Monday, September 19, 2016

Review: The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis

Title: The Female of the Species
Author: Mindy McGinnis
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Release Date: September 20th 2016
Source: I received an advance reader copy of this book from Indigo Books & Music Inc. in exchange for an honest review

My Rating: 4.5/5

Alex Craft knows how to kill someone. And she doesn’t feel bad about it. When her older sister, Anna, was murdered three years ago and the killer walked free, Alex uncaged the language she knows best. The language of violence.

While her crime goes unpunished, Alex knows she can’t be trusted among other people, even in her small hometown. She relegates herself to the shadows, a girl who goes unseen in plain sight, unremarkable in the high school hallways.

But Jack Fisher sees her. He’s the guy all other guys want to be: the star athlete gunning for valedictorian with the prom queen on his arm. Guilt over the role he played the night Anna’s body was discovered hasn’t let him forget Alex over the years, and now her green eyes amid a constellation of freckles have his attention. He doesn’t want to only see Alex Craft; he wants to know her.

So does Peekay, the preacher’s kid, a girl whose identity is entangled with her dad’s job, though that does not stop her from knowing the taste of beer or missing the touch of her ex-boyfriend. When Peekay and Alex start working together at the animal shelter, a friendship forms and Alex’s protective nature extends to more than just the dogs and cats they care for.

Circumstances bring Alex, Jack, and Peekay together as their senior year unfolds. While partying one night, Alex’s darker nature breaks out, setting the teens on a collision course that will change their lives forever. (Summary from Goodreads)

Okay, where do I begin with this one? I feel like my heart has taken a beating and the English major in me is just itching to analyze every element of this story. I've been in a bit of a reading slump recently, but I could not put The Female of the Species down. When I wasn't reading it, I was thinking about it. When I had it in my hands, nothing else mattered. I just wanted to keep going down this twisting spiral to see what awaited me at the end. Nothing about this book was expected. From the characters to the plot to the writing to the premise, I felt like I never knew what was coming for me. This is definitely a stand-out book and I can't wait to start putting it in people's hands.

Alex Craft was unlike any character I've read before. Her movements, speech, life were carefully crafted and calculated. There was a precision in the writing that always left me off-kilter and on edge. She was fascinating in so many ways. Impossible to forget. I love strong female characters. Strong female characters are my jam. Basically all you have to do is tell me there is a kickass female protagonist in the story and I am there. Alex was a different kind of strong protagonist. Yes, she was physically strong. She could (and did) kick was serious ass. But it was her mentality, the way she spoke, thought, looked at the world that compelled me. Alex was gritty. And I adored her for it.

Sometimes in multi-POV novels, its hard to tell the difference between the characters. POV's bleed together and I sometimes can't distinguish the characters. Alex Craft's point of view was so distinct. Every time her chapters began, I felt like I was jolted violently into her world. Although Peekay and Jack had a lot of rough things going on, it's like I could physically feel Alex when I was reading her POV. She dug her way straight into my soul, and demanded I see every part of her. As for the two other central characters, Peekay and Jack made me love them in different ways. These were not stock, cardboard characters but jagged and flawed people that didn't ask for your approval. Just like everything else in this book, they were unexpected and hard to forget. 

To me, The Female of the Species felt like an exploration of violence. There are so many different forms of violence, so many ways for the violence to surface. Violence permeated this novel like an oil slick, infecting everything. Sometimes it was subtle, almost unnoticeable. Other times it was right there for everyone to see. There was an incredibly interesting discussion of enacted and imagined violence between Alex and Peekay during the novel. It's one of the scenes I don't think I'll be forgetting anytime soon, and one that caused me to pause and think. This whole novel had moments like that. Moments where I had to pull back and analyze what was just said. Where I took a look at the very real world I live in and saw so many similarities to this created one. I love novels that allow me a new perspective on the world, and The Female of the Species definitely did that.

Besides being an exploration of violence as a whole, The Female of the Species subtly examined the violence of rape culture. It was the undercurrent of the entire story, surfacing time and again in new and sometimes unexpected ways. It was hard to read at times because it so closely mimicked life. The Female of the Species stripped away the mask and left the raw violence of rape culture exposed. And showed just how complicit people are in it. And how it so deeply effects women.

There's really only one problem I had with this book and it was the animal cruelty aspect. I'm a huge animal lover, and reading about animals in distress really upsets me. I've avoided entire series because of it. Therefore, the opening couple of chapters of Female were difficult to read. I understood the point of them, the role these scenes played, but it was a little too much for me. 

There's literally so much more I could talk about (including Branley's character and how societal expectations on women are so damaging) but this is already a pretty long review. And I barely even talked about the plot itself! This review doesn't do the book justice. Maybe if I could write a ten page essay on the subject, I would be able to accurate capture the beauty of this novel. The Female of the Species was just a treasure: a dark, twisted, brutal treasure. It's a novel I'm going to think about for years to come, and one I can't wait for people to read. Definitely pick up this book. Then pick up another copy for your friend.

- Ciara (Lost at Midnight)

Find This Book: Amazon | Chapters/Indigo | Goodreads | Mindy McGinnis | HarperCollins 

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Waiting On Wednesday (82): As I Descended by Robin Talley

Waiting On Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine in which bloggers talk about the books they are most eager for!

This Week's Pick: As I Descended by Robin Talley
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release Date: September 6th 2016

Maria Lyon and Lily Boiten are their school’s ultimate power couple—even if no one knows it but them.

Only one thing stands between them and their perfect future: campus superstar Delilah Dufrey.

Golden child Delilah is a legend at the exclusive Acheron Academy, and the presumptive winner of the distinguished Cawdor Kingsley Prize. She runs the school, and if she chose, she could blow up Maria and Lily’s whole world with a pointed look, or a carefully placed word.

But what Delilah doesn’t know is that Lily and Maria are willing to do anything—absolutely anything—to make their dreams come true. And the first step is unseating Delilah for the Kingsley Prize. The full scholarship, awarded to Maria, will lock in her attendance at Stanford―and four more years in a shared dorm room with Lily.

Maria and Lily will stop at nothing to ensure their victory—including harnessing the dark power long rumored to be present on the former plantation that houses their school.

But when feuds turn to fatalities, and madness begins to blur the distinction between what’s real and what is imagined, the girls must decide where they draw the line.

From acclaimed author Robin Talley comes a Shakespeare-inspired story of revenge and redemption, where fair is foul, and foul is fair.

GENDER-SWAPPED MACBETH. YOU GUYS. I can't even tell you how excited this book makes me. My favourite Shakespeare play gets gender-swapped. AND it features an LGBT couple! This book has already won me over on description alone and also, hot damn that cover. Seriously, this is one of my most anticipated books of the year and it should be one of yours too.

What are you waiting on this week?

- Ciara (Lost at Midnight) 

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Waiting On Wednesday (81): Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

Waiting On Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine in which bloggers talk about the books they are most eager for!

Publisher: HarperTeen
Release Date: September 20th, 2016
Fans of acclaimed author Kendare Blake’s Anna Dressed in Blood will devour her latest novel, a dark and inventive fantasy about three sisters who must fight to the death to become queen.

In every generation on the island of Fennbirn, a set of triplets is born: three queens, all equal heirs to the crown and each possessor of a coveted magic. Mirabella is a fierce elemental, able to spark hungry flames or vicious storms at the snap of her fingers. Katharine is a poisoner, one who can ingest the deadliest poisons without so much as a stomachache. Arsinoe, a naturalist, is said to have the ability to bloom the reddest rose and control the fiercest of lions.

But becoming the Queen Crowned isn’t solely a matter of royal birth. Each sister has to fight for it. And it’s not just a game of win or’s life or death. The night the sisters turn sixteen, the battle begins.

The last queen standing gets the crown.

Ugh, I need this book. I adored Kendare Blake's Anna Dressed in Blood duology. The characters, the plot, the writing was all on point. Three Dark Crowns sounds like it could be even better. This is going to be a book I purchase day of and read immediately. I just can't wait.

What are you waiting on this week?

- Ciara (Lost at Midnight)  

Monday, June 27, 2016

Review: And I Darken by Kiersten White

Title: And I Darken
Series: The Conquerors Saga (#1)
Author: Kiersten White
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Release Date: June 28th, 2016
Source: ARC Received from Publisher in Exchange for an Honest Review

My Rating: 5/5   


And Lada Dragwlya likes it that way. Ever since she and her gentle younger brother, Radu, were wrenched from their homeland of Wallachia and abandoned by their father to be raised in the Ottoman courts, Lada has known that being ruthless is the key to survival. She and Radu are doomed to act as pawns in a vicious game, an unseen sword hovering over their every move. For the lineage that makes them special also makes them targets.

Lada despises the Ottomans and bides her time, planning her vengeance for the day when she can return to Wallachia and claim her birthright. Radu longs only for a place where he feels safe. And when they meet Mehmed, the defiant and lonely son of the sultan, who’s expected to rule a nation, Radu feels that he’s made a true friend—and Lada wonders if she’s finally found someone worthy of her passion.

But Mehmed is heir to the very empire that Lada has sworn to fight against—and that Radu now considers home. Together, Lada, Radu, and Mehmed form a toxic triangle that strains the bonds of love and loyalty to the breaking point.

From New York Times bestselling author Kiersten White comes the first book in a dark, sweeping new series in which heads will roll, bodies will be impaled . . . and hearts will be broken. (Summary from Goodreads)

How do I love thee, book? Let me count the ways.

Legit though, how do I even start reviewing this beautiful, masterpiece of a book? Do I start with the captivating landscape? The slow burn plot underlying everything? Or maybe with the characters who appeared so fully formed on the page they felt more like friends? I had very high expectations for this book and it truly smashed every one of them. As soon as I turned the last page I wanted to flip back to the first and start all over again. And I Darken was spectacular. It's going to be really hard to top this book for me.

I think it's pretty well known that I'm a huge Kiersten White fan. Her books constantly offer something new and unique and her characters are always memorable. There hasn't been a single book of hers that I haven't loved fiercely. And I Darken was no exception. In fact, I think And I Darken may have become my new favourite. It was passionate and heartfelt and grand and I miss it already.

Despite my love of history, I don't read a lot of historical novels. Especially now that my reading time is so limited, I like books that instantly engage me and historical fiction usually doesn't. That was not the case for And I Darken. I was captivated by this world from the first line and was pulled along for the ride. I read this book slowly, trying to savor every word and detail. The world of White's Ottoman Empire truly came alive for me, to the point where I always felt a pang when I put the book down. Even now, I long to read more of Lada and Radu's adventures. It's going to be so hard waiting for the next volume.

Kiersten White did her research for this book and it really shows. And I Darken was rich with history and mesmerizing. I felt like I was walking the streets of Edirine or wandering the thick forests in Wallachia. There were many times where I felt a swell in my heart like this, this particular scene, vision, moment was iconic, bigger than the page. I want to go back and read them over and over again. I don't particularly want to live in this world (being a woman and all) but I felt like I got to visit it in these pages. 

Okay, I guess it's time for me to sing Lada's praises. A couple chapters into this book she literally bit a guy and barred her blood-stained teeth at another and I was instantly in love. She was cold and calculating, intelligent and fierce. Lada fought for what she wanted and didn't back down. But, she wasn't always like that. Sometimes Lada was soft, caring, a young girl struggling to hold on to her past while carving a place in this new future. Sometimes I wanted to scream at her, but most of the time I felt so proud watching her come of age. Watching her defy all the limits society tried to put on her. She is a character to remember, and I can't wait to see what she does next.

Although I expected Lada to blow me away, I never saw Radu coming. Here's a tidbid of information about me: I don't read book summaries. I knew And I Darken was about a female Vlad the Impaler, written by one of my favourite authors and...that's it. I didn't even know Radu would be such a central character until I got to his chapters. And wow, did I adore him. Seriously, my heart ached for him half the time, but the other half I was just so dang proud of the man he was. I have so many Radu feelings, guys. The contrast between Lada and Radu's chapters worked marvelously. Where Lada was vicious and calculating, Radu was soft and sensitive. He used his intelligence and social skills to survive and thrive in this cruel environment. Watching him grow from scared young boy to confident young man was incredible. 

The relationship between Lada and Radu ruined me. I loved them both so much and hated when they couldn't see eye-to-eye. The bond between them was tested, twisted, pulled, and prodded constantly but it never broke. Despite everything that happened, they were still siblings, still loved each other, and still made me feel like a weepy mess, basically.

Then there was Mehmed. I won't lie, I was very skeptical of him at first. I was solidly in Lada's corner of distrust but, just like her, managed to warm up to him. The three of them together were powerful and I couldn't help but root for them.  

There was a lot of talk about the love triangle when it was first announced. I'm not anti-love triangle by any means, but sometimes I don't see the point of them. This love triangle though was so well done and really added to the tension of the story (and killed my heart just a tiny bit). There was angst and heartbreak and romance and me feeling like my heart was being slowly ripped out of my chest thanks for that Kiersten White.

Also also! There are multiple LGBT characters in And I Darken and I can't tell you how happy that makes me. They are all fully fleshed out and truly some of my favourites. I can't wait to see how White explores their narratives in the next books.

So much in this story was not cut and dry. There were shifting alliances, long-held secrets, and unexpected conflicts. The bad guys weren't always  as bad as first thought, and the good guys did some pretty bad things. I never knew what to think or who to trust and just hoped that Lada and Radu could survive this chaotic world.

And I Darken was powerful, magical, and basically everything I wanted in a book. Even weeks later, my heart tugs just thinking about it. This is one of my favourite books. Hands down. Read it, read it, read it. Do not miss this book.

- Ciara (Lost at Midnight)

Find This Book: Amazon | Chapters/Indigo | Goodreads | Delcatore Press | Kiersten White       

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Growing Up in YA

I've been working on this post for over two years. It's something I've thought about a lot recently and something I've had a bit of a hard time grappling with.

Today, I'm talking about what it's like to grow up in YA. To grow from YA's target audience to outside of it. To realize that the characters you identified with, loved, hated, cheered for, are suddenly younger than you. Because, when I first started reading YA, at fourteen, they were almost always older. And then as a got older, the same age. And as I entered my 20s, it was a hard thing to realize the characters didn't age right along with me.

It all started with Silver Shadows by Richelle Mead. 

When Bloodlines was first released, I was seventeen. Sydney Sage, the narrator, was eighteen. I liked that we were so close in age. As I was aging up, I liked reading older narrators. 

When I was reading Silver Shadows, the fifth book in the series, I realized something that startled me. In it, Sydney was nineteen. That took me aback. I was used to reading Sydney when she was older than me. She was always mature, responsible, clearly older than my I-can't-even-figure-out-how-to-do-the-laundry self. But...she wasn't. By the time I was reading Silver Shadows, I was actually two years older than Sydney. How the hell did that happen? (Okay, logistically I know how that happened but really how the hell did that happen). 

Not long after the Sydney incident, I couldn't sleep. So, I picked up one of my favourite books, Stray by Rachel Vincent, in hopes that it would help me relax. It's not a YA book, but it really drove home what had been nagging me these last couple of years.  

I remember when I first picked up Stray. I was doing what fifteen-year-old me did best: searching my library's catalog endlessly for a new read. Stray sounded really interesting, in the same vein as the books I'd been reading but also really different. I brought it home and promptly read the entire thing in basically one sitting. I didn't know it was an adult book at the time just that loved it completely. It sucked me right in. Even all these years later, it still does. As I was reading the beginning this time around, a sentence set off alarm bells in my head.

"In my entire twenty-three years, I'd never heard of a stray getting this far into our territory without being caught..."


Faythe was twenty-three. When I first read Stray, I thought Faythe was...well...old. She was eight-years older than me. At fifteen, I couldn't even imagine being twenty-three. Faythe was in grad school; I was in grade ten. Faythe had two guys after her; I'd never even been on a date. Faythe was independent; I was not even slightly. 

In less than two months, I will turn twenty-three.  I will be the same age Faythe was at the beginning of the series. And it's jarring. My image of Faythe is altered because now I see her as a peer, not as an adult. I don't have the same perspective on the story as I did at fifteen.

Growing up in YA is just weird. You go from being younger than the characters, to the same age, to older. But it doesn't feel like that. It feels like you're still their age when you read YA. 

YA has always been around in some form, but during my early teen years YA BOOMED. My book store went from having a couple of YA shelves to having entire walls. And I devoured it. There were so many books I could read, so many worlds I could enter. It was my sanctuary when I needed it the most. It became the thing I revolved my life around. And it still is. I want to work in YA (in whatever form that ends up taking). I want to keep reading YA. I want to champion and sing YA's praises from the rooftops.

But, YA isn't my space anymore. Not really. It's a space I get to enjoy, a community I have my roots in, and something I care so deeply about. But, I'm not a teen anymore and YA should be written for teens. There's been a lot of talk recently about how adults needs to respect teen spaces, particularly in the YA community. It's important to remember that YA is for TEENS, not adults. And I understand. I understand how hard it is to let go of this space, to understand that as much as I enjoy it, as much as I will never truly leave it, it isn't being written for me anymore.

My bestie and I were talking about this and she said that since we were around for the YA boom it feels like it's ours. It's something we don't want to give up. And we don't have to. We don't have to stop reading, loving, and championing YA. But, we have to acknowledge our place in it. Which is, in a sense, outside of it. I'm not going to pretend its easy, cause it's not. It breaks my heart. It feels like I've lost something, even though I really haven't. But, I'm slowly coming around to it. Because I'm getting an entirely new perspective on YA, in a sense. And dammit, I can read whatever the heck I like. 

I'm not good at growing up. I never really have been. I hate birthdays and age questions and not being the youngest in the room (long story). And I know I'm not the only one. And I know I'm probably not the only one having this weird how-did-I-get-older-than-these-characters feelings. It's a hard thing to acknowledge, but one I think is incredibly important. 

I'll never stop reading YA. I just need to find my new place in it.

- Ciara (Lost at Midnight)