Starfish: A Review

Hello Readers & Writers,

Today I will be reviewing Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman. I received this book from Simon and Schuster in exchange for an honest review. This will be mostly spoiler free so there is no need to click away.

There are many things I loved about Starfish; it was not afraid to tackle issues such as social anxiety, biracial identity, and unstable family life. I will point out the trigger of sexual abuse as it is a prevalent theme throughout the novel.

The story follows the main protagonist Kiko who is of half-Japanese heritage and is on the verge of finishing high school. She has a plan for herself: get into a New York City art school called Prism and follow her dreams of becoming a painter. Not only that but she will be able to escape her small town life in Nebraska where being Japanese makes her “exotic” and different than those around her.

She lives with her mother and two brothers, her relationships with each of them rather complex. Kiko’s mother constantly criticizes her and puts her desires and dreams at the bottom of her priority list. Kiko and her brothers cohabitate the same space without getting to know each other beyond the surface. Her father divorced her mother and lives with his new wife and recently born twin girls.

When Kiko’s plans for art school fall through, she at the same time reconnects with her old best friend, Jamie, who moved away during childhood. He offers her an escape from her overwhelming, emotionally manipulative mother and the grief of not getting into her dream school.

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This contemporary novel is heavily focused on self-discovery and what it means to grow up, cope with plans that do not always work out, and toys with the idea that blood does not always mean family. What drew me in originally to Starfish was Kiko having social anxiety, something I struggled with for most of my life and still do. I found Kiko’s descriptions were insanely accurate, to the point I had to stop and show them to my friends. Kiko lends a voice to readers who deal with this and not in a way that undermines it. No, this book is very much about accepting social anxiety and realizing it does not make you a bad friend or a bad person. It is just a part of you that you will learn to handle and if you have good friends, they too will put in the effort. You have to do what makes you feel comfortable.

The next topic that drew me in was biracial identity, but more specifically how it impacts Kiko’s self-worth and identity. Kiko’s mother is white and has physical features associated with said identity: blonde hair, light skin, and light eyes. When Kiko looks at her mother, she doesn’t see any of those traits in herself, having taken after her dad who is Japanese. She grapples with the concept of beauty and if it is an agreed upon concept by society, or one that is subjective and ever changing. For teens who struggle with finding themselves and beauty in their features, Kiko offers the perfect narrative for it isn’t a journey that automatically happens. It takes time, tears, and breaking away from negative influences. The journey reads naturally and I found myself rooting for Kiko all throughout the story. I wanted her to radiate self-confidence and I wanted her to understand how beautiful she was. Tying into this idea was cultural identity and how Kiko didn’t have much of a Japanese culture due to her parent’s divorce and her mother’s view on not favoring an Asian lifestyle. In case you didn’t know, you’re going to hate Kiko’s mother, but unfortunately, her ignorant and narcissistic outlook on life is not unique. Other people have it too. However, it is through Kiko’s interactions with her mother that a reader is able to realize certain behaviors are not okay and should never be okay.

Starfish is beautifully written. The prose flows naturally and I love how each chapter ends with a work of art Kiko creates to reflect the events that have happened. Every character feels like a fleshed out, real person and you can’t help getting sucked into this world. I’m not going to forget about Starfish and the impact it had on me. I hugged the book to my chest after finishing it because the ending was such a heartwarming consolation that Kiko deserved. Aside from my perspective, I think this book can be an outlet for teens and offer the message that no one should tear you down or stop you from being who you need to be. If they’re doing that, chances are, you don’t need them in your life. You need to live for yourself and your dreams.

Overall, this book gets 5/5 stars from me and I would highly recommend it. I may wind up throwing it at everyone so it can be read asap!

Xx

Megan

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns: A Review

Hello Readers & Writers,

I got the amazing chance to not only obtain an ARC of Forest of Thousand Lanterns at Book Expo, but meet the author Julie C. Dao. I didn’t know I would read her book first out of my TBR pile, but I’m so glad I did because it’s one of the best I’ve read this year, if not in the recent years.

There will be no major spoilers in this review, so feel free to keep reading.

The plot follows Xifeng, a girl who is stuck under her aunt’s harsh rules and cruelty. She believes, as well as her aunt, that she is destined for a greater life than being a common girl. She has beauty which others are envious of and a dark calling within her chest. When an opportunity arises to run away, Xifeng is swept up with one goal: to become the empress.

Capture

This lovely image, which I think captures the book so well, belongs to Christine Herman. You can find her on twitter: @christineexists

For those of you who don’t know, FOTL follows The Evil Queen from Snow White. But what we get as readers is an East Asian retelling with a wonderful cast of characters, poetry, and culture. I was taken with the world Julie created, not only for its beauty, but for every story she wove into the tale. There were lines in the text that were both haunting and well written. They created an eerie, alluring mood that made me unable to put the book down. If I could highlight each one that stuck with me, most of the book would be in bright yellow highlighter.

Then we have the characters. Xifeng is an anti-hero. I think that is the best way to put it. Julie C. Dao breaks the mold of using a likeable main character. Xifeng is vain, narcissist, and has the potential to bring people to her feet. All of these traits harbor themselves in a young girl who has to choose between light and dark, forces that both rage inside of her. You understand her motivations. You want to know what she is going to do next and which side will ultimately win. Xifeng is a character, that despite her not being the traditional notion of good, you want her to win. I don’t often sympathize with characters as such, but I did here.

The other main characters are equally as alluring. You have Wei who wants Xifeng to choose the goodness in her and is ultimately a huge contrast to her character. You have her aunt, Guma, who has a history she has not yet told Xifeng, but plays on the hungry, ambitious traits of her niece. You have her friends Hideki and Shiro who openly show Xifeng what the right examples of love and affection are, but examples she cannot find within herself. You have the royal cast like Lady Sun and Empress Lihua who bring out different sides of Xifeng that show how well she is playing a game to reach her goal. There is just so much going on with the plot and the characters. It is very much like a game of chess, with constant moves being made. Who will win? The royal family? Xifeng? Or someone else? You’re not quite sure from the beginning nor are you sure until the pieces start to unravel.

When I finished the last chapter, my first thought was when is the second book coming out? My second thought was damn, because that was the only word I could find that encapsulated how much this book brought to the world and how strong this story was.

If anyone is undecided on preordering this book, or picking it up once it hits stores in October 2017, toss your doubts away. This book will capture your attention and stay with you as you read its final words.

It receives 5/5 hearts from me. You’ll understand this reference once you read.

Xx

Megan

Daughter of the Burning City: A Review

Hello Readers & Writers,

It has been a while since I posted a review so here I am, reviewing an ARC of Daughter of the Burning City by Amanda Foody. I won this book in a contest hosted by the editor and I am so happy I did.

Note: There will be no major spoilers in this review so feel free to keep reading past this point. 

The cover was a huge hook. It is a lovely shade of purple with circus tents on the bottom and smoke rising into an ominous sky.

What made me want this book was the buzz it received on twitter. The description was right up my alley – a dark YA fantasy book.

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I liked this book a lot. It follows sixteen year old Sorina, an illusion worker who leads an act like the “freak shows” we have in our world. Each of her illusions possess an odd feature or power. She considers them her family and it was interesting how these bonds were explored as well as how Sorina’s powers work. The descriptions of her powers were absolutely lovely. I pictured them in my head with ease. What I also loved was the Gomorrah Festival and how it had a life of its own. The author did an excellent job of creating a setting that was, at the same time, a character. It gave me vibes of a grittier The Night Circus which I loved.

The main plot is one of Sorina’s illusions, who she believed could not die, is murdered. From there, she launches an investigation while facing obstacles like betrayal, dead ends, false leads, grief and identity. Sorina is not the most active narrator and is easily conflicted, causing a portion of the investigation to be muddled up in her own thoughts and uncertainty. She has to come to terms with who she can trust and if some aspects of the investigation hold merit.

The reason I wouldn’t give this book a five is because it had a few slow chapters, that inch towards the resolution but can act a bit like filler. Once I moved past these however, the journey to the end was a wild ride. I was shocked by the twists and I needed to know who killed Sorina’s illusion and why they would do such a thing by the last few chapters. The ending was worth the parts that dragged.

I think this is a great fantasy story and will draw in those who prefer a bit of dark magic. The main characters are not typical and that is a huge strength of the novel for Amanda creates them as they should be: people. Not freaks or devil spawns as the stereotypes placed on them suggest.

Overall, this gets 4/5 moths from me. You’ll understand this reference once you give it a read.

Xx
Megan

Games & Best Friends Featuring Anna Priemaza

Hello Readers & Writers,

I had the pleasure of interviewing Anna Priemaza, author of Kat and Meg Conquer the World releasing November 2017 from HarperTeen. This is a book I’ve been excited for and I was even more thrilled when Anna agreed to talk with me about the book. She raises some really strong points about friendship and identity.

Before I kick off the interview, here is a synopsis of Kat and Meg Conquer the World:

33877998Kat and Meg couldn’t be more different.

Kat’s anxiety makes it hard for her to talk to new people. The only place she feels safe is in front of her computer, playing her favorite video game.

Meg hates being alone, but her ADHD keeps pushing people away. Friends. Her boyfriend. Even the stepfather who raised her.

But when the two girls are thrown together for a year-long science project, they discover they do have one thing in common: their obsession with the online gaming star LumberLegs and his hilarious videos.

Meg’s pretty sure this is fate. Kat doesn’t know how to deal with someone who talks faster than she thinks. But if they can stick together and stay out of their heads, they might figure out how to help each other—and build the kind of friendship Kat never knew she wanted and Meg never believed she’d find.

Q1: Where did the idea for Kat and Meg Conquer the World come from?

Anna: When I’m brainstorming a book, I don’t think about plot, I think about people. My ideas notebook is full of characters and their relationship to each other. Kat and Meg Conquer the World stemmed from the concept of best friends who are opposites.


Q2: Did you grow up playing video games? If so, what did you love to play and on what gaming system?

Anna: I owe everything I am to the computer game Math Rabbit, which I played for hours and hours and hours when I was a kid. You don’t know joy until you’ve saved up enough e-tickets to buy the rollerskating poodle from the prize tent.

Also:

Gameboy – Super Mario Land, Kirby’s Dreamland, Yoshi, Rolan’s Curse, Tetris

N64 – MarioKart, Smash Brothers, Zelda: Ocarina of Time

Computer – Daggerfall, Heroes of Might and Magic, Jagged Alliance

We had only one computer and one console, so I spent a ton of time watching my sister play Zelda or my brother play some dungeon crawler game I can’t remember the name of. (How old do I sound? I swear I’m not that old. Technology changes quickly, kids!)


Q3: Do you share any traits with the characters you’ve created?

Anna: Well, like both of them, I’m a fangirling nerd and gamer who values friendship fiercely. I am also intimately acquainted with panic attacks and anxiety, like Kat, though some of the things that trigger my anxiety are different than hers.


Q4: What was it like getting into the headset of both Kat and Meg? Did you have an easier time with one character versus the other?

Anna: Kat came alive for me from the moment I set pen to the page. I have a vivid memory of writing the first few paragraphs of her first scene and thinking, “Oh! Hello, Kat! You’re here! It’s so nice to meet you!”

Meg took a bit longer to show herself, but once she did, I had a complete blast getting into her head. Meg is impulsive and gregarious and hilarious and although she is so very different from me, I adore her with my whole heart, and I love being in her head.


Q5: ADHD and anxiety are both important issues that need to be discussed in literature, but can also be complicated to write about given how they affect people differently. Did you do any research for these issues and what was that like?

Anna: Let me say first of all that I don’t consider Kat and Meg to be an “issue book.” It’s not a book about anxiety or about ADHD. It is a book about friendship, fandom, video games, and how people can be rocks for each other even when they themselves feel like quicksand.

I like to make this distinction because my own disabilities and mental health diagnoses feel similar to the fact that I have size 9 feet (okay, okay, size 9.5).

(Wait, what?

Bear with me, I have a point. You’ll see. I hope.)

The size of my feet is an unchangeable, defined part of me that impacts me in obvious (what shoes I can buy or wear) and not-as-obvious (how I walk or stand or balance) ways. I can’t wear the shoes of someone who has different sized feet than me–at least, I can’t wear them and be comfortable. My foot/shoe size impacts me on a day-to-day basis.

At the same time, though, if someone painted a picture of me, and it turned out all they painted was my feet… that’d be upsetting (not to mention creepy). I am more than my feet. I am more than my handicapped arm. I am more than my anxiety. I am more than my dermatillomania. I am more than my sensory processing disorder. (Though these things are all still a core part of me and impact me every day.)

Kat has severe anxiety, and that impacts everything she does throughout the whole book. But so does the fact that she is clever and thoughtful and ambitious and witty and completely badass at video games.

Meg has ADHD, and that impacts everything she does throughout the whole book. But so does the fact that she is fearless and brimming with ideas and passionate and hilarious.

All of this is to say that yes, I did a crap-ton of research for the aspects of Kat’s and Meg’s lives that are outside of my own experience–from reading through forums to watching YouTube videos to asking friends hundreds of questions to having numerous sensitivity readers. But my research did not define who they are, it just helped me paint various parts of their portraits with a bit more precision.


Q6: Describe Kat and Meg Conquer the World in three words.

Anna: Gamer girl BFFs


Q7: What do you want readers to take away from your book?

Anna: Friendship is badass and just as swoon-worthy as romance.


Q8: What is something you nerd out about?

Anna: I fangirl over YouTube gamers so much that I dressed as one for Halloween. I own at least 20 articles of Doctor Who-related clothing. At home, I live in my Hufflepuff hoodie. My husband and I own over 200 board games. I am…oh, wait, you said just one.


Q9:  Do you have plans for future books and if so, will they be a genre similar to Kat and Meg or a new one all together?

Anna: I’m currently working on my first round of edits for book two, which will come out from HarperTeen a year or so after Kat and Meg. It’s also a contemporary YA, about a girl who travels across Canada to search for her missing sister, accompanied by her sister’s best friend and the cultist accused of her murder.

As you can probably tell from that description, it’s a lot darker than Kat and Meg, but it still has a lot in common with my debut. It’s about relationships–friendship and family–and is still woven with nerd references and humour.

One thing you can expect from all my books is a primary focus on non-romantic relationships. Romance is great, but it’s only one of the thousands of ties that bind us to the people around us. We can have our heart broken by a friend, be supported by a rival, learn something from a younger sibling, be betrayed by a celebrity, be profoundly impacted by a stranger…*trails off, picks up ideas notebook, and starts writing frantically*


Author Bio: 

_DSC5200 v3 webAnna Priemaza is a contemporary young adult author and a practicing family and immigration lawyer in Edmonton, Alberta, where she lives with her husband. She can never quite remember how old she is, as she knits like an old lady, practices law like an adult, fangirls over YouTubers like a teen, and dreams like a child.

 

If you’d like to follow Anna and her work, which I highly recommend, see all these lovely links:

Website: http://annapriemaza.com/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/33877998-kat-and-meg-conquer-the-world

Twitter: https://twitter.com/annab311a

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/annapriemaza/

Amazon (US): http://a.co/3Egl2G7

Amazon (CA): http://a.co/7XifUqO

Once again, a big thank you to Anna for joining me today.  Be sure to preorder/pick up a copy of Kat and Meg Conquer the World. I sure will be. To see more book related posts on my end, keep an eye on the blog.

Xx

Megan

 

Queens of Geek: A Review

Hello Readers & Writers,

Last night I finished Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde and all I can say is this book is both adorable and powerful.

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Taken from my instagram: Written-Infinities.

It follows three friends who go to SupaCon, which is a big gathering of movie, YouTube, and television stars. These friends are moving on to college within a couple of months and this is their way of treating themselves for making it through their education. Not to mention it has been something they wanted to do for a long time as a group. Many events happen at SupaCon, leading to self-discovery, love, and beating back some demons each of them have been holding onto.

This is a dual POV book following the characters Charlie and Taylor. Charlie is a famous YouTube star who had a terrible breakup from her co-star of a recent film, Reese. She is long since over him, but she spent the last few months piecing herself back together and finding out what it means to not be tied together with her ex in the public limelight. She has to deal with fans who want to see her back together with her ex and her entertainment company that wants her to be nice to Reese for publicity. She also identifies as bisexual and there is a fantastic scene in the book where she challenges her ex about sexuality. He asks a question bisexuals get too often: how can you be bisexual when you’re dating a guy?

The answer that Charlie gives, my dear readers, is a good one. There doesn’t need to be proof of bisexuality through dating a woman. Rather, she knew she was bisexual the same way her ex knew he was straight. What I love that the author does is she constantly reinforces there is nothing wrong with being bisexual.  She has also made Charlie a strong character, not afraid of talking about her sexuality, showing her confidence, or noting her mixed race heritage.

The second character, Taylor has anxiety. Throughout this book, I constantly found myself nodding my head in agreement with the descriptions Jen gives about anxiety. Between the fears Taylor has and how she worries how other people will read her anxiety (as her being stuck up or bossy), I too have gone through similar experiences. The portrayal was honest and real and all I wanted was for Taylor to push past her anxiety and find the happiness she deserved. Taylor, an amazing well rounded character, does not only challenge stereotypes about anxiety, but also challenges fat-shaming and misconceptions about being on the spectrum. There is so much to love and learn from Taylor’s chapters as well as so much to connect with.

This isn’t a difficult or long read. It is very much fluff and friendship and feeling good after reading it. Most of the plots are predictable, but I didn’t mind. You have a solid friendship, romances to root for, and wonderful representation. From the second I picked up this book, I went yes, this is what I need to be reading.

Note: The references in the book to all things Geek are A+.

I’m giving it 5/5 SupaCon passes.

Xx

Megan

Writing The Hard Stories

In order for characters to grow, they have to face hardships, have things taken from them, lose their initial opinions. As writers, we plan how this happens and are tasked with the most difficult thing: capturing this development on paper.

Writing a story isn’t easy. It takes a lot of will power, imagination, and convincing yourself that your writing doesn’t suck. Once you’ve managed to move past these qualms, you may come up against another challenge. How do I handle writing a scene that is either extremely personal or possibly triggering?

I’m a firm believer in using writing as a way of dealing with life or even escaping it. For a long time, writing was the only comfort I had. I threw my emotions onto the page no matter how much it hurt or even if the words I was putting down made no sense.  Some of the short stories that came from these moods were emotionally charged and on the dark side.

To this day, I still like to write the heavier stories, ones that are both a challenge and a release. Sometimes, I need to step away from my WIP. Other times I get lost in the mindset of my characters or the events playing out before me until hours fly by and I have to snap myself out of it. This happened a few months ago when my MC sought revenge on a group of people who kidnapped his best friend. To put it lightly, the end result wasn’t pretty nor was the mentality of the character going into the ordeal. I remember saying to myself: “These thoughts are psychopathic.” However, I finished the chapter and emerged with new questions about my MC and my capabilities as a writer.

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There’s another scene in my story about death, which I took details from a personal event that happened in my life. The chapter was depressing to say the least and I found my mood descending with every word I wrote. The good news: it’s one of my favorite chapters. The bad news: I felt every ounce of my character’s pain.

It’s a double edged sword being a writer when our characters become like people we know and grew up with. Their suffering isn’t always something we can separate from our own. I choose to dive into these emotions, using it as a current of inspiration. How I come out of the experience once I’m done writing, I figure I’ll handle later.

This method does not work for everyone. Stories can get overwhelming, personal; hit a bit too close to home. But these are also the parts of the story that connect with our readers, that make us clutch books to our chests and weep at an ungodly hour of the night. Whenever you write scenes like these, here are some tips to remember:

  1. Do your research. You don’t want to offend anyone with what you’re writing, let alone come across as ignorant. There is no such thing as too much research.
  2. Take a break. There is no reason to harm yourself while writing. If it gets too much, you can save it for another day, take a breather, listen to music, or watch your favorite show or movie. You always come first.
  3. Make sure these scenes are not included for dramatic effect, but actually advance the story and the growth of your main character. Shock value is not the best reason for including a dark scene.
  4. Understand it’s okay if it is not right the first time. That’s what editing is for. Those scenes that don’t feel right will either be polished or cut.If you’re still having trouble, Beta Readers are a great resource to see if you’ve accomplished what you set out to do.
  5. Don’t let anyone tell you not to write something. If it’s for the better of your story or even a way of dealing with what’s going on in your life, do it.
  6. Remember your readers. Writing a scene correctly and appropriately will connect you to your audience.

These scenes will always be part of our jobs as writers, but it’s how you go about them and handle yourself in the process that really matters.

Xx

Megan

When The Moon Was Ours: A Review

Hello Readers & Writers,

I decided quite recently that I would start doing book reviews on my blog. The first will be dedicated to When The Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore. This review will be spoiler free so if you haven’t read it yet, there is no need to click away.

I chose this book because it was the first book I read in 2017 that really hooked me. I nearly forgot to get off the train.

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Taken from my instagram, Written Infinites.

My biggest disclaimer about the book is it may not be for everyone. Anna-Marie McLemore has a unique style of prose, one that feels like poetry and fairytale wrapped into one. There is a lot of description dedicated to nature, colors, and spices. Instead of prose that is
straight to the point, she guides the reader through beautiful images. I found myself unable to put the book down. I was in a trance, seeing picture after picture in mind. It brought me to life, almost like a story ripped from a painting. She connects a lot of emotions to nature and different shades of color. You will feel everything, not just in your heart, but through your senses.

The story follows best friends Miel and Sam. A water tower collapses in a small town and Miel comes out of it. At first the town is horrified; they see Miel as a feral creature that has breached the safety of their town. Sam, who is a child equally as young as Miel, approaches her and tells her that it will be okay. From there, the two grow into teenagers and that is when the majority of the story takes place.

This book is rather odd, keep that in mind. It is rooted in fantasy. Miel has the ability to grow roses from her wrists. She has secrets that she has yet to tell and face herself. Sam creates and draws moon in order to comfort Miel. He too is hiding something, that Miel and his mother know, but it takes a personal journey to truly come to terms with it. Aracely, who is Miel’s guardian, is able to cast lovesickness away from broken hearts. The Bonner sisters, a well known family in this town, are able to make boys fall in love with them as they please. They don’t know what the word ‘no’ means. There is also the antagonism that comes from small town setting. Everyone knows everyone so gossip runs wild as to prejudices.

Anna-Marie McLemore takes you far away from reality, which I loved, but also keeps bits and pieces of reality too. She captures intimate feelings of love, self-identity, family, revenge, friendship, and bravery. From the Author’s Note she leaves in the book, you learn she has a close relationship with one of the main plots in the book. I will not say what, but read the Author’s Note, and learn her closeness to some of the characters she created. Me, as a reader, I felt the sincerity. I felt the rawness. I felt what it’s like to not be what you want to be or struggle with who you are. Anna-Marie McLemore does not shy away from diving into the depths of her characters – a brutal honesty that I admire and I believe other readers will as well.

If you want to try something different, leave normalcy behind, read this book. It entrances you. The characters are beautifully diverse and strong. You will root for Miel and Sam through every page.

Let me know, if you have read this book, your thoughts below. I would love to discuss this book further. If not, consider picking it up.

It gets 5/5 roses from me. 7279c94b53437c1ecb78f56d7fe4bf2b

Xx

Megan