Review: Miss You by Kate Eberlen

Title: Miss You
Author: Kate Eberlen
Rating: ★★★★
Summary: For one day, the paths of an eighteen-year-old girl and boy criss-cross before they each return to England. Over the course of the next sixteen years, life and love will offer them very different challenges. Separated by distance and fate, there’s no way the two of them are ever going to meet each other properly . . . or is there?

The title of Kate Eberlen’s latest should be Just Missed You, as Tess and Gus’s story is hinged upon their lives touching for a moment and then spinning wildly away again with the force of contact. Told in alternating chapters and spanning more than a decade and a half, we get to follow these two people as each decision they make (or are sometimes forced to make) alter their lives into hitting different intersection points. (I think that the best thing – in that it’s the worst thing – is Eberlen gives us just enough of a hint that Tess and Gus would have met at critical points in their young adulthood, but instead pass alongside one another, never quite meeting (or even knowing that they should).)

This story sunk its tender melodramatic claws into me, and I stayed up late reading, buoyed by the hope that maybe this day fate would push Gus and Tess into each other’s orbit. That in this moment, they would finally become more than tertiary strangers just out of reach. But perhaps only because that moment is almost twenty years in the making does it mean all the more.

Miss You could have easily devolved into cliched mush, but in Eberlen’s hands, it feels real and raw. At the end of it all, I was so happy I cried.

Video Review: Biographies!

In which I come back after two years (TWO YEARS) and review The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League by Jeff Hobbs and give it 4 stars because it was an “insightful and intimate portrait” of one man’s life and an all-around great read.

And then I review Choose Your Own Autobiography by Neil Patrick Harris and give it 3 stars because it was “interesting and clever” but not for everyone.

Watch it below or check out my other videos at YouTube.

Review: The Regional Office Is Under Attack! by Manuel Gonzales

RegionalOfficeIsUnderAttackTitle: The Regional Office Is Under Attack!
Author: Manuel Gonzales
Rating: ★★★½
Summary: In a world beset by amassing forces of darkness, one organization—the Regional Office—and its coterie of super-powered female assassins protects the globe from annihilation. At its helm, the mysterious Oyemi and her oracles seek out new recruits and root out evil plots. Then a prophecy suggests that someone from inside might bring about its downfall. And now, the Regional Office is under attack. Recruited by a defector from within, Rose is a young assassin leading the attack, eager to stretch into her powers and prove herself on her first mission. Defending the Regional Office is Sarah—who may or may not have a mechanical arm—fiercely devoted to the organization that took her in as a young woman in the wake of her mother’s sudden disappearance. On the day that the Regional Office is attacked, Rose’s and Sarah’s stories will overlap, their lives will collide, and the world as they know it just might end.

The Regional Office Is Under Attack! is a weird little book that isn’t really like anything else and takes a bit of time to get into but is otherwise laugh-out-loud funny and wholly original. (A.k.a., I very much enjoyed it.) Manuel Gonzales throws you into the plot and expects you to keep up – which would be a turn-off in any other book – but after a couple of chapters, you’re, like, “okay, I got this.” The three stories, which interweave and overlap until you can finally parse out how everything fits, start to feel normal as head-scratching confusion turns into heart-racing anticipation.

Story one is the titular attack on the Regional Office, which is “an army of superwomen” who have been recruited and trained by the Office’s founding members, Mr. Niles and Oyemi, “to fight the evil forces of darkness” and who have already, in the book’s diegetic past, “saved the world from destruction, from self-annihilation, from the evil forces of darkness, from inter-dimensional war strikes, [and] from alien forces… like the retrieval of the Tremont Hotel from inter-dimensional, time-traveling assassins who intended to murder a future madame president by kidnapping and murdering her great-grandmother.” There are a lot of players in the first few chapters, and maybe a little too much going on, but someone named Rose is, like, doing parkour in a magic ventilation shaft and some woman named Sarah has a mechanical arm that looks like any other arm and you’re kind of okay with all of it. (Like I said, it’s a weird little book.)

Story two follows Rose and Sarah as they are recruited into and then eventually join Assassin Training Camp and the Regional Office, respectively. Except that Gonzales introduces them to you in the heat of the moment and then backtracks in such an apologetic and explanatory way that you don’t really mind knowing point D before points C and E before you’re also led to realize points B and A.

Then, interspersed with all of that, is story three, an in-universe biography of the attack on the Regional Office, appropriately titled The Regional Office Is Under Attack: Tracking the Rise and Fall of an American Institution. We are never told who is writing this book, or how they got all this informational on a super secret spy ring operating out of a travel agency, but it’s another one of those ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ moments that you just kind of roll with.

My main question throughout the whole novel – which I will say gets answered by the book’s close – was, What is the difference between Assassin Training Camp and the Regional Office? Gonzales keeps you guessing, all the way up to the final, final twist, but you kind of don’t mind – because, well, you’re reading about coteries of super-powered female assassins who know martial arts and have literal super powers. I mean, I can’t even really describe this book. Is it a revenge story? A heist? Die Hard meets Mission Impossible? I don’t know!!! I was just genuinely invested – in how Rose’s story fit in with Sarah’s, and how both women were going to survive the Regional Office being under attack, and maybe what the heck was going on – that learning the identity of the “defector from within” almost (kind of) felt like an after-thought.

Goodreads Review: Lumberjanes, Vol. 3: A Terrible Plan

LumberjanesV3Title: Lumberjanes, Vol. 3: A Terrible Plan
Author: Noelle Stevenson and Shannon Watters
Rating: ★★
Summary: Trying to take advantage of the first quiet day at camp in a while, Mal and Molly’s date takes a bizarre turn with the appearance of the Bear Woman! Back at camp, Jo, April, and Ripley must stay on their toes as they try and earn every badge possible, which ends up being a lot harder than any of them planned.

Noelle Stevenson deftly continues her summer camp saga Lumberjanes, but this third volume doesn’t feel as action-packed as Beware the Kitten Holy or Friendship to the Max – perhaps because our fearless five-some is split up for three of the four issues and, when they are together, we just get to read their attempts at scary ghost stories. Plus, the lack of Brooke Allen’s illustrations is noticeable enough to affect the story. Ultimately, A Terrible Plan just feels like a terrible Lumberjanes installment.

Review: A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab

AGatheringOfShadowsTitle: A Gathering of Shadows
Author: V.E. Schwab
Rating: ★★★★
Summary: It has been four months since a mysterious obsidian stone fell into Kell’s possession. Four months since his path crossed with Delilah Bard. Four months since Prince Rhy was wounded, and since the nefarious Dane twins of White London fell, and four months since the stone was cast with Holland’s dying body through the rift – back into Black London. As Red London finalizes preparations for the Element Games – an extravagant international competition of magic meant to entertain and keep healthy the ties between neighboring countries – a certain pirate ship draws closer, carrying old friends back into port. And while Red London is caught up in the pageantry and thrills of the Games, another London is coming back to life. After all, a shadow that was gone in the night will reappear in the morning. But the balance of magic is ever perilous, and for one city to flourish, another London must fall.

By all accounts, V.E. Schwab’s A Gathering of Shadows is a standard middle-book. It wraps up loose ends from its series opener, A Darker Shade of Magic; it advances the plot and world building of the series’ nineteenth-century historical fantasy setting; and it teases clues for the third Shades of Magic book, A Conjuring of Light. And I liked it – I did (there’s no waffling on that front); I just wish that maybe I had known a third book was coming before I dove into the first. (I can’t take the wait!!!!!)

Instead of further exploring the setting she’s created, Schwab focuses A Gathering of Shadows on the Element Games – a tri-state tournament for practicing magicians – and relies heavily on this B plot to move the story forward. There are flashbacks to what happened in between the ending of A Darker Shade of Magic and the beginning of A Gathering of Shadows four months later, but Schwab forces most of the conflict from the secrets our protagonists keep from both one another and the rest of the ensemble cast. For instance, fearless lady pirate Delilah Bard keeps her true identity from her ship’s captain, Alucard Emery; Alucard keeps his lineage a secret from most of his crew and the source of Kell’s animosity toward him from the reader; RiverSongSpoilers and Kell keeps his entrance into the Element Games a secret from everyone but his brother, Rhy. And, well, there’s also the secret of what the heck happened to that piece of black magic Kell threw into Black London, hidden from both the reader and everyone in the book. (And I’ll just leave it at that, because, well, as River Song would say, “Spoilers!”[1])

I found three spelling mistakes in the hardcover edition, released in February 2016, and that makes me wonder if Schwab is perhaps rushing in order to make a late winter/early spring release date for all three novels. (You can basically chart the progress on the book’s Goodreads “Community Reviews” section and then go fangirl on her Tumblr.) Schwab is a strong writer and effectively paced A Darker Shade of Magic and A Gathering of Shadows to both warrant a 450 average page count and keep her readers feverishly flipping through, but the first two parts of her Shades of Magic trilogy are strengthened by getting to binge both titles one after the other. Sure, I can read synopses of the two when A Conjuring of Light finally drops sometime next year – fingers crossed – but what I’ll really want to do is start from the first page of the first novel and go all the way through to the last page of the last novel. Schwab’s novels deserve that kind of commitment.

[1] Remember how I said I didn’t want Kell and Lila to end up together? Well… now I do.

Review: The Lost Time Accidents by John Wray

TheLostTimeAccidentsTitle: The Lost Time Accidents
Author: John Wray
Rating: ★★
Summary: Haunted by a failed love affair and the darkest of family secrets, Waldemar ‘Waldy’ Tolliver wakes one morning to discover that he has been exiled from the flow of time. The world continues to turn, and Waldy is desperate to find his way back – a journey that forces him to reckon not only with the betrayal at the heart of his doomed romance but also the legacy of his great-grandfather’s fatal pursuit of the hidden nature of time itself. Part madcap adventure, part harrowing family drama, part scientific mystery – and never less than wildly entertaining – The Lost Time Accidents is a bold and epic saga set against the greatest upheavals of the twentieth century.

I tried to like The Lost Time Accidents, okay. I really, really tried. Look at that cool cover! That wavy green font!! The weird plot I don’t quite understand!!! But the thing about John Wray’s novel is that it is narrated by a whiny, pretentious a-hole who is a) pining after a woman who doesn’t love him and b) buoyed by the belief that he is the only one who can fix his family’s legacy.

*groan* 😔 💤

My gut told me to give up by, like, page 100, but I convinced myself to keep going… and let me tell you, that was a stupid decision. (Always trust your gut.) The book interweaves two narratives: Chosen One™ Waldemar Tolliver exiled from time in his aunts’ claustrophobic, hoardish New York apartment and the story of the Toula/Tolliver family, conveniently narrated by Waldemar through the letters he writes to a Mrs. Haven. The plots finally converge at the end – when beginning-of-book-Waldemar makes an appearance in end-of-book-Waldemar’s final letter – but everything feels disjointed as a result. I kept wondering if I was looking at this alternate twentieth century as Waldemar’s great-grandfather Ottokar or (in the one bright spot in Wray’s otherwise dreary escapade) as his grandfather Kaspar Toula; as a young, pre-Mrs. Haven Waldemar, digesting and narrating his family’s history after the fact; or as exiled-from-time Waldemar, explaining both the events AND their reflection as he writes to Mrs. Haven.

I mean, I didn’t even fully understand what a lost time accident was until it’s explicitly explained in the text – some 90% of the way through. This is on top of the book being a perfect DNF candidate AND having a main character who grates on my nerves – like, a straight-up STFU kind of privileged elitist who will not accept that a woman does not (and probably never did) love him and so writes his emotions as irrefutable fact so that she will “better understand” how much he has suffered and is thus entitled to a second chance. It’s called ghosting, Waldemar, and your failure to accept that Mrs. Haven straight up ghosted out of your not-so clandestine affair means she’s not interested. Going back to her husband means she’s over it. LEAVING THE COUNTRY WITHOUT TELLING YOU MEANS SHE’S NOT INTO YOU. MOVE ON.

(Side note: let’s all just conveniently overlook the fact that Waldemar exclusively refers to Mrs. Haven as Mrs. Haven because I do not have the energy to explain why a female character should not be solely identified through her marriage to a man. Okay? Okay.)

I have seen reviews of The Lost Time Accidents praising its brilliance, but I’m at a lost as to why there was such a disconnect between what those reviewers got out of the novel and what I came away with. As such, it’s hard for me to say “this book sucked, ergo, don’t read it” because I seem to be in the minority. Maybe, after slogging through a less-than-stellar City on Fire, I’m just at my cap of Novels Featuring White Dudes Saving the Day Written by Upper Middle Class White Dudes? (You know who isn’t? People loving this book.) By all means, read The Lost Time Accidents if so inclined. You can find me enjoying something else entirely.

Review: A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

A Darker Shade final for IreneTitle: A Darker Shade of Magic
Author: V.E. Schwab
Rating: ★★★★½
Summary: Kell is one of the last Antari, a rare magician who can travel between parallel worlds: hopping from Grey London — dirty, boring, lacking magic, and ruled by mad King George — to Red London — where life and magic are revered, and the Maresh Dynasty presides over a flourishing empire — to White London — ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne, where people fight to control magic, and the magic fights back — and back, but never Black London, because traveling to Black London is forbidden and no one speaks of it now.

Officially, Kell is the personal ambassador and adopted Prince of Red London, carrying the monthly correspondences between the royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell smuggles for those willing to pay for even a glimpse of a world they’ll never see, and it is this dangerous hobby that sets him up for accidental treason. Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs afoul of Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She robs him, saves him from a dangerous enemy, then forces him to take her with him for her proper adventure.

But perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save both his London and the others, Kell and Lila will first need to stay alive — a feat trickier than they hoped.

I don’t know how A Darker Shade of Magic got on my radar or really what I was expecting, but it honestly was amazing and had me, like, whipping through chapters[i]. Schwab – better known for her young adult fiction written under her given name Victoria – weaves early nineteenth-century England with (hard? high?) fantasy into an engaging and engrossing fast-paced piece of world-building. *Ahem* Kell, our fearless ginger-haired protagonist is an Antari – a powerful Traveler magician capable of mastering all five elements[ii] – who officially travels between Londons[iii] as a diplomat of the Maresh empire of Arnes but also unofficially smuggles artifacts among the three cities until he’s tricked into delivering a letter into Red London (which has an inconspicuous piece of Black London tucked inside (oh hi, plot)). It is here, in a pub in Grey London, with a powerful piece of magic in his shape-shifting coat, that Kell meets our other fearless protagonist: a cross-dressing lady thief named Delilah Bard who is totally kickass and, shall we say, persuades Kell to bring her along with him. Hijinks ensure. (#whew)

A Darker Shade of Magic needs its world-building to succeed: not only because “fantasy [as a genre] tends to live or die on its world-building,” (thank you, Gizmodo) but also because, without it, Schwab’s readers are left scratching their heads in confusion. Why is Kell two-of-a-kind? And why is it so dangerous to have a piece of Black London? And, wait, what’s Black London again? And who is Rhy? And are we supposed to be rooting for Holland or not? And, I’m sorry, but WHAT IS GOING ON??? Schwab writes Lila as both a narrative counterweight to Kell AND a crutch for the reader – she is really freaking successful at building up the foundation that, yes, Magic™ exists but, no, not in the world that also produced the House of Hanover, okay – but it doesn’t feel like we’re being explained to past the first couple of chapters. Magic just is and the Londons just are, and Schwab’s writing is better for it.

The first part in a planned trilogy, A Darker Shade of Magic is part whodunit, part swashbuckling caper, and part coming-of-age. It is not, however, a romance – but that’s okay because Schwab writes such fascinating and faceted characters that the googly eyes most opposite-sex-partnerships make in traditional romances feels over-the-top and, frankly, unwarranted within the world she’s created. (But spoilerly thoughts if you want ‘em.[iv])  The action, although well-paced, felt slightly rushed into its resolution; so, either I was expecting a totally different ending or, well, nope – I was expecting a totally different ending. S’okay, though, as soon as I finished the book’s last page, I was still itching to get my grubby hands on its sequel, A Gathering of Shadows. I think that means Schwab’s foray into adult literature was a success.

[i] I would set my alarm for thirty minutes and then, like, blink and the alarm would go off… and I would think, “Has it only been a half hour? Wtf is going on???” And then I would set another thirty-minute alarm until it had been, about, three hours. #truestory

[ii] Bone, earth, fire, water, and wind; Kell also has one completely black eye and this amazing coat that he can turn inside out and outside in to reveal different coats when needed.

[iii] There are four Londons: Black London and White London and Red London (Kell’s London) and then Grey London (our London and the boring one without magic); Magic™ kind of, like, swallowed Black London, though, and nobody goes there anymore or even really mentions it.

[iv] I kept anticipating a kiss between Kell and Lila simply because they were written as vaguely attracted to one another, but every time a Romantic Moment™ would arrive and Kell and Lila didn’t kiss, I cheered. Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy romance in stories, but it didn’t really feel like either Kell or Lila were ready to be in a romantic relationship, and it makes me so, so happy that Schwab didn’t push it just because we live in a heteronormative world and a nineteen-year-old girl and a twenty-one-year-old boy are “supposed” to end up together. Four for you, V.E. Schwab.