Review: The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren

Title: The Unhoneymooners
Author: Christina Lauren
Rating: ★★★★★
Summary: When her sister gets married, Olive braces for a crazy 24 hours before she can return to her comfortable, uneventful life. But when the entire party gets food poisoning, the only two who aren’t affected are Olive and prickly, irritating Ethan—and there’s an all-expenses-paid nonrefundable honeymoon in Hawaii up for grabs. Putting aside their mutual loathing for the sake of a free vacation, Olive and Ethan head for paradise, determined to avoid each other at all costs… until she tells a small lie and they have to pretend to be loving newlyweds. But the weird thing is that Olive doesn’t mind playing pretend. In fact, she kind of likes it.


Note: an eARC of this title was acquired via NetGalley.

The Unhoneymooners was a delightful throwback to both Christina Lauren’s stint writing fanfiction and the summer after my junior year of college when I read basically nothing but fanfic, staying up until the wee hours of the morning because I needed to know what happened in whatever story I was reading. Was I exhausted? Yes. Was the story going to be there in the morning? Also yes. Should I have made better life choices? Absolutely! But there was just something so cozy about reading a chapter and then trying to articulate a response that adequately expressed how much I loved something I’d just read—and The Unhoneymooners brought me right back to that place.

Even though Christina Lauren do a lot to make it seem like the events of the book could happen, the story still relies on its tropes: enemies to lovers! forced cohabitation! fake relationship! Our main characters dislike one another but still end up going to Maui on an all-expenses-paid honeymoon vacation? Where they must share a room? And fake a relationship for her new boss and his ex-girlfriend? GIMMIE.

I read The Unhoneymooners in two sittings, gleefully turning the pages because I was so engrossed in the story. Ethan and Olive had such chemistry that I needed to know if their faux relationship would ever turn into a real one—or if the tension that fuels any romance would come off as trite or eye-rolling. (Reader, it did not.) I literally laughed out loud at some parts and then giggled from others. Could this story ever really happen in real life? Probably not—but did it matter? The unbelievability of such circumstances never felt forced or overwrought, and I was so into the story that I don’t know if I would have cared, either.

Unlike in My Favorite Half-Night Stand, the romantic drama of our two protagonists was relatively lighthearted in comparison to the relationship between Olive’s sister and Ethan’s brother (which definitely impacted both the story and their own relationship, but not in an oh my god come ON kind of way.) We got to experience their blossoming relationship in real time as Christina Lauren gleefully threw what ifs? at the wall to see what stuck. What if Olive and Ethan were forced to spend time with one another? What if they had to pretend to be in a relationship? And what if they didn’t want to pretend anymore—what happens then?

I know that Christina Lauren books are often hit-or-miss, but The Unhoneymooners deserves a try. It’s a romantic comedy with laugh-out-loud humor and authentic dramatic tension. It focuses on the relationship between two sisters and their huge extended family. And, if nothing else, it leaves you yelling at its main characters to just hurry up and bone already. (Which isn’t always the point, but, you know… 😉)

Note: Ethan and Olive are less enemies and more do-I-really-have-to-spend-time-with-you irritation, and the sex scenes were 100% fade-to-black, but otherwise I really loved this!

Review: If I’m Being Honest by Emily Wibberley & Austin Siegemund-Broka

Title: If I’m Being Honest
Authors: Emily Wibberley & Austin Siegemund-Broka
Rating: ★★★★★
Summary: High school senior Cameron Bright’s reputation can be summed up by one word: bitch. When she puts her foot in her mouth in front of her crush, she fears she’s lost the one person who actually liked her for good. In an attempt to win him back, Cameron resolves to prove her worth by making amends with those she’s wronged. First on the list? Brendan, the guy to whom she gave an unfortunate nickname in middle school and who’s now the school loser. But the longer Cameron spends repairing Brendan’s reputation, the closer she gets to him—and the more she realizes that he appreciates her personality, brutal honesty and all. It makes her wonder: what if she’s compromising herself for a guy she doesn’t even want?


Note: an eARC of this title was acquired via Edelweiss+.

If you’re lucky, sometimes you stumble onto a good book at exactly the right time; even if its not perfect, it’s perfect for you, and you’ll fight anyone who says otherwise. If I’m Being Honest was that book for me.

Taking cues from Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, If I’m Being Honest follows Cameron through the first few months of her senior year at an uber posh Los Angeles prep school. With no patience for anything less than transparent honesty, authors Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka write Cameron as an over-achieving mean girl—she’s selfish, self-absorbed, and mean. Even though we understand that she doesn’t have the best relationship with either one of her parents, we don’t feel bad for her, either. Cameron is completely oblivious to how her words hurt, and the first few chapters set up a very compelling story arc for redemption.

I stayed up until 12:30am on a work night to finish the second half of this book because I couldn’t put it down. Wibberley and Siegemund-Broka made me need to know what happened to Cameron. Would her (delicious) slow-burn romance with Brendan go anywhere? What would happen to her new friendship with Brendan’s sister, Paige? Parts of the book made me literally curl my toes and squee they were so freaking cute while others made my heart sigh happily. Having an accurate portrayal of anxiety? Validating. Seeing an authentic portrayal of female friendship? Down-right refreshing.

The summary makes If I’m Being Honest seem like your run-of-the-mill young adult novel, but it’s so much more than that. Wibberley and Siegemund-Broka imbued all of their characters with messy personalities and true-to-life emotions so that nothing feels cheap or out-of-place. You knew that you could be happy when something good happened to a character because you’d already spent the last few chapters being angry with them for doing something stupid. There was fandom and creative passion projects and mental health rep and I may have cried just a bit toward the end.

Please read this book, y’all. It is so, so good.

Review: Spill Zone by Scott Westerfeld

Title: Spill Zone
Author: Scott Westerfeld
Rating: ★★★★★
Summary: Nobody’s ever really explained the Spill. Was it an angelic visitation? A nanotech accident? A porthole opening from another world? Whatever it was, no one’s allowed in the Spill Zone these days except government scientists and hazmat teams. But a few intrepid explorers know how to sneak through the patrols and steer clear of the dangers inside the Zone. Addison Merrick is one such explorer, dedicated to finding out what happened that night and to unraveling the events that took her parents and left her little sister mute and disconnected from the world.


A mind-bendy, trippy exploration of an unexplainable (and unnatural?) phenomenon and its physical and emotional aftermath,Spill Zone is a truly wtf-is-going-on-here start to a fantastic series. Although it measures over 200 pages, this graphic novel feels like nothing short of a whirlwind introduction to main character Addison’s life post-Spill — sneaking into the containment zone and navigating the physical realities of the Spill to take pictures of who-knows-what and providing for her (probably traumatized) sister. I literally had to force myself to slow down and admire the gorgeous illustrations by Alex Puvilland and coloring by Hilary Sycamore because all I really wanted to do was speed-read fast enough through Westerfeld’s narrative.

And then I got to the end of the book and blinked a lot and thought, “Well, that sucks” because it just ends and I NEED MORE. Honestly, if I had known this was merely the start of a series, I would have waited to read the entire narrative arc — because right now I am itching for Westerfeld to finish this goddamn masterpiece and July can’t come soon enough for The Broken Vow.

Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

TheMartianTitle: The Martian
Author: Andy Weir
Rating: ★★★★★
Summary: Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there. After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate the planet while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded on Mars’ surface, completely alone, with no way to signal Earth that he’s alive — and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone years before a rescue could arrive. Armed with nothing but his ingenuity and his engineering skills — and a gallows sense of humor that proves to be his greatest source of strength – he embarks on a dogged quest to stay alive. As he overcomes one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next, Mark begins to let himself believe he might make it off the planet alive – but Mars has plenty of surprises in store for him yet.


If it weren’t for the big-budget movie starring Matt Damon that just came out*, I don’t think Andy Weir’s The Martian would be flying off the shelves as much as it has – but that’s kind of a shame, really, because it’s super (ridiculously) good. And not just good in a hard sci-fi kind of way where you’re already kind of enthralled by NASA and interested in Mars and always maybe wanted to be an astronaut when you grew up. It’s good in the way a spy thriller is good or an adventure story is good – good where there’s a clear good guy vs. bad guy thing going on and there’s a nail-biting chase scene (or three) and you’re not JUST rooting for the bad guy to fail, you’re actually rooting for the good guy to win.

For me, books like The Martian don’t come around very often: books that make me bark out peals of laughter, put off watching TV (admittedly, my favorite thing to do), and keep me up way past my bedtime so that I can finish just one more paragraph (okay, fifteen). A book that fills my mind so that the seconds tick by into minutes, fifteen minutes roll into thirty, and one hour somehow becomes four… hours where I’m sitting and then lounging and then stretching, all to feed the insatiable need of omg what is happening i need to know how this ends. (If I could somehow read at the edge of my seat then that’s what I was doing for, like, ninety percent of this book.) I knew that I would enjoy The Martian, but I didn’t anticipate just how much this book was going to win me over. (Kind of how Netflix thinks I’ll rate a Gritty Crime Drama with an Engaging Female Lead four stars and I’m like, “Why would I watch that, Netflix?” and then I watch it and give it four stars. (Because Netflix just knows, okay??? So let’s pretend that I’m Netflix and I just know.))

You don’t need to know a whole lot about this book before going in – namely because Weir’s fearless protagonist Mark Watney spells it out in literally the first chapter of the book – but I suppose it’s helpful to know that Watney is an astronaut presumed dead and, as a result, left stranded on Mars. So, basically, the entire book is various forms of “Way to go, Mark!” and “Have fun, Mark!” and “So glad you’re not dead, Mark!” except Mark is saying this all to himself because he’s the only human being on an entire freaking planet and he doesn’t even have a robot for company.

Basically, The Martian is sarcastic and smart and nail-biting and laugh-out-loud funny and I wish you would just read it already because this review is turning out useless. (You’ll like it, though, I swear.)

* Everybody’s Favorite Scientist™ Neil deGrasse Tyson actually shot a (real) promo for the (real) film’s (fake) Ares 3 mission, (theoretically) taped for his (real) program Star Talk. META.

Review: Lumberjanes and Ms. Marvel NOW!

Lumberjanesv1Title: Lumberjanes, vol. 1: Beware the Kitten Holy
Authors: Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, and Brooke A. Allen (illustrator)
Rating: ★★★★★
Summary: At Miss Qiunzilla Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s camp for hard-core lady-types, things are not what they seem. Three-eyed foxes. Secret caves. Anagrams. Luckily, Jo, April, Mal, Molly, and Ripley are five rad, butt-kicking best pals determined to have an awesome summer together… And they’re not gonna let a magical quest or an array of supernatural critters get in their way! The mystery keeps getting bigger, and it all begins here.

MsMarvelv1-3

Title: Ms. Marvel NOW! vol. 1: No Normal, vol. 2: Generation Why, and vol. 3: Crushed
Authors: G. Willow Wilson (author vol. 1-3), Adrian Alphona (artist vol. 1-2), Elmo Bondoc (artist vol. 3), Humberto Ramos (illustrator vol. 3), Jacob Wyatt (artist vol. 2), Mark Waid (author vol. 3), and Takeshi Miyazawa (artist vol. 3)
Rating: ★★★★
Summary: Kamala Khan is just an ordinary girl from Jersey City — until she is suddenly empowered with extraordinary gifts. But who truly is the new Ms. Marvel? Teenager? Muslim? Inhuman? Find out as she takes the Marvel Universe by storm!


Lumberjanes_AprilKawaii
Kawaii April.

Metal af April.

For me, reading graphic novels acts as both a palate cleanser and a productivity boost: something to reinvigorate a reading slump after a couple of disappointing choices (I’m looking at you, Modern Romanceand allow me to finish a self-contained work in an afternoon (gotta pump up those Goodreads counts, y’all). What I did not plan, however, was falling completely in love with both Lumberjanes and the new iteration of Ms. Marvel. Thinking I would just casually flip through my copies of Beware the Kitten Holy and No Normal and then scurry off to something else was a rookie mistake. After reading the last panel of Lumberjanes, vol. 1, I slowly savored each page of extra content, unwilling to close the flap and declare the journey over. What were Jo, April, Mal, Molly, and Ripley up to and how soon would their adventures arrive in the next trade edition? I was able to satisfy my thirst for more “hard-core lady-types” with Kamala Khan, but diving into her world only allowed a binge session of No NormalGeneration Why, and then Crushed… followed by the inevitable position of being caught up with a finite number of issues. (Like bingeing on Netflix only to be faced with one new episode weeks apart. PURE. AGONY.)

Kamala meets Wolverine.

Both Lumberjanes and Ms. Marvel are quick studies in supernatural and speculative fiction (respectively), showcasing kick ass females, body positivity, and self-reliance. Kamala might wear a dress and be an über fangirl toward Wolverine (he exists irl okay, and it is awesome), but she still knows how to throw an epic punch and battle a robot Thomas Edison – ’cause exhibiting stereotypical feminine characteristics does not mean a person is weak, thank you very much, and G. Willow Wilson makes sure we know that just as much as Kamala does. Then there’s the graphic novel equivalent of actual female bodies peppered throughout Lumberjanes – tattooed and soft and short and tall and leggy and masculine – paired with an “everybody is strong in their own way” message that never feels forced or heavy handed. Even if I can’t be any of these girls, I want to at least know them and soak up their self-esteem and feminism. (Because any good reader knows that a journey of self-empowerment does not end in the pages of the book.)

MsMarvel_SelfEsteem
Kamala gets real.

There’s a reason each paperback is aimed at teens and tweens – hello high school politics and post-puberty body shame – but there’s also no good reason why the totally rad (yet sadly fictional) exploits of five teenagers or Kamala’s journey of self-discovery can’t also apply to twenty- and thirty-somethings grasping at their own self-identity. Being kind to yourself and celebratory of your own strengths is hard, y’all, but the hardcore ladies of Lumberjanes get it. And so, too, does Kamala: developing the ability to be her own hero, Captain Marvel, comes with its own disappointments, and Kamala soon figures out that she’s physically stronger when she doesn’t change, and that instead of feeling liberated by the blonde hair and legs, the whole thing leaves her feeling exhausted. It’s a major plot point, but, hell, it’s also great life advice. (You go, girl.)

MsMarvel_RapeCulture
Gross.

And, even when Stevenson and Wilson tackle afternoon special-style “real issues,” we’re never taken out of the story to question just what the junk is going on. Crushed features analogies to victim blaming, but we’re right there with Kamala, grimacing at how squicky the whole thing feels. Wilson isn’t preaching to us about why it’s terrible that victim blaming is still a thing. (BECAUSE WHY IS IT EVEN STILL A THING?!) We’re angry at Kamran for taking advantage of Kamala. We’re angry that he’s actually kind of a dick and not the heart emoji type of Muslim boyfriend Kamala swore she wouldn’t date. We’re angry for Kamala and at Kamram. (Just as it should be.)

These graphic novels tackle current issues with grace and over-dramatic Tumblr-worthy flair, and they’re funny and poignant and I NEED MORE, OKAY?!

(If none of the above convinced you to pick up your own copy of either Lumberjanes, vol. 1: Beware the Kitten Holy or Ms. Marvel, vol. 1: No Normal, what in the Joan Jett are you doing on this blog. Here’s some sassy Loki for you to enjoy before you skedaddle:

MsMarvel_HipsterLoki

Review: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

StationElevenTitle: Station Eleven
Author: Emily St. John Mandel
Rating: ★★★★★
Summary: An audacious, darkly glittering novel set in the eerie days of civilization’s collapse post flu endemic, Station Eleven tells the spellbinding story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity.
Spanning decades, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, this suspenseful, elegiac novel is rife with beauty and tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it.


Here’s the thing: I really loved Station Eleven (to the point where my review notes included such helpful phrases as “ZOMG” and “more, please”). After being completely underwhelmed by another post-apocalyptic foray (which was a complete dud), Station Eleven felt like a breath of fresh air. (Yes, I did just cringe writing that.) Although Emily St. John Mandel’s premise is par for the course (shreds of humanity post viral pandemic!!!), her narrative capabilities are incredible – and, to that effect, so was her novel.

Instead of splitting her novel into two parts, or focusing singularly on the Georgia Flu and its repercussions, or even alerting us to when a specific section takes place or where or about whom, Mandel spins Station Eleven around Arthur Leander, each chapter and character slowing unraveling from the novel’s opening scene where Leander dies and we meet all our supporting players in an ensemble piece wrapped tightly around performance (both figuratively and literally). A synopsis of the novel is easy to find, and it helps flesh out the details – but only a little bit and then not really. Because that first chapter told from Leander’s perspective? After he had just died spectacularly? That threw me completely for a loop. Mandel doesn’t use the pandemic as her novel’s climax or even its rising action; it’s just there, sitting unobtrusively in the summary, lurking in Jeevan’s future and Kirsten’s past, weaving its tendrils into every nook and cranny until “he/she/they would be dead within the week” becomes just another throw-away line nudging the story forward.

Like I keep mentioning – have I mentioned it enough? I’m going to mention it again – Mandel’s ear for language is magnificent. She builds completely fleshed out back-stories, teasing details until you’re able to create a half-dozen timelines in your head and juggle them all while reading. And then those stories intertwine – and knot, and split – as paths cross and details intersect and you remember that subtle hint dropped fifty pages prior (and perhaps twenty years ago) and you have one of those moments where your eyes widen in silent shock but you just keep reading and you don’t really process anything because the story is so engrossing and you just have to finish and oh my god what a novel.

Seriously.

If only there were more – more words, more story, more anything, really – so that this beautiful wonderful story didn’t have to end.