Reviewing BooksForAri – Elizabeth O’Roark’s “Waking Olivia”

Waking OliviaWaking Olivia by Elizabeth O’Roark

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: A free digital copy of this book was received via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Sooo… I’ve been in a book funk. *sigh* I know, I know. We’ve all been there. There are those off us that have been there so many times, that we don’t even worry about it anymore and just ride this funky wave until our hand steers us right back into Literary Land. There are times that seem like we’re in a book funk more often than we get into a book frenzy and it concerns us so much that we contemplate our identity as book lovers. Alas, I found instant cure in this cute novel on my kindle.

Sometimes, all it takes is a fluff book to do the trick. You know those kinds of books, the ones that are a bit mindless, somewhat predictable and traditionally YA romance? It’s the books that are enough of a quick read that you’re not mentally drained when you’re finished but you’ve engaged enough with the content to get the juices flowing? It’s the book that takes you less than half a day to get through and you’re not even guilty about the empty calories because it was a fun read. THIS BOOK was exactly that – and precisely what I needed.

Though the author handles a couple of heavy topics, including but not limited to, child abuse, mental illness, familial issues, doomed romance and rape, the book did not delve deep enough into those particular topics to bring the reader down with the character. It was very much centered around the romance and bringing the characters’ issues to light so that they can deal with them. I like the fact that both of the characters had issues, and it wasn’t just the guys “saving” the girl. I like that the romance played out a bit more rocky than usual.

What I didn’t like was the lack of diversity. Additionally, I would have liked to see more development with the friendships and some more writing dedicated to explaining (view spoiler) I liked the fact that Olivia was equally fierce and vulnerable; I not-so-secretly wanted to see more equally obvious vulnerability in Will. And, I enjoyed that Olivia’s mental struggles didn’t just miraculously disappear when she fell in love.

Overall, it was a sweet book and I don’t really have many bad things to say. I think readers will know what they’re getting into when they’ve read the description and when they decide to read it, they won’t be disappointed. The chapters are relatively short – quick and to the point, which is just how I like these kinds of books. The plotline continues consistently and the twists are fluid and interesting. I would definitely recommend this quick-read to anyone in a book funk or that need a good fluff book between two intense novels.

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Reviewing BooksForAri -Britt Holewinski’s “Schism”

SchismSchism by Britt Holewinski

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: A free digital copy of this book was received via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Anyone that knows me knows that I’m a complete groupie when it comes to utopian/dystopian novels and anything ethically or morally questionable. So when I saw “[kids rule the world because all the adults are dead]” I thought to myself, YESSSS, TINY HUMANS ARE JUST UNTRAINED PEOPLE WITH MINIMAL MORALS. If there are no adults or societies to train them, what would they make of the world?! I didn’t exactly get what I… expected? I guess, it was a lot more traditional dystopian than I originally anticipated.

Hmmm… My feelings on this book were fairly divided… The summary was intriguing enough to request on NetGalley, and the story line was very Lord of the Flies meets The Walking Dead which kept me interested enough to finish; yet, I felt like the writing was somewhat lacking.

Every character is white, except for a secondary character that plays the role of Maria, the daughter of a Hispanic drug lord. *eye roll* The lack of diversity is something that I’m used to. And because it’s such a commonality, I don’t usually let it affect my rating of a book, but I always feel like it’s something worth mentioning in my reviews. (Not going to lie, the whole drug and slut trope constantly being applied to Hispanic/Latinx/Spanish-speaking/South American characters really irks me, but that’s an issue to be addressed at a later time.)

The author also makes an effort to point out that everyone involved in the story is beautiful and skilled things they’ve obtained via osmosis from all the dead adults lol. Andy is damn-near a surgeon before she’s 20. Charlie is a certified genius and youngest. Ben and Jim have military physique and mental capabilities without any prior training. There is no gray characters; it’s all black and white. Everyone fits a kind of purpose and specific criteria for the stereotypical good or bad qualities. They lack that sort of depth that usually accompanies dystopian novels, which are constantly filled with characters that toe the line of benevolence and malevolence. Where are the ugly people? Where are the kind-of-decent-looking characters that struggle in this new world because they literally only know the Pythagorean Theorem? Where are the ones that can’t even tell the difference between good and evil anymore?

Granted, there’s a huge gap of time missing, given that the story jumps forward 5 years, but I would have liked to see the cultivation of this new world and how the children established their hierarchy after they’ve fully exhausted anarchy. I wanted to see more dimensionality with the characters. I felt like they were too perfect. And so dry. The writing made each of them seem unintentionally straight forward and very much no-non-sense, which could be a result of the new post-virus world, but if that’s the case, then where’s the internal monologues? The explanatory chapters flashing back to the instances hopefully from the 5-year gap that led up to these stoic moments? WHERE IS THE PASSION?! THE THRILLS?! SUSPENSE?!

FYI: the suspense in this book never lasted long, which kind of boggled me. Every issue that arose was solved before the next issue arose, instead of being suggested and weaved across plot. Maybe I’m just missing the interwoven plotlines because this is only the first book? But there wasn’t really much of a build up and because the characters were so direct, the reader always knew where the story line was headed…

… It wasn’t… bad? I think the author lays down all these beautiful ideas that were itching to be explored, which I think is as equally a positive as it is a negative one. Positive, because it gives the reader the opportunity to fill in the blanks and take it upon themselves to explore possible outcomes and what-if situations that result from the post- apocalyptic virus world that the author has created. Negative because there just wasn’t enough information for the implied ideas to be thoroughly appreciated. Though the writing is as simplistic and thought-provoking as a book like The Giver, the target audience doesn’t share the same age group which and the expectations for each are different. The content of Schism seemed for an older crowd. Because of the author’s background, there was an almost-personal feel to the ideas of government conspiracies and terrorism, but that same effort wasn’t put into other aspects of the book, like setting, history, and character development.

Overall, it wasn’t a waste of my time. I relatively enjoyed it, but I wouldn’t recommend it to my friends. I would, however, recommend it to my philosophy partners just to get their take on such situations.

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Reviewing BooksForAri – Bryn Greenwood’s “All the Ugly and Wonderful Things”

All the Ugly and Wonderful ThingsAll the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: A free advanced digital copy of this book was received via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I did NOT want to love this book.

I did NOT want to sympathize with the situation.

I did NOT want to give this such a good review.

But alas, what’s done is done and I have no urge to further overanalyze myself. This book was truly filled with everything “Ugly” and “Wonderful” about the exploration of a devloping romantic relationship between an underaged female, younger than the age of consent, and a fully adult male, over 10 years older than her. It isn’t the type of content that’s meant for the faint-hearted or for those individuals with rigid moralistic values. It paints broad strokes of grey in a situation that is conventionally viewed as strictly black and white, but (I have to admit) the sheer audacity of the theme is what drew me in the first place.

I was completely captivated from beginning to end. The author places the reader right in the thicket of a severely taboo subject – not frequently explored as a love story – while still maintaining the dignity of the main characters and the brutal honesty of the topic. No one was ideally perfect; no decision made completely right. What made the novel fall on the side of beautiful (instead of disgusting) was the raw portrayal of each and every character and the unbridled emotional output poured into the pages. Those glimpses into personal thoughts and unfiltered commentary given built this story just as much as the action and setting.

Pity is not the author’s purpose. Sympathy was not being funneled towards a singular character. What was slowly teased out of me was a kind of despaired understanding and reluctant approval that had me wanting to simultaneously stop and continue reading. Morals are a fluid thing, laws do not always mean justice; and though both systems serve their purpose, this book does a fantastic job of questioning moralistic and legal principles in a unique way that places this subject of love and rape through a lens I’ve never read before.

That being said, I know there will be a lot of comparisons between All the Ugly and Wonderful Things and Lolita because of the similarly disturbing premise, but I’d have to strongly disagree with anyone that makes that comparison. Nabokov wrote Lolita from the perspective of an unreliable narrator with various hints that begged the reader to be appalled by the hidden truth of rape. Greenwood, on the other hand, changes the POV of the story to avoid this. Both main characters play their respective parts in cultivating the relationship and, even though it is categorized as rape, there is much more involved in the romance than just the sexual features.

I originally knocked this title down from a 5-star to a 4-star rating. My reasoning was very much influenced by the amount of times I felt utterly uncomfortable with the content and how often I was forced to re-evaluate my opinion of the circumstances. Additionally, my desire for the novel to be a bit longer was also a factor in my decision. I would have liked to see more delicately detailed descriptions of the main characters towards the end; I felt like the later-portion of the book was lacking the fulfilling explanations presented in the earlier-portion and deserved more pages. However, I still do not feel like any of the negative aspects of my reading experience even compared to all of the positive ones. After writing all of this, I have to bump it back up to a 5-star rating because I realize how strongly I reacted and, consequently, how good of a think-piece it can be. All the Ugly and Wonderful Things was a beautifully tragic romance that has the power to shock and awe the masses, if given the chance. Original. Vexing. Enthralling. I’d recommend this book to any daring reader who can handle the ethical crisis awaiting you upon completion. I cannot wait to see what this author does next.

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Reviewing BooksForAri – Erin Morgenstern’s “The Night Circus”

The Night CircusThe Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wow. This is the kind of novel you will love or hate. I felt as if every chapter was weaving me slowly but surely into the Circus itself and there was nothing to stop it from happening. My emotions were stimulated gently through vague impressions and almost-moments, leaving me a bit confused but entirely sensitive, which was very different from the head-on emotional crashes I’m used to reading through. I honestly don’t know how to describe this book (without doing it justice), but I do know that it isn’t for everyone. When I fell in love with the story, it was so slow and seamless that I didn’t even know I was enraptured until I tried to pull myself away. It wasn’t something that I could binge in a few hours or read so rapidly that I’d skip over a sentence or so… I’m pretty sure I was thoroughly confused through at least a third of it, but that was part of the fun and definitely a characteristic I’d attribute to building the FEELING of The Night Circus as, simultaneously, a story and an entity. Intriguing. Beautiful. Different. I enjoyed this experience immensely.

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