry Eyes below) and I basically devour everything that she ever writes. As much as it pains me to say it, The Lady Rogue and I did not click as much as I’d hoped.

Part of this, I think, is definitely me. It’s been a stressful few weeks in this household. Major life changes are coming and I’ve had very little time to read. I’ve been in the mood for something I can sit down and finish in one sitting, not a book that would take several hours of my time.

I picked this one up and put it right back down a few times in the past month because I just couldn’t get into it. But I threw this book in my backpack when I took a quick weekend trip to Tennessee, just on the off chance that I’d get a minute to read it, and ended up with a cancelled flight and, finally, a lot of time to read. And while it might have taken me several weeks to get into it, once I got into it, I finished it in a couple of hours.

All of this is to say that this is not a bad book. There is nothing inherently wrong with this book. And three stars is not a bad rating! It’s one of those it’s not you, it’s me kind of things.

I will explain.

First things first, what I liked. As always, I love Jenn Bennett’s writing style. She’s one of those writers that, once I get absorbed in the book, I can just go for hours without stopping. The action was steady, but never too much. I loved our main character, Theo, and her adventures traipsing around Europe in search of a mystical ring and her missing father.

Now, for what I wasn’t so sold on. I’ve spent a little bit of time sitting here thinking about why exactly I didn’t love this book as much as I’ve loved Jenn Bennett’s other work, and I think a lot of it comes down to the genre. I’ve had a hard time recently getting into this fantastical kind of adventure story recently (see The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy).

I also associate Jenn Bennett with cute contemporary romances (see Starry Eyes, Alex, Approximately, The Anatomical Shape of a Heart, Serious Moonlight) and although there’s the barest hint of a romance here, it felt kind of like an afterthought. Huck was definitely my least favorite of Bennett’s love interests and I really struggled to feel any chemistry between him and Theo. But, again, romance isn’t really the point of this book. The adventure is the point, and I kept having to remind myself of that.

I think, all in all, that The Lady Rogue is a really well-written, really fun YA historical fantasy. If you go into it knowing that’s what it is and are prepared for it to be very different from Bennett’s previous work, you’ll probably enjoy it. Even though it wasn’t my favorite of her work, I can still appreciate the good writing and the good story, and I’m so excited to read whatever she comes up with next.


#arcaugust
#mm19: mode of transportation


Have you read The Lady Rogue? Is it on your TBR?
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Book Review: Smooth Criminals, Vol. 1 by Kiwi Smith & Kurt Lustgarten

Smooth Criminals, Vol. 1 by Kiwi Smith & Kurt Lustgarten
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: July 9, 2019
Source: Borrowed

When a bit of hacking goes wrong, geeky Brenda accidentally unfreezes Mia, a master cat burglar from the 1960s. Together, they work to pull off a heist bigger than either of them could have dreamed…and solve the mystery of Mia’s cold storage in the proc

When Brenda, geeky hacker extraordinaire, accidentally awakened Mia, an international jewel thief frozen in the 1960s, she wasn’t sure what to expect…but it surely wasn’t a new partner in crime! With their powers combined, they decide to pull off the heist of the century and with fifty years of catching up to do, Mia already has a target in mind. Writers Kirsten ‘Kiwi’ Smith (Legally Blonde) and Kurt Lustgarten (Misfit City) and illustrator Leisha Riddel swing into action and steal the show with this daring and hilarious caper of time-melding suspense.

I found this graphic novel in the new releases section at my library and couldn’t pass it up! I love the concept of a thief frozen in time and accidentally set free by a hacker.

The first volume of this series is a lot of fun, and the action kept me really engaged throughout the four issues. The storyline definitely moves along with one thing happening after another, but one problem I had was that every issue basically just ends with no resolution. I’m left wondering what the heck is going to happen next, and since the next four issues aren’t out yet, I assume I’ll be waiting a while to find out what Brenda and Mia will get up to.

I think that this series has a lot of promise, but it might be better to wait until at least the second volume is out before picking it up.


Have you read Smooth Criminals? Is it on your TBR?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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ARC Review: She’s the Worst by Lauren Spieller

She’s the Worst by Lauren Spieller
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: September 3, 2019
Source: ARC via Netgalley

Sisters April and Jenn haven’t been close in years. Jenn’s too busy with school, the family antique shop, and her boyfriend, and April would rather play soccer and hang out with the boy next door.

But when April notices her older sister is sad about staying home for college, she decides to do something about it. The girls set off to revive a pact they made as kids: spend an epic day exploring the greatest hits of their childhood and all that Los Angeles has to offer.

Then April learns that Jenn has been keeping a secret that could rip their family—and their feuding parents—apart. With only one day to set things right, the sisters must decide if their relationship is worth saving, or if the truth will tear them apart for good. 

Let’s talk about the things that drew me to this book before we talk about my actual opinions on it:

✔️ a book about sisters
✔️ the cover (especially the expressions on the two girls’ faces)
✔️ going away to college
✔️ an “epic day” together
✔️ the general hype I’d seen surrounding this book

So, all things considered, I probably should have loved this book. In the end, I was kind of indifferent. Objectively, there was nothing inherently wrong with it, but I think I might be over the target age for this one, or maybe this type of story just isn’t my cup of tea.

I could appreciate the conflict between the sisters. I could appreciate how awkward it would be for Jenn to have the conversation in question with her family, two adults who can barely keep themselves together and a younger sister with her own life and her own concerns. I could appreciate the idea of the book, a day filled with memories and excursions and family bonding.

What I could not appreciate was the constant drama.

You see, the main conflict in this book could have been resolved in about five seconds if Jenn had just opened her mouth and had a meaningful conversation with literally anyone in her family. Instead, everyone dances around the topic. Jenn avoids an uncomfortable conversation even more deftly than I do. I’ve talked so many times about how much I hate the trope of purposeful miscommunication. In this book, it just came across as childish. I understand that I was reading a book about teenagers, but one of these girls is college-aged. She should be at least trying to act like she’s ready to be an adult.

And, really, don’t even get me started on the parents. I’m sure that parents like this exist, but their existence seems to be primarily in the realm of YA novels. These are parents who are barely capable of surviving without the help of their daughter, who somehow own a business that they don’t know how to run, who blatantly ignore the issues that their children have in favor of their own petty arguments. I can understand how this type of parent creates a backdrop for a story like this, but it’s still very frustrating to me to read a YA novel with stereotypically terrible parents.

Overall, though, I thought that the writing was good. Although the characters frustrated me, they were well-developed and came with their own backstories and their own problems. The thing that kept me from enjoying the book was the constant childish drama, but that might just be my perspective as someone about a decade past the target demographic for this one.


Have you read She’s the Worst? Can you recommend any good books about siblings?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Book Review: The Mental Load by Emma

The Mental Load by Emma
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: September 26, 2018
Source: Borrowed

In her first book of comic strips, French artist Emma reflects on social and feminist issues by means of simple line drawings, dissecting the mental load, ie all that invisible and unpaid organizing, list-making and planning women do to manage their lives, and the lives of their family members. Most of us carry some form of mental load – about our work, household responsibilities, financial obligations and personal life; but what makes up that burden and how it’s distributed within households and understood in offices is not always equal or fair. 

In her strips Emma deals with themes ranging from maternity leave (it is not a vacation!), domestic violence, the clitoris, the violence of the medical world on women during childbirth, and other feminist issues, and she does so in a straightforward way that is both hilarious and deadly serious. If you’re not laughing, you’re probably crying in recognition. Emma’s comics also address the everyday outrages and absurdities of immigrant rights, income equality, and police violence. 

I guess I should start off this review by saying that before I stumbled upon this book in a local bookstore, I had never heard of Emma or her blog. I think this will be a fairly short review because I don’t have a ton of thoughts about this book — I appreciate what it’s aiming to do, but I don’t necessarily think it’s a groundbreaking piece of work.

The thing is, the people that are going to pick up this book are likely people who already agree with the author. I can’t imagine many people who are anti-feminist picking up a book that literally says “a feminist comic” on the front cover. I didn’t find much in this book that was new to me, despite the fact that I don’t necessarily consider myself well-read when it comes to feminist theory.

I think my favorite section of this book, and the one that was most interesting to me, was the one titled “You Should Have Asked.” This is where Emma brings up the mental load — the extra work that women in heterosexual relationships stereotypically have to do. I found myself nodding along as I read, recognizing behavior from past relationships and finally realizing what had been wrong that I hadn’t been able to put into words.

Aside from that, the book is mostly a collection of the author’s thoughts on several highly political topics. I agreed with some and disagreed with others. I wasn’t really pulled in by the art style and the font could be pretty hard to read at times, so I got distracted a lot while reading about the topics that I wasn’t terribly interested in.

Still, if you’re looking for an accessible primer for feminism, this graphic novel would be a great place to start.


Have you read The Mental Load? Can you recommend any good books dealing with feminism?
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Book Review: Been Here All Along by Sandy Hall

Been Here All Along by Sandy Hall
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: August 30, 2016
Source: Borrowed

Gideon always has a plan. His plans include running for class president, becoming head of the yearbook committee and having his choice of colleges. They do not include falling head over heels for his best friend and next-door neighbour, Kyle. It’s a distraction. It’s pointless, as Kyle is already dating the gorgeous and popular head cheerleader, Ruby. And Gideon doesn’t know what to do . . .

Kyle finally feels like he has a handle on life. He has a wonderful girlfriend, a best friend willing to debate the finer points of Lord of the Rings, and social acceptance as captain of the basketball team. Then, both Ruby and Gideon start acting really weird, just as his spot on the team is threatened, and Kyle can’t quite figure out what he did wrong . . .
 

If I had to describe Been Here All Along in one word, that word would be “cute.” This is a book with cute characters who do cute things. Even the main conflict of the book is barely a conflict. Add to that the fact that this book is basically the m/m version of Taylor Swift’s “You Belong With Me” and, you know what? CUTE. I want to be absolutely clear when I say that my rating of three stars is because of the cuteness and because this book is incredibly easy to read.

The actual plot, though? To be completely honest, it doesn’t really exist. It’s really just about two friends who realize they’re in love with each other. There’s a smidgen of coming out drama, which is barely even a thing, and a kind of random aside about a side character’s financial situation. For some reason, there are four POVs in this book, which is a little much for a book that’s only 200ish pages and made it difficult to fully connect with the characters. (Also odd since two of the POVs are not main characters.) Aside from all of that, everything develops fairly predictably and with the least amount of drama possible.

I read the majority of this book over about an hour while I waited at my local library. It’s so easy to read and such a quick read that I’d definitely recommend it if you’re trying to get out of a reading slump. If you’re looking for something with a lot of depth, though, I’d steer clear.


Have you read Been Here All Along? What’s the last light, fluffy romance you read?
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ARC review: We Are Lost and Found by Helene Dunbar

We Are Lost and Found by Helene Dunbar
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: September 3, 2019
Source: ARC via Netgalley

A poignant, heartbreaking, and uplifting, story in the tradition of The Perks of Being a Wallflower about three friends coming-of-age in the early 1980s as they struggle to forge their own paths in the face of fear of the unknown.

Michael is content to live in the shadow of his best friends, James, an enigmatic teen performance artist who everyone wants and no one can have and Becky, who calls things as she sees them, while doing all she can to protect those she loves. His brother, Connor, has already been kicked out of the house for being gay and laying low seems to be his only chance to avoid the same fate. 

To pass the time before graduation, Michael hangs out at The Echo where he can dance and forget about his father’s angry words, the pressures of school, and the looming threat of AIDS, a disease that everyone is talking about, but no one understands.

Then he meets Gabriel, a boy who actually sees him. A boy who, unlike seemingly everyone else in New York City, is interested in him and not James. And Michael has to decide what he’s willing to risk to be himself.

I’ll be honest and admit the the only reason I really requested an ARC of We Are Lost and Found was its cover. I was also pretty intrigued by the setting (New York City in the early 1980s) and the fact that this basically sounded like a YA version of Rent. Well, after reading it, I can say that it definitely isn’t YA Rent, although it was an interesting and well-written book.

So… we’ll start with the good. I loved Becky and James. They felt like they could really be my friends. I liked Michael’s complicated relationship with his brother. I pretty much love anything set in the 80s, so that was a definite plus for me too. I also thought that the book was really well-written.

Things I liked less were the lack of quotation marks throughout the book — it made it very difficult to determine who was talking, if anyone, and really pulled me out of the story — and what felt like a lack of plot. I mean, sure, it’s about a gay boy in 1980s NYC amid the AIDS crisis, but nothing huge happens.

The synopsis of this book compares it to The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which, for once, is a pretty accurate comparison. I had the same problem with that book, so it might just be an issue of me not really connecting with this type of story.


Have you read We Are Lost and Found? Can you recommend any good books on this topic? Let’s talk in the comments!

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ARC Review: No Ivy League by Hazel Newlevant

No Ivy League by Hazel Newlevant
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: August 20, 2019
Source: ARC from BookCon

When 17-year-old Hazel Newlevant takes a summer job clearing ivy from the forest in her home town of Portland, Oregon, her only expectation is to earn a little money. Homeschooled, affluent, and sheltered, Hazel soon finds her job working side by side with at-risk teens to be an initiation into a new world that she has no skill in navigating. This uncomfortable and compelling memoir is an important story of a girl’s awakening to the racial insularity of her life, the power of white privilege, and the hidden story of segregation in Portland.

If you’d pitched this book to me anywhere other than BookCon, I probably would have passed. But the Lion Forge booth was doing an ARC signing and I got a ticket and this book sounded interesting, so I decided to go for it. All things considered, I think it was a good decision.

I think the first thing I want to say is that I loved the art style. The majority of the ARC is in black and white and I can easily imagine the pages being stunning in full color. I think that the graphic novel format helped this book a lot. I don’t think I would have enjoyed it nearly as much as a standard memoir.

The next thing I want to say is that there’s a lot going on in this book. Hazel is homeschooled, sheltered, and privileged. When they take a summer job pulling ivy, they encounter the first real diversity of their life and have to come to terms with their parents’ prejudice and the realization that racism still exists in our daily lives. Hazel also in a relationship with a younger guy, which causes some conflict with their new coworkers, and flirts with a guy who’s fifteen years older, which makes for some really uncomfortable scenes.

Overall, I enjoyed this book, but I think I would have liked it more if it had taken a deeper look at the themes of white privilege and the inherent racism in homeschooling that’s just briefly addressed. I understand that this is a graphic memoir and what happens is what happened, but I felt like something was missing to make this a complete story. Still, I’d recommend it if you’re looking for a good starting point when it comes to white privilege.


Have you read No Ivy League? Do you like to read graphic memoirs?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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