Review: Starworld – Girl Friendships, Family Drama, and Roleplaying via Text

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Title: Starworld
Author: Audrey Coulthurst & Paula Garner
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Release Date: April 16th, 2019
Genre(s): YA Contemporary
Subjects and Themes: LGBTQIAP+, Female Friendships, Family
Page Count: 352 (hardback)

Rating: 6.5/10

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Sam Jones and Zoe Miller have one thing in common: they both want an escape from reality. Loner Sam flies under the radar at school and walks on eggshells at home to manage her mom’s obsessive-compulsive disorder, wondering how she can ever leave to pursue her dream of studying aerospace engineering. Popular, people-pleasing Zoe puts up walls so no one can see her true self: the girl who was abandoned as an infant, whose adoptive mother has cancer, and whose disabled brother is being sent away to live in a facility. When an unexpected encounter results in the girls’ exchanging phone numbers, they forge a connection through text messages that expands into a private universe they call Starworld. In Starworld, they find hilarious adventures, kindness and understanding, and the magic of being seen for who they really are. But when Sam’s feelings for Zoe turn into something more, will the universe they’ve built survive the inevitable explosion?

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*Tries to write review*

*Remembers that I read this two months ago and that I have the memory of a goldfish when it comes to books* 

*Clutches head and swears profusely at the procrastination gods* 

There’s a lot of that kind of dialogue in this book, and sometimes it’s cute and other times it’s cringey, so if you’re super sensitive to secondhand embarrassment, you…might have a hard time with it.

But I’m getting ahead of myself!

Starworld is a slow-burn contemporary story about an awkward artsy girl and a popular girl who navigate the murky waters of family and friendship together. Both girls have difficult family lives–one has with a mother with OCD and the other a mother with cancer and a brother with special needs–and the emotions surrounding these everyday battles are shown so incredibly well. Guilt, resentment, anger, and love connecting all of it–it’s messy and complex and the book gives no definite answers on how they should be reacting to these problems, which I thought was beautifully realistic.

And to see Sam and Zoe come together and realize they have so much in common, and that their personalities mesh so well, was a treat to read. Believable chemistry is so hard to pull off in stories and these girls have it in spades.

Now for the not-so-great parts:

The story doesn’t really come with an overarching plot and so the pacing moves from slow to near-glacial (so much that it felt a lot longer than 352 pages). There’s a lot of extraneous dialogue and scenes with people eating and doing other mundane activities; which isn’t necessarily a bad thing–just not for everyone.

And I did find some of the text dialogue overbearing. I think there’s a limit to how much asterisk talk (or “startalk”) I can handle and there’s a LOT of it in this book. And I’m speaking as someone who uses asterisks all the time. Doesn’t mean I want to read through a hundred pages of it.

My biggest problem, though, is with the ending. I appreciate the authors sticking to the theme of life being messy and unpredictable, but the execution just made me super annoyed.

[Spoilers: highlight to read] Everything leading up to the ending made me believe that this was a strangers-to-friends-to-lovers story. Turns out I was horribly wrong because Zoe ends up rejecting Sam, and Sam goes into ghost mode and ignores her for the rest of the school year. The end.

Compared to the care that was put into their relationship for 300+ pages, everything about this ending was abrupt and underdeveloped. The open communication that was such a key part of the friendship straight-up vanishes in this final act and I couldn’t help but feel cheated.

So my feelings on it are mixed. But I would still recommend it just for Zoe and Sam’s friendship (sans the ending), because they are very, very good together and we always need more stories about girls helping each other to find themselves.

 

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Review copy provided by the publisher via Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

Top 5 Wednesday – Independent Ladies

“Top 5 Wednesday” is a weekly meme currently hosted on Goodreads by Sam of Thoughts on Tomes in which you list your top 5 for the week’s chosen topic. This week’s topic is: independent ladies!

Favorite leading ladies who aren’t distracted from getting shit done by their love interest (they can still have a romance subplot – this is going to be subjective based on what you think would be ~too much~)

Yup, this is a day late! But it’s been a bit of a busy week, and my brain insisted on complicating the prompt by asking questions like:

“What’s the difference between ‘independent female characters’ and ‘strong female characters’ and ‘well-written female characters’?”

And “If a female character is involved in a romantic subplot and still gets shit done, isn’t that also a testament to how supportive the love interest is?”

Anywho, on to the show! (I tried to go for a variety of genres/subgenres for this one)

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Vanessa Ives | Penny Dreadful

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“I am nothing. I am no more than a blade of grass. But I am. You think you know evil? Here it stands.”

AKA my favourite female character in all media (despite the “ending” they gave her). You see, Vanessa Ives doesn’t walk around seeking romantic subplots. The romantic subplots seek her out, begging for a crumb of attention, because she’s a planet of her own goddamn making and her law of gravity is the only one worth obeying. For 3 seasons she does her own thing–a mesmeric combination of fearlessness and vulnerability, of kindness and unbridled anger–and the would-be suitors trail behind her with flowers, crying, “Please notice me!”

Vanessa has forever redefined the idea of a strong female character and I will live and die on her altar ’till the end of my days.

 

Anne de Vernase | The Soul Mirror (Collegia Magica 2)

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Anne is given what has to be the worst hand of cards that could be dealt to a female protagonist in fantasy: her father has been accused of treason and kidnapping and is now on the run; her younger brother has been thrown in prison; her mother has succumbed to insanity; and now she’s received news that her younger sister has died in an “accident.” Oh, and on top of it all, she’s about to lose her family estate.

Yet she remains on her feet, head held high. With logic, empathy, and sheer determination at her disposal, she carves out a place at the royal court, uncovers a dark conspiracy, and saves the world. Brava, Damoselle. Brava.

 

Julie (“Queenie”) | Code Name Verity

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“I am a coward”

It’s kind of impossible to explain why she’s such an incredible character and why she belongs on this list without going into spoilers, so this is gonna be vague.

Julie is a WW2 British spy who gets captured by the Germans and is forced to write up a comprehensive confession detailing everything to do with the British war effort. Gorgeous, clever, and sophisticated, she’s always had the attention of boys. But it’s her best friend Maddie who’s had her heart. And it’s Maddie that she keeps in mind as she’s tortured and interrogated to a breaking point.

Julie’s choice isn’t an easy one, but it’s one she stands by…and there’s a lot to be said for that.

And “Kiss me, Hardy” remains three of the most devastating words I’ve ever read.

 

Flavia de Luce|Flavia de Luce Series

“I am often thought of as being remarkably bright, and yet my brains, more often than not, are busily devising new and interesting ways of bringing my enemies to sudden, gagging, writhing, agonizing death.”

Flavia de Luce–chemist extraordinaire, amateur sleuth, and precocious tween–has no time for your romance nonsense. Not when there are delicious murders to be solved and chemical experiments to conduct. I mean, she’s also 11 for most of the series (because the author seems to want to keep her as a preteen for the rest of her life) so romance isn’t really on the menu for her right now, but still. She has little patience for the foolishness of adults and since no adult in her life can seem to rub two brain cells together to solve a murder, it’s up to her to figure things out. Again.

 

Felicity Montague | Montague Siblings Series

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You deserve to be here. You deserve to exist. You deserve to take up space in this world of men.”

Felicity is one of the best female characters I’ve come across in the past couple of years and I absolutely adore the development she goes through in Lady’s Guide. This is a girl who knows she can go toe-to-toe with the men when it comes to medicine and science, and she will do what it takes to prove that–to herself and to others.

Review: White Stag – Pretty and Air-Headed

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Title: White Stag
Author: Kara Barbieri
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Release Date: January 8th, 2019
Genre(s): YA Fantasy
Subjects and Themes: Goblins, Norse Mythology
Page Count: 368 (hardback)

Rating: 5.0/10

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As the last child in a family of daughters, seventeen-year-old Janneke was raised to be the male heir. While her sisters were becoming wives and mothers, she was taught to hunt, track, and fight. On the day her village was burned to the ground, Janneke—as the only survivor—was taken captive by the malicious Lydian and eventually sent to work for his nephew Soren.

Janneke’s survival in the court of merciless monsters has come at the cost of her connection to the human world. And when the Goblin King’s death ignites an ancient hunt for the next king, Soren senses an opportunity for her to finally fully accept the ways of the brutal Permafrost. But every action he takes to bring her deeper into his world only shows him that a little humanity isn’t bad—especially when it comes to those you care about.

Through every battle they survive, Janneke’s loyalty to Soren deepens. After dangerous truths are revealed, Janneke must choose between holding on or letting go of her last connections to a world she no longer belongs to. She must make the right choice to save the only thing keeping both worlds from crumbling

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I’m keeping this one short(ish). Because turns out I have even less to say about the book than what the book has to say to me. And that’s a bit of an achievement.

I went into this expecting something similar to Labyrinth. A gritty norse-goblin story dressed ill-fittingly as YA and dripping berserker rage–minus elements that would actually make a gritty norse-goblin story with berserker rage interesting–wasn’t quite what I had in mind.

First of all, I don’t think this should have been labelled as YA. They don’t show anything, but there’s graphic talk of how the main villain had raped the protagonist insensate over three months and mutilated one of her breasts. And there’s no point to this detail aside from hammering home the fact that the villain is, indeed, truly villain-y.

Aside from that, “hazy” is the best word to describe this book. The overarching plot? Hazy. The worldbuilding? Hazy. Character development (aside from the MC)? Ha-zy.

The relationship between Soren and Jenneke starts out in a skin-crawling place, with Soren determined to turn her fully into one of the goblins because he knows what’s best for her and apparently what’s best for her is to have no say in whether or not she loses her humanity.

“You’re still human enough to think I’m doing this to hurt you,” he said softly. “But I’m not. This is because I care for you.”

Uh huh.

It gets better as the story goes on but not because of any real effort on Soren’s part. Really, any character becomes a saint when placed next to Soren’s uncle and Soren is no exception.

I think the worldbuilding is what frustrated me the most. The premise gives you such an interesting foundation to work with and yet the end result is like low-budget play that comes with only a handful of background scenery–wintery trees, generic stretch of land, generic castle/mansion interior, and a dark cavernous area. And when you point to the space beyond the trees and ask, “What’s over there?” the book shrugs and goes, “I don’t know.” And that’s never fun.

It’s not a badly written book, but with a world that’s sorely underdeveloped, secondary characters that are just merely present, and a plot that sits around twiddling its thumbs, White Stag made for a curiously hollow and stagnant reading experience.

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Review copy provided by the publisher via Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

Top 5 Wednesday – 2019 Releases that I Didn’t Care About But Am Now Tentatively Anticipating

“Top 5 Wednesday” is a weekly meme currently hosted on Goodreads by Sam of Thoughts on Tomes in which you list your top 5 for the week’s chosen topic.

Oh boy oh boy. It feels like I haven’t done one of these in forever.

So, this week’s prompt was “2019 releases that I don’t care about.” But apathy is something that I actively try to fight off on a regular basis (thanks, depression), so dedicating an entire post to talking about things I don’t care about felt…I don’t know, counter-productive.

So I’m doing what I do best, which is complicating simple things, and changing it to “2019 releases that I didn’t care about but am now tentatively anticipating.” Now it starts off negative but ends on a sort-of positive note. 😀

 

The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

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This one has been hyped to hell and back and for good reason. It’s thick, it’s got dragons and intrigue and possibly-interesting female characters, all wrapped up in a stupidly good-looking cover.

All of which made me shrug and think, “Yeah, this is too good to be true.”

But. It’s a door-stopper epic fantasy written by a female author with feminist themes, and I could stand outside my local mall all day holding up a sign that says “WE NEED MORE OF THOSE.” Plus I feel like it’d be a crime not to try out any book with that as a cover.

 

The Wicked King by Holly Black

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Okay, to be fair, this one had the “I don’t care” stamp before I’d read The Cruel Prince. And now that I have read it, while I’m not bouncing-off-the-walls excited (my anticipation levels for this book are about as lukewarm and kind-of-there-kind-of-not as Cardan), I am mildy curious to see how things pan out for Cardan and Jude.

 

Sherwood by Meagan Spooner

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I adore the original Robin Hood legend. My love hasn’t really been reciprocated in the past decade or so, however (not until recently with a certain series which I will most definitely ramble about in a separate post). Every adaptation that comes along swearing that it’s giving RH a fresh and interesting look is 1) neither of those things, or 2) something so weird and outlandish that it shouldn’t even have the “Robin Hood” title (looking at you, 2018 film).

While Sherwood isn’t the “gender-bent Robin Hood falls in love with Maid Marian” story that I was hoping for–it’s got Maid Marian taking the Robin Hood mantle while Robin’s off doing God knows what–I’m willing to give it a try.

 

Seven Blades in Black by Sam Sykes

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While I do love Sam Sykes as a person, I just couldn’t get into his Bring Down the Heaven series. There’s something about his writing that didn’t click with me. So Seven Blades in Black initially went in the “maybe I’ll try it one day” pile. 

I don’t remember why I moved it to the “anticipated” stack (probably because I caved into Sam’s Twitter charms), but it’s there now and hopefully I’ll take to it better than his previous books.

 

The Familiars by Stacey Halls

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I turned my nose at this one because the cover made me think it was a fable-y, magical realism story featuring witches and their familiars, but then I found out it’s actually about a woman dealing with pregnancy in the 17th century (with a witch hunt backdrop), which was decidedly less interesting to me.

But I do enjoy historical feminist stories, and there’s something super magnetic about that cover, so I’ll give it a shot!

 

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Are there any 2019 books that you’ve had a change of heart about?

August 2018 Wrap Up – It’s Not You, Scifi, It’s Me…But It’s Also Kind of You

So mental-health wise, life has been a veritable mess from July to August. After a trip to the emergency room, days of yelling and apologizing, and talking to from doctors, things are now marginally better. I’ve been throwing myself into art which has been helping quite a bit. And while it feels like I’m creeping along a tightrope and one breeze at the wrong time can push me over again, I’m hoping things will continue to move in a positive direction. Also, to the beautiful, wonderful people who messaged me with words of encouragement and support, I can barely express how thankful I am. ❤

Well, enough of that–onto the books! I read (or tried to read) 12 books this month which is a little surprising, all things considered. Of those 12, four were scifi and I didn’t much like any them, so I’m going to try to take a small break from the genre.

⚔️= Fantasy; 🚀= Scifi; 👻= Paranormal; 🔍= Mystery; 🌺= Contemporary; 🗝️= Historical; 🌈= LGBTQIAP+

The Brilliant

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The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge by M.T Anderson and Eugene Yelchin ⚔️:
I didn’t really know what to expect from this book going in, but holy hell, I had such a great time with it. It’s labelled YA but it’s got the same wit and dark humour found in Pratchett’s writing. So Discworld lovers, this one’s for you. Review to come.

The Dust Feast (Hollow Folk 3) by Gregory Ashe 👻🔍🌈:
I’m saving the big, sappy words for the review so for now I’ll just just say that the Hollow Folk books killed me, resurrected me, and then ascended me to the heavens. Read this paranormal/mystery/thriller series and you too can experience being Jesus. Novella Review to come.

 

The Great

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I Can’t Date Jesus – Love, Sex, Family, Race, and Other Reasons I’ve Put my Faith in Beyoncé by Michael Arceneaux 🌈:

I Can’t Date Jesus is an amazing collection of personal essays where Michael Arceneaux–a journalist whose articles have been published in pretty much every media outlet–talks about his struggles with intimacy, the complicated relationship he has with religion and family, and his general experience of being a gay black man in America. It’s hilarious, raw, opinionated, and wonderfully intimate–almost like you’re having a discussion with an old friend. And Arceneaux’s dating woes make me feel infinitely better about mine because at least I can say that no one’s ever brought bedbugs and/or fleas into my bed.

A must-read for everyone, LGBTQIAP+ or not.

The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins by the McElroys and Carey Pietsch ⚔️: (8/10)
The graphic novel adaptation of The Adventure Zone podcast. Unsurprisingly, I loved it. Review here.

Summer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman 🌺🌈:
A YA contemporary with beautiful, honest portrayal of grief and sisterhood. Review to come.

 

THE (Kind of) GOOD

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The Dark Beneath the Ice by Amelinda Bèrubè👻🌈: (7/10)
A paranormal YA that’s been called Black Swan meets Paranormal Activity. I wasn’t too impressed with the paranormal plot, but the main character and her mental health struggles were done very well. Review here.

When Elephants Fly by Nancy Richardson Fischer🌺:
A YA contemporary that explores schizophrenia, which I don’t come across too often, and the ethics of keeping animals in zoos versus circuses. Again, while I loved the mental health aspect, the plot left me wanting more. Review to come.

Romeo and/or Juliet by Ryan North🗝️⚔️:
A fun choose-your-own adventure novel that lets you navigate the story of Romeo and Juliet as either Romeo or Juliet. It’s got robots! And weightlifting! And kissing! And lots and lots of ways to die! I was never a huge fan of the original story (two teens insta-falling in love wasn’t really my thing), so I didn’t enjoy this as much as North’s other choose-your-own adventure book, To Be Or Not To Be, which tackles Hamlet. It’s still a lot of fun, though.

 

THE OKAY

In the Present TenseIn the Present Tense by Carrie Pack 🚀🌈: (6.5/10)
A near-future time travel story with a ton of diversity–mental health rep, PoCs, LGBTQIAP+. I loved the time travel stuff but the actions of the characters were baffling to say the least. Review here.

The Bad and DNF

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Temper by Nicky Drayden 🚀⚔️: DNF 40%

I loved Nicky’s debut, The Prey of Gods, and while I appreciate the strangeness and the sheer imagination of Temper, it wasn’t really something I could enjoy so soon after my brain short-circuiting on me. There’s a lot to the worldbuilding and I just couldn’t keep up. I’ll give it another shot sometime this month.

Empire of Silence by Christopher Ruocchio 🚀: DNF 20%

As I wrote on Goodreads, if a bunch of Ivy League classics majors got very high one night and decided they would write an epic space opera, Empire of Silence is probably what you’d get. But like, less fun.

I’ve seen this book compared with Name of the Wind, mostly because of the flowery prose. But to me, while the narration in NoTW sounds like the voice of someone who’s in love with language, music, and just art in general, the narrator for Empire of Silence feels more like someone who’s in love with the sound of their own voice–verbosity without the empathy. Plus the story drags. A lot. I’m guessing it picks up at some point but I didn’t want to have to slog through 450 more pages to find out.

Past Imperfect by Carrie Pack 🚀🌈: (3.5/10)

The sequel to In the Present Tense. In my review I called it a “bad soap opera envisioned by aliens” and that more or less sums it up. Review here.

 

Posts-Made-title

TOP 5 WEDNESDAY

Topics I’d Like to See Explored More in Fantasy
Book List for a Class on Developmental Psychology

REVIEWS

Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers
And the Ocean was Our Sky by Patrick Ness
In the Present Tense by Carrie Pack
The Dark Beneath the Ice by Amelinda Bèrubè
Past Imperfect by Carrie Pack
The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins

TAGS

The Weather in Books Tag

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And that’s it from me! How did your month go?