Monday, May 18, 2015

Review: Alex as Well by Alyssa Brugman (ARC)

Alex as Well by Alyssa Brugman
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co (BYR)
Release Date: January 20th, 2015
Alex is ready for things to change, in a big way. Everyone seems to think she’s a boy, but for Alex the whole boy/girl thing isn’t as simple as either/or, and when she decides girl is closer to the truth, no one knows how to react, least of all her parents. Undeterred, Alex begins to create a new identity for herself: ditching one school, enrolling in another, and throwing out most of her clothes. But the other Alex—the boy Alex—has a lot to say about that. Heartbreaking and droll in equal measures, Alex As Well is a brilliantly told story of exploring gender and sexuality, navigating friendships, and finding a place to belong.
Disclaimer: I read an ARC version of this book and received it from a friend. This obviously didn't affect my review in any way.

I went into this book with high expectations. It's one of the diverse reads I had been eyeing, though I hadn't heard much about it in the blogosphere. Perhaps I should just stop expecting so much of books from now on because this is another one that sadly disappointed me.

The premise is what really drew me in, but it's the execution that pulled me out of the story. At the heart, I still like the story. It follows Alex as she tries to deal with her parents, peers, and society, all while also trying to figure out the confusion that is her sex and gender. There is so little out there about intersex people, so I'm happy that this exists for them.

But for me, the book was just too much. I know it's a huge struggle, even more so than the struggle many others in the LGBT+ community feel, and I know I can't really judge because I'm obviously not in the situation Alex is in, nor will I ever be. However, I felt like Alex's voice was really what kept me from getting everything out of the book that I should have. I thought the internal struggle was incredibly well-written, but Alex's voice often reminded me of Charlie (Perks of Being a Wallflower), Pudge (Looking for Alaska), etc's voice, and I have a really hard time connecting with and reading books with that type of voice. It wasn't anything I held against Alex, but it was just the way it was written. But I do think it's so important that this book exists because I know others who loved this book and because diversity and awareness is important, and this is a step towards that.

Even on top of that, however, was that I just couldn't stand Alex's parents, especially her mother. I mean, I know that it's probably very real and realistic for some people, but as horrible as I feel saying this, it was too much for me to handle, reading wise. I too wanted to punch her in the face every single time she spoke or we saw her blog posts. I feel like the blog posts were supposed to show her point of view/side and maybe make us feel some sympathy, but her ignorance and stubbornness and unwillingness to listen and be accepting just added fuel to the fire. So I could understand Alex and her feelings and emotions toward her mother, but ughh. I can't even imagine what it's like to go through that kind of torture in real life. I couldn't even handle it on the page.

Unfortunately, for these reasons, and for the fact that there wasn't anything that really compelled me to keep reading, I set the book aside, unfinished. I had originally planned on sticking through it and finishing the novel, but I've been reading so little lately, and I'm afraid it's going to bog me down and maybe even pull me back into a reading slump.
Alex as Well: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Book Depository
Alyssa Brugman: Website | Twitter

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Friction Fiction (#19): On Creativity, Blogging, and Plateauing

These posts are meant to bring about some conversation, discussion, and perhaps even a debate. These discussion posts can occur at varying days of the week, mostly depending upon what's scheduled on the blog and what I feel like discussing.

So I've been in a rut lately. I'm back into blogging pretty fully now, even though I'm not really reading much still. The first few weeks back I felt really great, and I was really happy with my blog and getting back to it. But as I've gotten back into the swing of things, I've started to feel kind of mehh about it all--not about blogging but about my blog and what I'm doing with it. 

I should explain. I like that I'm getting reviews out there again, although most of it is for books I read while on hiatus. (Again, I haven't read much lately, so I'll need to do that soon or I'll run out of reviews to write.) But I'm also feeling like things are getting monotonous. I feel like my blog doesn't have any creativity to it. It's just me, reviewing and sometimes plugging in one or two other types of posts. I'm not engaging with the blogging community because I can't make the time to do that at the moment, and so I feel out of loop and I wonder if anyone's even still reading my blog. Because I don't know if I would. The thing is, as much as I post reviews, I'm also the kind of person that doesn't read most of other people's reviews either. Once in a while I'll read a review if it's for a book I felt really passionately about, whether good or bad. So I feel like my blog doesn't reflect what I want out of a blog. 

But I don't know what to do about it. I think I've been plateauing. I'm not really getting many views, but I don't like focusing on stats. I just feel like few people read my blog, and I want that to change. I just don't know how. I don't have the creativity to think of new features or types of posts that I want to put out there and that I would want to read. I don't want to share too much of my personal life or whatever on my blog-that's not what it's here for, per say. I have so many interests, but I don't know how to make it cohesive and how to not make them overwhelming. I know I should do more with TV shows and movies and music; my blog has basically become a book blog, though I wanted it to be a mixed blog. 

I got into bookstagram but have found it hard to take picture (time-wise) lately, and I also feel like I don't have ideas as to how to set up pictures so they have the aesthetic I'm searching for. I've always prided myself in being a creative individual, but I've come to question that lately because I feel anything but creative. And I don't know where to go with this blog. I love blogging here, and I like what I'm doing, but I can't help but feel that something's missing. I don't know that I'm getting across to readers--my interests, personality, etc--other than through my reviews, but even then, it's more about the book than myself.

So yeah. I don't know if other bloggers are feeling this way. It's not something that's new for me, but it's been feeling stronger than ever lately. I still feel like I'm out of the blogging community and out of the loop. I feel like it's only going to get worse when I'm in college. I'm also working on a lifestyle/personal blog that I want to launch this summer as I travel and as I prepare to go to college. But that'll have a different aesthetic. I just don't want that to turn into something like this blog too. So I'm trying to figure out where to go from here. I like this too much to stop; it's like a part of my routine now. However, I don't know how to continue to grow as I move forward. 

What do you think? Have you had similar issues/thoughts? If you have and have gotten out of it, what helped you to figure it out? What's your advice for me?

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Review: Last Man: The Stranger by Bastien Vives, Michael Sanlaville, and Balak

Last Man: The Stranger by Bastien Vives, Michael Sanlaville, and Balak
Publisher: First Second Books
Release Date: March 31st, 2015
The Games are already underway when Richard Aldana arrives in town. This mysterious stranger seems to have more in common with our world than the world where the Games are held. He smokes cigarettes and wears a leather jacket while everyone else in this medieval realm is casting spells and weaving tapestries. Nobody knows what to make of him, but when Aldana enrolls in the games he quickly becomes a top contender. Eschewing magic and using only his martial arts prowess, Aldana also befriends and protects a small boy for reasons as mysterious as his origins.

Who will win the games? Who is Richard Aldana, really? And what is the ultimate purpose of this gruelling gladiatorial contest?

With its intricate fantasy setting and heart-pounding action sequences, Last Man has become the smash hit comics series in France. Combining compelling character-driven storytelling with fast-paced adventure, Last Man is an addictive series with a cliffhanger at the end of each volume that leaves readers panting for more.
"This is definitely an action graphic novel, and the story translates well throughout the book."

Disclaimer: I received a copy for review from the publisher. This doesn't affect my review in any way, nor am I being compensated for this.

Originally, I wasn't really interested in this book. It sounded interesting, but it wasn't really something I thought I would like. But one day, I received the book in the mail and decided to give it a try. I'm so glad I did!

The Stranger is fast-paced and action-packed. There are a few plots happening at once, but they connect and intertwine quickly. This is definitely an action graphic novel, and the story translates well throughout the book. The setting is very well done, and it's definitely an interesting one. What's even more interesting is seeing Aldana in the setting he's obviously not used to. It's exactly what I imagine it would be like if someone such as myself were suddenly plopped down in a foreign country with a very different culture.

However, for all the questions surrounding Aldana, we get very few answers. Perhaps that's the point, especially seeing how there are two other books to come. But I was hoping to learn more about Aldana and how/why he was there in the first place. I wonder about his motives and about his past. I thought it'd be explored much more, but it really wasn't.

Other characters also felt very loosely fleshed out, with me wanting to know more about them, their motives, and their history. While not all of it is needed, nor does it need to be in great detail, it felt very much as if I was being plopped down in the middle of a story rather than at a good starting point, if that makes sense. I also would have liked to see more development of Adrian's character, but I can see that happening more in the next book.

But the one character I found to be extremely well done is Adrian's mother. She stood up for her son and took no sh*t from anyone, no matter who they were, how powerful they were, or what they said they could do for her and her son. She stood her ground, and she was subtly fierce. While we don't learn much about her, I really enjoyed her character, and I really liked how she wasn't thrown in there. While there weren't many females in the book and the one other prominent female is treated badly by her male "companions," I'll say, Adrian's mother really stood out above the rest of the cast for me.

Overall, the book surprised me but in a good way. I enjoyed the pacing, the plot, and the characters. I'm excited to read more and get to explore the world and the story much more. Maybe I should try to expand my reach more from now on!
Last Man: The Stranger: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Book Depository

Sunday, May 10, 2015

A Month in Review: April 2015

It has been another painfully slow month because I've been swamped with school/finals and dance competitions and rehearsals. I barely read anything (again) this month, and I only have a few reviews I need to write before I run out of books to review. I'm eagerly waiting for APs to be over so that I'll barely have any classes left. And my last dance competition is coming up. But then I'll have rehearsals every weekend until my dance show. And then I have to deal with all the stuff for college. AHHHHH.

Books I Read:

Book Mail:

The Mystery Writers of American Cookbook Anthology
The Body Electric by Beth Revis
The Shadow Cabinet by Maureen Johnson
Just One Day by Gayle Forman
An American in Paris (Broadway)

Other Posts:
Friction Fiction (#16): Being Realistic with ARCs
I'm 18?! (Birthday post!)
Friction Fiction (#17): The Challenges of Reviewing Through a Feminist Lens
Music Monday (#11): Gamble by Lily Rose
Waiting on Wednesday (#14): Under the Lights by Dahlia Adler
Damsel Distressed Bookiversary Bash!

1) I turned 18! It feels like my birthday was so far in the past. :P
2) I am currently dying from finals and AP studying.
3) I finally decided where I'll be going to college! Macaulay Honors College at Hunter College Class of 2019. :)
4) Two dance competitions down, one more to go. Oh man, this is going to be my last competition for the foreseeable future and possibly ever. [Edit: At the point of this posting, I've finished all my competitions!]
5) I started planning my new personal blog, which will hopefully have a completely different aesthetic. I'll definitely post about it once it goes live hopefully this summer.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Fiction Friction (#18): Multiple POV Stories

These posts are meant to bring about some conversation, discussion, and perhaps even a debate. These discussion posts can occur at varying days of the week, mostly depending upon what's scheduled on the blog and what I feel like discussing.

I've always found myself conflicted about stories with multiple POVs, and in some ways, I'm still very conflicted. Sometimes, they're well done and well written, but other times, I find that they're not and that it doesn't add much to the story.

One of my first experiences with multiple POVs was the Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini. I struggled with some of the books after Eragon because it began to have chapters with changing points of view. While I understand the intention behind it and while I see how it added to that story, it was much harder for me to handle, at least as a child. I found it confusing and at the time unnecessary. I couldn't understand the need for multiple perspectives, and it broke up my reading experience. For some time after that, I stayed away from books with multiple POVs.

But in more recent years, I've come to see the value of books with multiple POVs. Sometimes, I love that a book has that, I don't generally find it as annoying anymore. It doesn't break up my reading as much. I've seen books do it very well, and it's made me more appreciative of it. But there are still times when I still see it not done well. There are still some books where I don't find it completely necessary.

Now I take things more on a book-by-book basis rather than overgeneralizing a type of book as a whole. I don't have anything against multiple POV books anymore. I don't decide to not pick up a book purely because there are multiple perspectives.

What's your take on books with multiple POVs? Are you someone like me, who has had her opinion change over the years?

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Waiting on Wednesday (#15): Secret Coders by Gene Luen Yang and Mike Holmes

This feature is hosted by Breaking the Spine!
For more info on this feature, see my features page. My version is just adapted to include more than just books.

Secret Coders by Gene Luen Yang and Mike Holmes
Publisher: First Second
Release Date: September 29th, 2015
Welcome to Stately Academy, a school which is just crawling with mysteries to be solved! The founder of the school left many clues and puzzles to challenge his enterprising students. Using their wits and their growing prowess with coding, Hopper and her friend Eni are going to solve the mystery of Stately Academy no matter what it takes!

From graphic novel superstar (and high school computer programming teacher) Gene Luen Yang comes a wildly entertaining new series that combines logic puzzles and basic coding instruction with a page-turning mystery plot!
I'm a huge fan of Gene's work, so I'm definitely over-the-moon excited for this one! I think coding is cool, though I've never tried really tried it before. I also love how the cover shows a diverse cast of characters! The book sounds fun, and I'm excited to read it! (I'm hoping I'll enjoy it more than the mediocre reviews on Goodreads at the moment.) 

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Tour: Review: Exquisite Corpse by Penelope Bagieu

Exquisite Corpse by Penelope Bagieu
Publisher: First Second Books
Release Date: May 5th, 2015
Zoe isn't exactly the intellectual type, which is why she doesn't recognize world-famous author Thomas Rocher when she stumbles into his apartment...and into his life. It's also why she doesn't know that Rocher is supposed to be dead. Turns out, Rocher faked his death years ago to escape his critics, and has been making a killing releasing his new work as "lost manuscripts," in cahoots with his editor/ex-wife Agathe. Neither of them would have invited a crass party girl like Zoe into their literary conspiracy of two, but now that she's there anyway. . . . Zoe doesn't know Balzac from Batman, but she's going to have to wise up fast... because she's sitting on the literary scandal of the century!
Disclaimer: I received a copy for review from the publisher. This doesn't affect my review in any way, nor am I being compensated for this.

As soon as I heard about this book, I knew I wanted to read it. It sounded right up my alley, and the illustrations seemed fantastic. I was so excited when I received it that I went and finished the book in one sitting. Unfortunately, the book didn't live up to my expectations.

The one thing I truly loved about the book was the illustrations and the coloring. It was so interesting to see how the color schemes and just the colors used in general throughout the book. I noticed shifts in color/color scheme as things/people changed in the story, and it was really clever and helped to facilitate the story. Though very different, it reminded me of when I was reading This One Summer: like the illustrations were really what kept me from being completely disappointed in the graphic novel.

That's not to say the novel didn't start out strong. I found it to be a really interesting way to begin, and it was a great snapshot look into Zoe's life. It was infuriating to see how people were treating Zoe, but it was infuriating in a good way because it meant I was connecting to her and to the story. And I loved how there was so much body positivity. I feel like Zoe learned to embrace her body and her sexuality, and even though I hated the reason behind it, it was nice to see that. It means there's some really, really, really mild adult content, but I wasn't bothered by it (besides that I saw the relationship as an unhealthy relationship).

But I feel like the plot began to fall apart soon after the beginning. Not only was pacing strange (I felt like the ending occurred too quickly, as did the Rocher reveal), but the whole thing just felt rushed and strange, and I didn't really get a sense of the character development and growth. Zoe turned into a different person, in my opinion not for the better, but I never truly got a sense as to why. Her relationship with Rocher bothered me to no end because it was so unhealthy, and it was so obvious he was using her for his writing. And then she turned into the jealous girlfriend type, which I could understand, but she seemed so needy, as if she wasn't anyone without Rocher. Then, once she learned the truth, her relationship with Agathe changed, and she once again took control of her own life.

THEN THE ENDING. Gahhh!!! I wanted to tear my hair out when I read it. Not only was the relationship at the end sudden and seemingly unfounded, but it also seemed to go against what Zoe had experienced throughout the rest of the book. She was hurt by how Rocher manipulated and used her. She was angry that he had lied. She was rightfully furious that he was tricking so many people in such a way just to get money and quick fame. And then she went and did almost the same thing. She stole from him, she took credit for what she never did, she took on a fake identity, she ran away, she lied and manipulated people. It isn't okay, even after all she'd been through! It just wasn't the kind of ending I was hoping for, even though the women got their revenge on Rocher. I just remember finishing the book, closing it, and going "wow...."

I'm still not completely sure how I feel about the book. On the one hand, I like that Zoe took charge of her life and made it better for herself, but at the same time, I didn't feel like I understood or was seeing the complete journey. I didn't see the change and transformation. Everything seemed to happen so quickly. I can definitely say that my favorite aspect of Exquisite Corpse was the illustrations and color. I particularly loved the use of color to show change, as well as the images of Paris.
Exquisite Corpse: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Book Depository
Penelope Bagieu: Website | Twitter
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