Friday, March 30, 2018

Fantasy In Death by J.D. Robb | This Case Made Me Sad

In Death #30
Date Read: Feb 4 to 10, 2018
First Published: 2010
Adult, mystery
Bart Minnock, founder of the computer gaming giant U-Play, is found in his locked private playroom, in a pool of blood, his head separated from his body. Despite his violent end, Eve can’t find anyone—girlfriend and business partners included—who seemed to have a problem with the enthusiastic, high-spirited millionaire.
Of course gaming, like any business, has its fierce rivalries and dirty tricks—as Eve’s husband, Roarke, one of U-Play’s competitors, knows well. But Minnock was not naïve, and he knew how to fight back in the real world as well as the virtual one.
Eve and her team are about to enter the next level of police work, in a world where fantasy is the ultimate seduction—and the price of defeat is death...
So, I suppose it's no surprise to anyone that I love this series, considering this is the 30th book in the series. Granted, I haven't read all the previous ones, but I have read... what, twenty? Clearly; I'm a fan.

But some mysteries hit me harder than others, and this is one of those cases.

I know exactly what caused my fierce reaction; the theme of friendship. You see, I am a very loyal friend, and I have friends who I would die for... and I know they would die for me. Dramatic, maybe, but also fundamentally true.

The friendship in this book reminded me of that. The friends reacted so strongly to Bart's death that I prayed none of them did it. I wanted Eve to be wrong, just this once. For the killer to be someone unrelated; not one of these friends that Bart loved, and trusted, and cherished. Not one of these friends that appeared so ravaged by his death.

Their pain broke my heart, but the notion that one of them actually did it crushed the pieces into dust.

So... yeah. FANTASY IN DEATH was such a hard, painful read for me. It made my stomach churn and my anxiety level rise. It took me longer to read because I was honestly scared to read who'd done it.

The only pleasant part of this novel was Eve, Roarke, and the wonderful supporting cast. I have no idea how Robb does it, but these people are still as compelling 30 books later as they were in the first one. And they are "people", not just characters on paper. They are as real as you and me. The only difference is that they are fictional. I know that sounds contrary but just.. just think about it. You know what I mean.

Anyways, how come this series hasn't been adapted for a tv series yet?? Some of the longest running shows are detective shows with romance undertones like Castle, The Mentalist, and Bones--this would be perfect for that.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J.K. Rowling | I Forgot How Smart Harry Is??

Harry Potter #1
Date Read: Jan 20 to Feb 3, 2018
First Published: 1997
Hardcover & Paperback
Middle Grade, Fantasy
Harry Potter's life is miserable. His parents are dead and he's stuck with his heartless relatives, who force him to live in a tiny closet under the stairs. But his fortune changes when he receives a letter that tells him the truth about himself: he's a wizard. A mysterious visitor rescues him from his relatives and takes him to his new home, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
After a lifetime of bottling up his magical powers, Harry finally feels like a normal kid. But even within the Wizarding community, he is special. He is the boy who lived: the only person to have ever survived a killing curse inflicted by the evil Lord Voldemort, who launched a brutal takeover of the Wizarding world, only to vanish after failing to kill Harry.
Though Harry's first year at Hogwarts is the best of his life, not everything is perfect. There is a dangerous secret object hidden within the castle walls, and Harry believes it's his responsibility to prevent it from falling into evil hands. But doing so will bring him into contact with forces more terrifying than he ever could have imagined.
Full of sympathetic characters, wildly imaginative situations, and countless exciting details, the first installment in the series assembles an unforgettable magical world and sets the stage for many high-stakes adventures to come.
So, obviously, this is not the first time I have read HARRY POTTER AND THE PHILOSOPHER'S STONE. It's not the second or third or even eighth. I have probably read this specific book in the series over two dozen times. (That being said, I haven't done a full re-read of the series in years. I will try to do so this year because man do I miss it!)

And yet, somehow, I found myself learning new things about this series, and how I view it, with this re-read. That is the greatness of the Harry Potter world. That is part of what makes it so lasting. What makes my young cousin, who is just ten, love these books as much as I have, twenty years after the first came out.

It's literal magic.

I've got to admit that part of my experience with these books will always be intertwined with that of the movies, which is why I remember some things a bit differently than they really were. It's not an entirely bad thing; I love the movies, and I love the actors, and it definitely allows for some elements of the story to feel fresh every single time.

But with this specific re-read, since it really has been a while, or because I read it more slowly as part of the read-along I attempted to join, I noticed this a lot more strongly than I normally do. Like, I honestly forgot that Harry is smart. Yes, he is never going to be book clever like Hermione is (but let's be real, who is?). He's not the brightest wizard of his generation and so forth. But he is smart and clever, and intelligent. He connects the dots, he draws conclusions (and even when he's wrong, his reasoning is so sound you can never fault him because then you would have to fault yourself because you made the same mistake too). He figures most of the crucial parts of the book without needing anyone's help, and when he does need it he is always smart enough to ask for it. That's so admirable!

Aside from being one smart cookie, Harry is also sassy and funny, which is one thing that the movies kind of missed on a general basis. Sassy Harry memes are some of my absolute favorites (although, Movie Harry's sass is also a lot of fun when it shines through).

And although he is brave and funny, and smart... He does get scared, he does feel shame and embarrassment, and he does have regrets... a lot of them. Harry Potter is not perfect--which, in turn, makes him an absolutely perfect protagonist. Because he chooses to be brave in the face of hardship. He chooses to do the right thing. He is only eleven years old, and already he is actively choosing to stand his grounds and fight. Not just for himself. Actually, very rarely for himself.

Harry Potter is an avenger, and a protector, and an incredibly loyal friend. All from the age of eleven, when he has all the reasons in the world not to be on account of his shitty childhood. Why do I see so many people dissing him so often on the internet? Why?? STOP IT.

So, yeah. Rowling does an amazing job setting up the character of Harry. Which, despite growing and evolving in the following books, keeps true to all his roots and the best things about him which are introduced here.

She does the same with Ron - funny, loyal, easily excited Ron, who has an inferiority complex but for the most part constantly rises above it to be a good friend, a helping hand and the person whom without Harry would probably not have survived emotionally throughout his school year. He's kind of the heart of the group because he's mostly emotion, and I love him.

Then we have Hermione, easily my favorite of the main trio. She's a strong, independent young girl who is viciously smart and clever, talented beyond belief, but also kind of lonely as she comes across as somewhat of a know-it-all (mostly because she often does know it all). She's mostly brain and logic, which is why she serves to center the other characters when they would turn to their base emotions. That doesn't mean she is not heartfelt and loyal and an amazing friend, just that she would first weigh her feelings against what she knows, and when this two coincide she will go all out to protect and follow what she believes.

And, fyi, I have shipped Ron and Hermione since I was seven and read this book for the first time. Brains and Heart ships are some of my favorites, and I was certain these two would one day marry and have children who are viciously smart but also incredibly emotional since Ron made Hermione cry that first time. #myfirstship

Anyway, these three friends create an incredible balance between them that is extremely hard to write and execute, never mind that Rowling makes it looks as easy and effortless as turning on the light. All three have a role to fill and things only they can bring to the story as well as each other's development throughout this book and the series as a whole. You don't get to see these as much in the movies, since Harry is put as the single "hero" of that narrative, in a way that he isn't really in the books.

As much as this is Harry Potter's story, it still has three heroes. Not a main character and two main side characters, but three main characters, whom without the story and world would not be able to exist.

And what a story that is... PHILOSOPHER'S STONE builds up an incredible, magical, enchanting and captivating world, made all the more amazing by the complexity of the characters and the meticulous planning showcased by Rowling. So many things that would pay up in future books, and yet not once do you feel like you are being set up for a sequel because that's not why they are there.

Honestly, my love for HP is as strong today as it was on the first read.

That being said, this is the first time I've noticed some questions and possible plot holes in this first book. I'll be the first one to defend anything I think is not fairly a plothole ((I mean, I do have an entire post dedicated to how time turners is not a real plothole (if you take out Cursed Child out of the canon because that thing threw everything Rowling established in the book series out the window) But I digress)), but there are legitimate questions.

I'll be putting all those in spoiler tags on the off chance someone who hasn't read the books is reading this review, even though I find it hard to believe. But please, please, if you love these books as much as I do come debate with me on whether my concerns are legitimate or could be explained!!

*Mark with the mouse to see the spoilers!*


So, first thing's first... HOW DID THE DURSLEYS GET OFF THAT ISLAND??? In case you missed it, for all intents and porpuses, Hagrid has just stolen their only means of transportation. We see no indication that he has somehow returned their boat or told anyone they may need help. And yet, the next time we see the Dursleys they: a. don't say anything about that or appear upset and b. are safe and whole in their nasty abode.

Admittedly, it's a silly thing to wonder about, but it's out of characters for the Dursleys not to care and for Rowling not to address it lol

Second, HARRY'S SCAR DOESN'T REALLY MAKE SENSE? We have been taught, in this book and yes, the sequels, that Harry's scar reacts to Voldemort's presence. That's why it occasionally hurts, most noticeably when he looks at Snape and Quirrell talking. But why doesn't it hurt more, or more consistently? How come Harry's scar isn't shooting pains in his forehead every Defense Against the Dark Arts lesson, thus allowing him to ascertain Quirrell's guilt long before the finale? We are told Voldy has been stuck on his nape since they met in Diagonally!

Another nagging wonder of mine is WHY DID SNAPE SUSPECT QUIRRELL IN THE FIRST PLACE? Aside from the fact it makes for one hell of a red-herring and an incredible twist, it makes little sense. What would make Snape suspect poor, stuttering little Quirrell? Is there a bad guy sign that Snape can read? And once Snape does suspect him, why doesn't Voldy reveal himself to Snape? As far as he knows, Snape is his loyal servant. Yet, he allows Snape to threaten Quirrell repeatedly uncontested, and that eventually leads to the downfall of his plan.

I would love to know more about the Snape and Quirrell's dynamics in this book!


Lots of interesting questions on this read, few answers to be found.

However, for every detail that didn't work to complete perfection, there are seven that do. Little sentences and moments that wow me again and again and again. Forget the fact I almost know this story by heart at this point. I am still awed and amazed by references that wouldn't connect for another few books, allusions to things that would be relevant 5000 pages later, details that seem irrelevant but aren't.

It makes the entire book and series so beautifully crafted and expertly planned. It feels like Rowling knew exactly where each character was headed before she even wrote the first word and THAT is what makes it such an alleviated reading experience for me, time and time again. 

Saturday, March 24, 2018

The King's Men by Nora Sakavic | I Don't Want to Say Goodbye!

The King's Men by Nora Sakavic
First Published: 2014
New Adult, Contemporary
Neil Josten is out of time. He knew when he came to PSU he wouldn't survive the year, but with his death right around the corner he's got more reasons than ever to live.

Befriending the Foxes was inadvisable. Kissing one is unthinkable. Neil should know better than to get involved with anyone this close to the end, but Andrew's never been the easiest person to walk away from. If they both say it doesn't mean anything, maybe Neil won't regret losing it, but the one person Neil can't lie to is himself.

He's got promises to keep and a team to get to championships if he can just outrun Riko a little longer, but Riko's not the only monster in Neil's life. The truth might get them all killed—or be Neil's one shot at getting out of this alive.
What? It's... it's over? It can't be over! What am I supposed to do with my life now?? How am I supposed to continue living, and pushing air into my lungs, and just generally existing now that this series is over???

The struggle is a bit too real for comfort, tbh.
There's no room for doubt, no room for second guesses, no room for error. This is your night. This is your game. This is your moment. Seize it with everything you've got. Pull out all the stops and lay it all on the line. Fight because you don't know how to die quietly. Win because you don't know how to lose. This king's ruled long enough—it's time to tear his castle down.
So... before I get into this--and I WILL get into this--there are spoilers for SHIPS and END GAMES in this review. Pfff. By this time you know I ain't gonna be able to properly review this anyways. But... yeah, spoilers. I low key don't even want you to read my review before you read the book because I'm gonna talk freely and I kind of want you to experience everything for yourself.

Neil had been doing one stupid thing after another all year long and this had turned into the best year of his life.
Like, The King's Men doesn't lack for brutality. But unlike the second book where the darkness gets all-consuming, this time there is light at the end of the tunnel. There are people to lean on and trust, there are characters growing and evolving. There is strength and love to carry everything on. Overwhelming love. Most of it familial and friendly, but some of it... some of it entirely romantic. And that final one, especially, makes everything so fucking worth it.

This is literally an otp to top all otps. This otp is standing right now at the top of my otp list. It will probably stay there for a very, very long time. It's not perfect. It's not always healthy. It's a little bit violent and somewhat unexpected, and it swallows you whole with how right it is. With how it makes two broken people... a little less broken. A lot happier. How the simple understanding between them makes everything better; all the pain and the suffering and the hurt.

The first time I read the All for the Game series I started suspecting where this may be going on book two. I held my breath, and let a small "it can't be" because as much as it suddenly hit me that I needed that development to happen, I wasn't sure it would go there. I wanted these two people to find each other. I wanted it with a ferocity that rocked me to my core. And it would have been too heartbreaking if it didn't happen.
He withdrew completely, leaving just the memory of his heartbeat against Neil's mouth, and spun away.
Neil didn't show much interest up to that point, too busy surviving and compartmentalizing. Almost nothing before it suggested it might be possible. That's what I thought, at least, too absorbed by the first reading to see all the signs. By my second read of the series, I realized how inevitable it has always been, from the very very first book, how right, with such sentences as this;
He touched Neil's back on his way by, fingers light enough to give Neil goose bumps
 Cue the incessant squealing and delight.

Andrew Minyard and Neil Josten are absolutely perfect together. They are entirely broken individuals who are fractured beyond repair, but their unique damages somehow make each other's pain more bearable. Their "I love you"s are replaced by "I hate you"s, and for them... it works. They don't talk feelings or emotions because they don't need to. Their actions and looks do all the necessary talking. They aren't gentle, and for the most part, they aren't sweet--although, fuck me, but I think some of their scenes are still some of the sweetest scenes I've ever read. Like, the shower scene?? and the hotel scene?? And the protein bar scene?? And the two of them just talking and existing together, finding solace in each other's presence????
"Can you read lips?" Andrew pointed at his mouth as he spoke. "The next time someone comes for you, stand down and let me deal with it. Do you understand?"
"If it means losing you, then no," Neil said.
It's so much harder to convince a reader of a couple's love without using specific words, but the best relationships depicted in books are often like this, because there is no easy out, no easy phrase to fall back on and shortcut your reader to that point (it's why a lot of romance novels don't quite work for me - they favour the words over the emotions), but Sakavic doesn't go there. Instead, she silently builds Neil and Andrew's relationship BRILLIANTLY.

People, I WILL FIGHT YOU for this couple.

Their relationship is never going to be classified as "normal", same as neither one would ever be. But... they don't need normal. Both are far too scarred and far too ruined for that. They create their own normal. A normal just between the two of them. A normal that holds and protects and opens up. Just between them, just in the small moments. And it's enough. It's more than enough.
Andrew's disinterest in his psychological well-being was what had drawn Neil to him in the first place: the realization that Andrew would never flinch away from whatever poison was eating Neil alive.
Also, I was so happy there was no real "you're gay" / "I'm gay" conversation. There is no need to come out or even discuss the situation. There is no fear in Neil when he tries this thing with Andrew; no second-guessing or questioning, aside from the question of whether he's allowed such luxuries when he's going to die soon. There is no judgment and no fanfare. It's nothing worth talking about, anyway. The most we get is this;
"I've said all year I don't swing and I meant it. Kissing you doesn't make me look at any of them differently. The only one I'm interested in is you."
"Don't say stupid things."
"Stop me," Neil returned. He buried his hands in Andrew's hair and tugged him in for a kiss.

Also also they are hot together. I've got to admit, I wasn't expecting that, but I sure as hell am not complaining.

The whole thing was ENTIRELY BEAUTIFUL and it HURT SO GOOD.
"I hate you."
"Nine percent of the time you don't."
"Nine percent of the time I don't want to kill you. I always hate you."
"Every time you say that I believe you a little less."
It's not the only thing that happens - there is more physical pain in store for our foxes. There are dire discoveries and facing old ghosts. There is broken ground and broken bones. There is CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT in abundance. Andrew and Neil's for obvious reasons, but Kevin is a shining star in this one as well. And Allison. I really really really like what has become of Allison in these three books.

But I like all my foxes. Not equally, because I think I made it very clear Neil and Andrew are my problematic faves and I would die for them, but I never said I was fair.
"This," Neil flicked his finger to indicate the two of them, "isn't worthless."
"There is no 'this'. This is nothing."
"And I am nothing," Neil prompted. When Andrew gestured confirmation, Neil said, "And as you've always said, you want nothing."
The King's Men was an amazing finale to this beautiful series; it didn't solve all their problems, but then it never could. No one is fine by the end of it, but all of them are better. Their love for the game, and their love for each other--all of them--shines in a way to colors everything.

And I'm not gonna lie; I WILL BE READING THIS ONE AGAIN SOON! Life's too short to deny yourself the small things that first completely break you but then make you happy.

((I have so many delicious quotes of these two highlighted. I did warn that I was obsessed. OBSESSED.)) 

Thursday, March 22, 2018

The Raven King by Nora Sakavic | Well, That Was Soul Crushing

First Published: 2013
New Adult, Contemporary
The Foxes are a fractured mess, but their latest disaster might be the miracle they've always needed to come together as a team. The one person standing in their way is Andrew, and the only one who can break through his personal barriers is Neil.
Except Andrew doesn't give up anything for free and Neil is terrible at trusting anyone but himself. The two don't have much time to come to terms with their situation before outside forces start tearing them apart. Riko is intent on destroying Neil's fragile new life, and the Foxes have just become collateral damage.
Neil's days are numbered, but he's learning the hard way to go down fighting for what he believes in, and Neil believes in Andrew even if Andrew won't believe in himself.
Do you guys hear that? what IS that sound? Oh, it's just my heart breaking into a million pieces and my soul disintegrating? nvm then.

Seriously, this book... THIS BOOK. Like, book one wasn't sunshine and rainbows. But it looks so bright and cheerful compared to this one??? This one is not just stepping up the ante and bringing the series to a new level, it shoots it out of the atmosphere.

Sakavic is done being cuddly sweet with us. Now the real thing begins, and it is fucking brutal.
"Look. Shit happened. Shit's going to keep happening. You don't need me to tell you life isn't fair. You're here because you know it isn't. Life doesn't care what we want out of it; it's up to us to fight for what we want with everything we've got.
Like, I knew the series will get there. I just didn't know how fast it will and how truly awful it would be. And on the one hand, ouch. And on the other... it hurts so good??? idk man, this book ruined me, it really really did. But I subjected myself to it twice. In three days. So... I guess... I'm a masochist?

You learn something new about yourself every day.

So, yeah. This book is all-caps PAIN. Lots and lots of PAIN. PAIN when you least expect it and PAIN when you definitely do. Sing it with me; PAIN PAIN PAIN. Like... what? WHaT? How is any of this okay?? How is this---just no. No no no. STOP HURTING MY BABIES, YOU MONSTERS!

Like, no joke, this book is VICIOUS. But also perfect. BUT ALSO VICIOUS.

Like, plot-wise, these things need to happen and holy hell the BEAUTIFUL CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT WE'RE SEEING HERE IS GLORIOUS. But from the unhealthy attached Nitzan point of view, these things should not be happening and FUCKING STOP IT BEFORE I HURT YOU.

I am a GODDAMN MESS. I am using way too much all caps and way too much "like"s for this to be considered any form of coherent thinking/writing. I probably need to chill. No, I most definitely do. BUT I CAN'T AND I DON'T CARE IF YOU JUDGE ME.

Like (again with that word...), I loved Neil in book one. You will too (the "or else" is implied). But Neil in book two? Neil in book two is an entirely new beast. AND I AM LIVING FOR IT. We saw glimpses of it in the first book; of who Neil could be if he let himself care, if he let himself set roots, if he chose to fight instead of flight. And Neil is getting there. He is getting bolder, and stronger. He is learning to lean, and he's starting to want to be leaned on. On court and off court. Out of the nothing, starts to emerge something.

As he listened to them, Neil realized he was happy. It was such an unexpected and unfamiliar feeling he lost track of the conversation for a minute.
As for Andrew, in book one I thought I was a bit cray cray for liking the short psychopath. In book two I'm judging everyone who doesn't like him. Seriously, the guy is so messed up in the head and I love it?? Especially because he is so unflinching and reliable and yeah way too violent and unstable but also absolutely honest and straightforward and loyal in his own messed up way??

And we're getting to see the Neil we deserve because of him???

And of course, there's the big THING there at the climax. If you still hate Andrew after that or whatever I request you swiftly and quietly leave this review. Someone is going to get hurt. And since I've never fought anyone before, it's bound to be me.
"We've all got different experiences, but we're used to needing help. We're just not used to getting it. But you've got us now."
Neil and Andrew are not the only ones growing. Kevin is, too, veeeeery slowly.

And my foxes. MY PRECIOUS FOXES. Their friendship is as heartwarming as it is dysfunctional, especially because it doesn't go without saying. Most of these people had lived rough lives. They are not strangers to the world being a fucked up place. They have not been raised to trust, or believe in, or support. If anything, they have been taught to be cold, and ugly, and solitary. And more often than not, not to believe in family.

And also, some of them have been taught to be absolute bastards, and not everyone can or would care for such assholes (I'm looking at you, twins).

AND YET HERE THEY ARE, CARVING THEIR OWN LITTLE MESSED UP, MISMATCHED FAMILY. They raly and protect each other, even when the other person is being a total dick to them. They respect each other's boundaries and limits, even as they try to find ways to reach them. Even if they don't quite like them. Because family is not really about liking someone or not. When you're family, you just are.
He was their family. They were his. They were worth every cut and bruise and scream.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Foxhole Court by Nora Sakavic | I Can't Get Enough of This Series!

The Foxhole Court by Nora Sakavic
First Published: 2013
New Adult, Contemporary
Neil Josten is the newest addition to the Palmetto State University Exy team. He's short, he's fast, he's got a ton of potential—and he's the runaway son of the murderous crime lord known as The Butcher.
Signing a contract with the PSU Foxes is the last thing a guy like Neil should do. The team is high profile and he doesn't need sports crews broadcasting pictures of his face around the nation. His lies will hold up only so long under this kind of scrutiny and the truth will get him killed.
But Neil's not the only one with secrets on the team. One of Neil's new teammates is a friend from his old life, and Neil can't walk away from him a second time. Neil has survived the last eight years by running. Maybe he's finally found someone and something worth fighting for.
Look, I had no idea what I was getting into when I started reading THE FOXHOLE COURT. I didn't know it will take over my life with alarming swiftness. I didn't know it will become one of my favorite series ever. I certainly didn't know it will become my next obsession.

Heck, I bought the books on a whim after seeing Cait's excitement on Instagram (I probably would have never looked at that ugly cover twice otherwise), and started reading immediately on impulse.

Best. Impulse. Ever.
If he inhaled slowly enough, he could almost taste the ghost of gasoline and fire.
I don't think I ever had an experience with a book like I did with this series. It's not as much this specific one as the series as a whole, but we're talking about the first book now so I'll leave that for the final review.

So, here's what happened: I read this book in a day. Then I read books two and three the following day. And then... Then I opened book one again the day after and started reading from the very beginning and moved on to books two and three without pausing for a breath. I read the entirety of the All for the Game trilogy twice in six days. That never happens. 

I'm no stranger to re-reads. I do them often, as I find them comforting. But I have never, ever, done so immediately after the first read. That never happens. Except it did, with this series. And you know what? I am so, so, tempted to give them another re-read right now, as I am typing this.

It's safe to say THE FOXHOLE COURT is a one of a kind experience. I'm honestly not entirely sure that it's a healthy one, due to my level of fixation, but I am not complaining.
It sounded like a dream; it tasted like damnation.
It's one of the most addictive books I have ever read. If you told me to point a finger at what, specifically, makes it so unbelievably un-put-down-able, I would fumble with the answer. I would try to put into words the feelings that this book invoked, and I would fail.

It's so incredibly difficult to explain the magic of this book because, on the surface, there shouldn't be any. It's a sports book, and I'm no big fan of sports. It's a little on the far-fetched end of things because it requires you to believe in a few things that feel a little impossible.

Not the biggest of which the fact a team like the Foxes actually exists. In real life, wouldn't a coach that fails to deliver results for five years be fired instead of continually trusted and listened to? Wouldn't the University cut their losses early and reject our band of rejects in favor of good, stable athletes after they see their games? Talent shouldn't be enough.
"God damn it, Minyard. This is why we can't have nice things."
"Oh, Coach," someone said over Neil's head. "If he was nice, he wouldn't be any use to us, would he?"
Normally, that would turn me off, or at least make me skeptic. That's why when I see reviewers who do feel that way, I understand. But... on a personal level, it didn't matter to me. It simply became fact that our Foxes do exist in this world and that I much the better for it.

I am much the better for meeting Neil Josten. Neil is a living lie, a person who doesn't really exist. He can't. Not if he wants to stay alive. Nothing about the boy is real; from his age to his name to his background. Nothing save for his undying love and passion for the sport called Exy, and everything we learn about him throughout the book through his actions and interactions; Brave, broken, beaten Neil. Awkward Neil. Confused Neil. The Neil who doesn't understand friendships and doesn't believe in family because he never truly had either.
Leaving meant living, but Neil's way of living was survival, nothing more.
Neil is one of those characters that will make you want to read on and on. You will want to soothe his pain and panic and wipe his fears away. You will want to cheer and clap when he shows his bravery and hot-headedness instead of hiding them beneath a facade. You will want to scream of excitement every time he chooses to stay. To stay and fight.
Keys meant Neil had explicit permission to be here and do what he liked. They meant he belonged.
Despite all of his deceptions, Neil is extremely honest. He voices his opinions without being afraid. He watches carefully and he notices things about those around him. And for the most part, he is extremely free of judgment. He would not begrudge you your vices, or your background, or your sexual orientation, or anything. For one, he has seen a lot in his short eighteen years. For another, it's none of his business. And it doesn't really matter.
Hope was a dangerous, disquieting thing, but he thought perhaps he liked it.
The mess that is the foxes serve to highlight all of who Neil is without telling us. The weird, dysfunctional balance between them all comes crashing down more than once and yet somehow always manages to be shakingly restored.
People want to pretend people like us don't exist, you know? Everyone hopes we're someone else's problem to solve." He reached out and fingered the material. "They don't understand, so they don't know where to start. They feel overwhelmed and give up before they've taken the first step."
On the flip side, Neil served to highlight their traits, especially Kevin and Andrew. Andrew is kind of my favorite, being a total messed up psycho half the time who needs to chill out asap, as Cait put it in one of her reviews. But there is something so compelling about him. There is a reason everyone puts up with him; a reason Kevin trusts him to protect him; a reason his group listens to what he says. Part of it is fear, and part of it is that something about him underneath it all.
"I'm not a math problem."
"But I'll still solve you."
But even though Andrew is my favorite, I love all my foxes. I love Dan and Matt and their relationship (#relationshipgoals anyone??). I loved Nicky, the big flirt. I loved the way Aaron serves to show us more of Andrew, even if Aaron himself is a little meh. I loved Renee's weird serenity, and Seth's asshole ways, and Allison's Queen Bitch and Queen of the World attitude. I fiercely loved Coach, who would give these kids as many chances as they needed, and Abby, the only one among them that is allowed to worry about their physical well being as their nurse.

No one in this book is perfect. They are all messed up, and they will never really be fine, even if they might get better. They don't always make the right choice, and they definitely don't always make the good choice. Reading of all these people was like some kind of drug. Reading of Neil's love of the sport was addictive. Reading some of the horrifying realities these characters endured was fascinating and revolting.
"It's not the world that's cruel," Neil said. "It's the people in it."
If you had asked me a week before if I thought I could love such an impossibly messed up group of people, I might have said no. I would have been a major, giant idiot.

Moral of the story; don't be an idiot like I might have been. Read this book. It's FREE. 

Saturday, March 17, 2018

The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie | My First Christie Read!

First Published: 1920
Adult, Mystery
Agatha Christie’s first ever murder mystery. Includes an introduction by Christie archivist John Curran, and the original unpublished courtroom chapter as an alternate ending to the novel.
‘Beware! Peril to the detective who says: “It is so small – it does not matter…” Everything matters.’
After the Great War, life can never be the same again. Wounds need healing, and the horror of violent death banished into memory.
Captain Arthur Hastings is invited to the rolling country estate of Styles to recuperate from injuries sustained at the Front. It is the last place he expects to encounter murder. Fortunately he knows a former detective, a Belgian refugee, who has grown bored of retirement …
The first Hercule Poirot mystery, now published with a previously deleted chapter and introduced by Agatha Christie expert Dr John Curran.
So, obviously, there is a reason Christie is considered a mother effing QUEEN of mystery.

She manages to make everyone a possible suspect to her reader, so subsequently... no one is. I have suspected--out loud and in my mind--so many people during the course of this novel that by the end of it, I was both shocked and vindicated by the outcome.

If you're looking for a great mystery with a quirky detective at the helm, an interesting cast of supporting characters and fun narration, definitely pick this one up!

Speaking of which... the narration kind of bothered me. Don't get me wrong, it's great. Hastings is a fun character to be experiencing, as he is prideful, condescending, and yet well-meaning and friendly. He thinks he's doing and thinking the right things, even when he's not quite there.

He would have been a perfect narrator, if not for one tiny detail...

By his own admission, on the very first page of the novel, Hastings is writing this account on request of Poirot and the family. That means these people, who are spoken about very candidly in his account, will read this novel.

That made the whole thing rather odd.

Think about it. Let's say you go on a trip with your friends, and they ask you to write about your adventures. Would you admit to thinking those same friends are stupid or lack conversational skills? Would you share how you fancied their wives and offered marriage to their charges? Would you speak of how much better your intelligence, or wit, or cleverness is compared to theirs? Or will you soften all those things? Erase others. All because you know they will read this. This is not a story that will be locked in a drawer, but published or given to these very people.

And what about yourself? Would you write yourself to be the foolish way you were, with your condescending judgment? Would you have no fear of people seeing your flaws and therefore smooth them over; make yourself appear less dense, a little less dumb and prone to jumping to conclusions (since, by the time you are writing this, you already know how things have ended).

It's unrealistic. Hastings would not have needed to change what had happened but simply what he thought as it was happening in order to both make himself look better (because he comes across as extremely foolish, if well-meaning, throughout the story) AND keep his relationships stable (if I was one of his friends I would have thrown a pitcher in his face for some of the things he had written).

It's such a silly thing to be hung up on, and if not for that one small sentence about why he's writing all of this it would have been nothing. I have never thought before about why someone is narrating a story or who is meant to read it in his or her world, since a narration is usually just that; a narration. A means to tell the story, basically. But with one short line, those lines were blurred, and I could not be content to just accept it as it is.

I could not just accept his candid, honest account. Instead, I was confused by why he was giving it like that. Am I the only one in this? Am I crazy??

And then, I felt like the ending fell a little short. I loved the big reveal; the wham bam and shock of it. But I was also left with far too many questions for it to be any form of satisfying?

*Mark the spoilers with the mouse if you want to read them*

SPOILER As Poirot mentions himself; there has to be motive for murder. Why did Evie and Alfred kill her? How long did they plan it? Was Evie such a great actress, to be able to easily cry over the death she has planned herself or was a part of her genuinely sad after so many years with the woman? Why did no one question her hatred of her cousin throughout the book? Like, I literally forgot they were cousins because it was a throwaway comment at the very beginning and then it wasn't touched upon again. And this is something Christie could have used, like letting Evie say something like "I know he killed her; He's my cousin" to both bolster Evie's claims and give the reader a clue.

And then... why? Why did Evie hate her mistress? Why did she wait ten years to call her cousin and do this?

It's just... so many missing pieces with no way to piece them together! END SPOILER

Still, an undeniably strong start to what would become Christie's incredible career, and I am looking forward to both reading more from her and hoping some of the more open-ended and disjointed side plots from this one (ahemahemthespyahemahem) will be revisited in the future!

Monday, March 5, 2018

Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller | Oy Matey, Come Board My Ship!

Daughter of the Pirate King #1
Date Read: Jan 27 to 20, 2018
First Published: 2017
Young Adult, Fantasy
There will be plenty of time for me to beat him soundly once I’ve gotten what I came for.
Sent on a mission to retrieve an ancient hidden map—the key to a legendary treasure trove—seventeen-year-old pirate captain Alosa deliberately allows herself to be captured by her enemies, giving her the perfect opportunity to search their ship.
More than a match for the ruthless pirate crew, Alosa has only one thing standing between her and the map: her captor, the unexpectedly clever and unfairly attractive first mate, Riden. But not to worry, for Alosa has a few tricks up her sleeve, and no lone pirate can stop the Daughter of the Pirate King.
DAUGHTER OF THE PIRATE KING is a really fun ride that had a lot of things I really like, and a few I really didn't.

First of all, I really enjoyed our spunky heroine Alosa. A fierce, brutal pirate with a heart, she's sarcastic, violent, petty and a whole lot of fun. Her abilities are rivaled by her pride only, her red hair matching perfectly with her feisty persona.

You will watch her kill men without a blink of an eye, but you will also watch her worry for her friends and struggle with her growing attachment to one of her handsome captures, Riden.

Riden is smart, keen-eyed and strong. Out of all the pirates in this book, he fits that title the least. Most of all because he's got a heart, and he doesn't like seeing people hurt, yet he is forced into that position due to his unwavering loyalty to his brother. On occasion, he can be a smug SOB. Which, not gonna lie, I really loved.

And this two banter. A lot. They clash wits and words and verbally fight for the upper hand, with most battles ending in a draw. And as far as YA couples go, these two are definitely hot together. There are some scenes in this one that may make you want to fan yourself a little bit! Be that as it may be... this is kind of slow burn. I may have said "YA couples" but these two aren't that... yet. I'm fully trusting Levenseller to set sail to my ship unquestionably in the follow-up, which I will be reading this March!

Another character I am hoping to see more fleshed out in the sequel is actually Draxen. Those of us who pre-ordered DAUGHTER OF THE SIREN QUEEN got a special bonus chapter from Riden's POV, and I loved the humanity we got to see in this character in that one, on top of the obvious love he has for his brother in DAUGHTER OF THE PIRATE KING. So.... what would win - that love or the darkness? Here's to hoping we get to find out!

Now, the things that I didn't quite enjoy about this one...

First of all, directly from the synopsis: "Sent on a mission to retrieve an ancient hidden map--the key to a legendary treasure trove". Yeah, don't expect much of that. I mean, yeah, that's the setup. But there is very little actual searching or information about this treasure trove. I kind of wanted to experience a lot more of it with Alosa, as opposed to being mostly told about it. Like, this would have been so helpful to show us how capable she is, as well as illustrating her mounting panic and desperation as she fails to find it.

Then, there were moments where the book intentionally dumbed Alosa down in order to keep tension, or simply to have a plot for the next book. And... I am not a big fan of that. At all. Ever.

*Mark the next parts with the cursor if you want to read the spoilers! Warning: it's a major rant so read only if you like those (I know I do lol)*

SPOILER For example, the book expects me to believe Alosa didn't figure out Theris was actually Vordan once on that island. When I, a mere reader who has never experienced a Pirate's life called it from a mile away. And I'm not talking about reading hints in the story. I'm talking about good old-fashioned logic.

She is the daughter of the pirate king. She has lived all her life under his thumb. She knows he would never defer to a simple spy--so why does she think "Vordan", a pirate lord like her father, would? Why doesn't it raise her suspicions? Then, there are moments when she discusses with herself the strangeness of things; how "Vordan" didn't want to experience her abilities for himself for some reason. That, coupled with the earlier point, should have definitely tipped her off. But it didn't. THEN one of his men actually slips up and starts to call him "captain". AND SHE STILL DOESN'T REALIZE THE TRUTH.

That made my blood boil. ALOSA, freakin' daughter of the pirate king, would know when someone is talking to their captain. She would read all of the signs. She would see the way they listen to everything Theris says carefully, never dismissing him. She would fucking figure it out.

But she doesn't, because the reveal is not half as shocking otherwise (even though it's so obvious there is no reveal...), or something of that sorts. So instead, she is just dumb. Great. END SPOILER

Now, if that's not enough to get your blood boiling, there is one thing that Alosa is made to do by the author in that sequence that made me furious. Seeing red, blowing steam, sheeting mad. It was so upsetting because it was so out of character. Because it threw out everything that is smart and logical and in line with who Alosa was up to that point. All because the author put herself it a pinch and had to solve it for the next book to exist.

It wasn't a result of our plot, but a direct response to what the plot of the next book needed to be. I FUCKING HATED THAT.

And it wasn't even well done. It was just so incredibly sloppy and dumb and I am still getting upset just thinking about it.

SPOILER So let me paint you a picture: 

Alosa has just been freed from her cage with the help of Riden and goes after her captures, full Siren on. She tells herself how she doesn't feel remorse for their inability to protect themselves because that's what they would have done to her and Riden. Then... she stops, with Theris--AKA Vordan--and his two men still alive. She stops so she can go search the body of a freaking dead man. A dead man who would still be lying there after she has killed the other three. For God's sake, he is not going to go anywhere! With the other three dead, there will be no one alerted to her and Riden's escape. She will literally have all the time in the world to search "Vordan", and take Riden to safety.

No, she stops for one reason only. She stops because she can't just kill Theris in book one because there will be no sequel and the story is not half done. She stops for plot reasons. Badly set up plot reasons. That PISSED ME OFF SO BAD.

And, again, Alosa, fucking daughter of the pirate king, would not make this type of mistake. END SPOILER

I hate that. I hate when authors decide to overlook logic and character personalities in order to set up the sequel. There are so many other, better ways Levenseller could have handled that. A million and a half reasons for Alosa to stop, or for that character not to be there in that moment.

But no.

That one moment was enough to knock at least half a star from this novel. And I hate when that happens to me with good books.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

The Studying Hours by Sara Ney | a Fun Contemporary!

How to Date a Douchebag #1
Date Read: Jan 26 to 27, 2018
First Published: 2016
New Adult, Contemporary Romance
No doubt about it, Sebastian ‘Oz’ Osborne is the university’s most celebrated student athlete—and possibly the biggest douchebag. A walking, talking cliché, he has a filthy mouth, a fantastic body, and doesn’t give a sh*t about what you or anyone else thinks.

Make no mistake, Jameson Clarke may be the university’s most diligent student—but she is no prude. Spending most of her time in the hallowed halls of the library, James is wary of pervs, jocks, and douchebags—and Oz Osborne is all three.

She’s smart, sarcastic—and not what he expected.


He wants to be friends.
He wants to spend time with her.
He wants to drive her crazy.

He wants…

If you're looking for a quick, fun contemporary romance with little angst that focuses on two people getting to know each other and growing closer while bantering constantly, THE STUDYING HOURS is the right read for you. 

I think I read THE STUDYING HOURS at exactly the right time for it; I needed something light and easy to pick me up and it did just that! 

I loved that our main female character, James, was studious and serious, but that by no mean made her a prude. I loved that she was not cowed or intimidated by the assholes that make the wrestling team, including our hero Oz.

Fair warning - there is a lot of crude talk, courtesy of Oz's filthy mouth and no filter policy. I really didn't connect with this part of him, and just wished he'd stop. It fits with who he is as a person, so I don't fault the author for making him like this, but I sure wasn't a fan.

I was a fan of the chemistry between the two of them. It really was sizzling and it's the type that just kind of makes you shout in frustration that it's time to stop being just friends and give in to the temptation to make out!

And this relationship does take it's sweet ass time to get started. Unfortunately, there were a lot of things I wanted to see with our mains that seem to have happened off page, frustratingly enough, despite how deliciously long they take about getting romantic.

Like Oz sharing his sister's story with James, or James telling Oz about her family (which I literally know zero about. That's unfair--why does only Oz get to know??) or James and his sister texting... Those are all things that would've added a lot of depth to their relationship, on a non-sexual level. And they would have made great conversations to include! So why waste all these great things we didn't know in two random paragraphs at the end like an afterthought?

Although, I probably shouldn't be surprised, since I did feel like Ney wasn't quite sure how to end this book, so instead, we got an ending that felt really rushed, which is not something I usually say about standalone ish contemporary romance novels. Especially not ones I would classify as "slow burn" like this one is. But, like, there were things they had just started exploring or things that suddenly appeared out of nowhere, and it gave me whiplash.

Take for example Zeke. I felt like that was such a sloppy way to set up his story. Dear author, I would've been immensely interested in Zeke's story even without the sudden fights with Oz and the cryptic, uncalled for messages like "you don't know her" and "don't let her get into your head". Especially since there is absolutely zero payout for these, or basis, which makes this part absolutely meaningless to this story. And, in general, I'm not a fan of unnecessary shit being thrown into any form of storytelling (movies included) just to set up the next installment, unless it's the after credit scene in a Marvel movie. Hey, just keeping it real.

So, yeah, there were a few things that stopped it from being a full 4 star, but if what I said in the first paragraph hold true to you, definitely check this one out! You're bound to enjoy it :)

Friday, March 2, 2018

Midnight Secretary Vol. 1 by Tomu Ohmi | YOU NEED THIS MANGA!

Midnight Secretary #1
Date Read: Jan 26, 2018
First Published: 2008
Adult, Fantasy Romance
Kaya Satozuka prides herself on being an excellent secretary and a consummate professional, so she doesn’t even bat an eye when she’s reassigned to the office of her company’s difficult director, Kyohei Touma. He’s as prickly—and hot—as rumors paint him, but Kaya is unfazed…until she discovers that he’s a vampire!!
Kaya quickly accustoms herself to scheduling his “dinner dates” and working odd hours, but can she handle it when Kyohei’s smoldering gaze starts turning her way?!
Okay, so before we get on with this review, there is one thing I need to make clear: this is one of my all time favorite manga. This is not the first time I've read it. I first read it in 2009, and have returned to it time and again since.

This is, however, my first time owning a copy of the series.

So, some background. Midnight Secretary tells the story of the hardworking and serious Kaya, the titular secretary. She begins working for a difficult boss in her company, one that works very hard but also seems to find time to entertain women in his office ALL THE TIME (really, it's kind of a superpower).

That's Kyouhei Touma*. And, yes, he's a jerk, but he's also a major book crush of mine. Hey, at least I'm self-aware!! 

At first, these two are at odds. Then Kaya discovers the truth about her boss. He's a fucking Vampire. In this world, vampires are born, not made. As a result, they aren't killing machines. They don't need to--they only need a little bit of human blood to survive. Blood they usually ingest through intercourse with their "victim" none the wiser, experiencing sexual pleasure instead. They kind of have it good. Only, they're allergic to sunlight, and faith, and find humans beneath them. Which probably has to do with them being beautiful and smart, and more often than not rich. 

Now, half because she's blackmailed and half because she's the mother fucking boss of all secretaries, Kaya vows to be the perfect secretary for her boss. That includes learning all she can about him, and helping him even when he refuses to admit he needs help. But that doesn't include falling in love with him. AT ALL. 




So, yes, this is a love story. If you love romance novels, you NEED this manga in your life. It's absolutely perfect. It's mostly like a contemporary romance with fantasy settings and a smattering of fantastical elements (nothing overpowering).

And it will give you THE FEELS.

Even in this first volume, that serves to set up our characters, their predicament and the beginning of their unlikely romance, you can sense that this is a story with a lot of heart, about a woman making a hard man see that loving is not a weakness, and that admitting "defeat" doesn't damage your pride.

And Kyouhei and Kaya are one of my favorite otps of all time. There's just something about these two people meeting and changing each other's lives that makes my heart pump like no other manga does!


*Okay, mini rant about the official translation... It's not the best?? First of all, why do they call Touma "Tohma"? It's written "とうまきょうへい" which is literally To-u-ma Kyo-u-he-i. Why would a professional manga translation company make this dumb a mistake?... (Also, based on how often it appears in manga and anime, Touma is a really common name in Japan).

Second, I found "Mr. Director" to be really awkward. I wish it would have been just "Director". Like, I guess I get it, but maybe because I got used to shachou (director/president in Japanesee) on its own it was, like, really weird.