Top Ten Tuesday: Ten books that surprised us, which may or may not be a good thing

Hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl

CJ's Selections

I'm usually pretty good at telling whether I'm going to enjoy a book, which is why I've been so good at avoiding really dreadful ones. But every so often, something sneaks up on me: a book I loved more than I thought I would, a book I expected to love and want to throw across the room. 
1.A Crown of Wishes / Roshani Chokshi - When I got to this, I'd already read A Star-Touched Queen. I thought it was okay, but kind of--read: very--slow. The first half was so draggy! But it was pretty, so I tried her second one. Thank god. ACOW smacked me in the face with its awesomeness. Gauri and Vikram gave me all the slow-burn feels that were missing from Maya's story, plus a tightly-wound plot and lots of stabbing. I'm so glad I gave Roshani another chance.

2.Queen of Shadows / Sarah J. Maas - If you're going to be all SJM!?@L!! then you might want to stop reading now. This was the book that killed me love of her books. I'd liked the first three a lot--I used to stan Throne of Glass--hardcore. But then it took me like a month to read QoS because IT WAS SO BORING. And I kept reading other people's reviews and no one seemed to see what I was seeing! And the ships were all mixed up and half of it was just about Calaena and Rowan jumping into bed and I DIDN'T CARE. By the time I realized SJM herself was sketchy, I'd already lost all interest in going further in her tales.

3.The Secret of a Heart Note / Stacey Lee - For a contemporary romance about a topic that totally didn't interest me, this fluffy little fluffball was epically adorable. I'd read Outrun the Moon first, so Lee's super sharp writing was my main incentive to read this. Pretty sure I lost twenty years of cynic street cred, but SO worth it. This quasi-magical tale yanked the hopeless romantic in me out through my spine and left me looking like one of those heart-eyes emoticons.

4.And I Darken / Kiersten White - I didn't go in expecting to hate this book, but I definitely had the wrong impression of it. I'd heard it pitched as a genderbent Vlad the Impaler story. So naturally I was expecting some bad Transylvanian accents and people turning into bats and shit. Instead, I got a hardcore sweeping historical, brutally and beautifully rendered, with the political intrigue of The Winner's Curse on crack and two morally gray narrators--plus my empire-building cinnamon roll Mehmed.

5.A History of Glitter and Blood / Hannah Moskowitz - I had no idea what I was getting into when I opened this ARC. I was expecting a dark fairy story and it was that, but it was also an unapologetically brutal, bizarre, bisexual postmodern ball of chaos with a consummately unreliable narrator who was literally writing the book while you were reading it. It's still one of the coolest, weirdest books I've ever read, and I only wish more people worshipped it properly.

Whitley's Selections

1.The Duchess War - This a super petty entry, guys. See, I didn't like the author. *le gasp* you say! Not like Courtney Milan? BUT WHY? For no good reason, that's why. I was mildly pissed off about a twitter exchange with no moral value attached to it (i.e., no one was 'wrong' or 'problematic' or whatnot), thus the "this entry is super petty." But one day I found myself with nothing to read while out to dinner, and I had the Duchess War on my phone, so...

I loved the book, like really absolutely loved it, but the whole time I was reading I was also going "damnit, why is this good, let me hold onto my pettiness!"

2.The Great Hunt - I expected this book to be bad. I expected it to be tropey and cliched and full of Stock White Fantasy, but also I was in the mood for some stock-trope-cliche fantasy. I was so ready for this one to fit that uninspiring bill.

What surprised me was how utterly boring it was. How do you pick that many cliches and not make at least one of them actually interesting? They're cliches because they're fun, it should have been at least an entertaining combination! Alas, nope.

3.Public Relations - I don't know why I picked this one up. I don't read a lot of contemporary works; it's just not my style. But ... IDK someone posted something about it on Twitter probably, which is where most of my TBR comes from, and for some inexplicable reason I picked it up. I thought it would be light and funny and kill an afternoon.

Which, to be fair, it was all of that. But I didn't expect to connect quite so hard with the main character! Every other chapter had something that made me chuckle with glee and cry 'yes, someone else does that too!'

If you're in the mood for a New Adult (it's at the higher end of that, like 24-26, does that still count? Maybe we need more sub-categories) then I'd highly recommend this one.

4.The Thousandth Floor - I'm honestly still surprised I like this one. It's rich teens having rich teen problems, plus a lot of weird incest. (Adopted siblings, BUT STILL.) I wasn't supposed to like this one. I still can't tell you why I like this one. But there it is.

5.Into The Dim - This came out during what felt like a whole rash of time travel books, and I picked it because it seemed like the one most suited to me.

LOL NO. This book was such trash. I hated it as thoroughly as I've ever hated SJM or CC. The misogyny and nonsense was completely off the wall. This book took 'rape as a device to show the bad guys are bad' and cranked it up to...well, okay, 9.5, BUT THAT'S STILL TOO MUCH. Not to mention the main character who couldn't keep her eidetic memory straight and female characters who kept randomly going missing to make room for the boys and a plot that missed out on all its best potential. Sigh, I had such...middling hopes for it, too.

Your turn! What books most surprised you? For better or worse. 


Top Ten Tuesday: Ten of our favorite quotes from books, at least that we can remember

Hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl

CJ's Selections

There are so many quotes that I love from literature. I've dog-earred (YES, DEAL WITH IT) so many pages of so many books with some of my favorite lines. Of course, actually recalling them all would mean going back through hundreds of books and trying to remember which line I found interesting. But here are the ones that I can remember...at least enough to look up. 
1.Iron Gold / Pierce Brown - Something about this struck me, particularly in reference to a character who has been disaffected, beaten down. It's simple but powerful.

She was just a child realizing she could mock the world. 

2.All the Bright Places / Jennifer Niven - There were so many lines in this that pierced me through. I know many people have criticized this book, but for me it didn't glorify suicide. It glorified life, and the importance of mental health treatment. And Finch's experience of depression had so many similarities to my own that it shook me, so deeply that I read it in a sitting and painted a scene in the middle of the night because I couldn't sleep without getting it out of me. The quote in that painting was darker, but this particular quote was so hopeful in that witty, dry way of Finch's, when he still had light.

I learned that there is good in this world, if you look hard enough for it. I learned that not everyone is disappointing, including me, and that a 1,257-foot bump in the ground can feel higher than a bell tower if you're standing next to the right person. 

3.The Critic as Artist / Oscar Wilde - It's difficult to pick just one Oscar Wilde quote, but I could fill up a whole TTT and more if I just stuck to his canon. So I picked one that I particularly love, something a little cynical because of course it is.

Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth. 

4.Lullaby / Chuck Palahniuk - Here's another guy I could quote for days, although many of his most poignant lines are quick and simple and best enjoyed in context. But this one stands quite well on its own, and it's one that will often come to my lips out of nowhere for no reason at all. Although, oddly enough it doesn't come from HAUNTED, my favorite Chuck book (tied with CHOKE; LULLABY is top four).

We're all of us haunted and haunting. 

5.Something Strange and Deadly / Susan Dennard - I added this to Goodreads forever ago, and I'm glad I came across it again. Susan's not as quoted as some authors *hem* but her books are full of so many powerful phrases that weren't purloined from other books and twisted to her own uses. Shade aside, I do love this one, although I'd never say no to a bit of both.

How could I dream when I knew I could act instead. 


Review: C.J.: The Wicker King by K. Ancrum

review         book

Book Covertitle: The Wicker King
author: K. Ancrum
pages: 320
format: Hardcover
buy it: Amazon | B&N | Goodreads
rating: 3/5 (from hated to loved) or 6/10 (all books I've ever read)
recommended for: Fans of The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, A Line in the Dark by Malinda Lo, and other dark, atmospheric stories that blur fantasy and reality, truth and lines. // CW: Child neglect 
The Wicker King is a psychological young adult thriller that follows two friends struggling as one spirals into madness.

When August learns that his best friend, Jack, shows signs of degenerative hallucinatory disorder, he is determined to help Jack cope. Jack’s vivid and long-term visions take the form of an elaborate fantasy world layered over our own—a world ruled by the Wicker King. As Jack leads them on a quest to fulfill a dark prophecy in this alternate world, even August begins to question what is real or not.

August and Jack struggle to keep afloat as they teeter between fantasy and their own emotions. In the end, each must choose his own truth.

in depth

  • Holy toxic friendship, Batman! Ancrum's debut is a twisted psychological thriller where love and destruction, reality and fantasy, blur into a dangerous maelstrom with devastating consequences. It's mental health rep is questionable--you have a kid whose hallucinations result in a deadly game--but I do think Ancrum treats her characters with empathy and care, producing complicated and imperfect people rather than villainous caricatures. Personally, I wasn't bothered, but it's worth noting. 

  • (The part that concerns me more is the psychiatric hospital, because they're mostly not really like that. However, Ancrum ties it all up with an author's note addressing the mental health and child abuse issues, and I think it goes a long way toward addressing the more problematic aspects. But I'll be curious to see what others think. I'll also note that it's on some LGBT shelves, but August's and Jack's identities are never explicitly stated.) 

  • The book hinges on August and Jack's friendship. They're close in a way that's part brotherly, part lover, sometimes heartwarming and sometimes concerning. It's a codependent borderline relationship that is miles beyond unhealthy, bordering on abusive. The adults in their lives are ineffectual, indifferent. It's other teens who recognize the danger and function as voices of reason. The wrap-up wasn't satisfying from a "we learned this is bad" perspective, but personally the lack of closure didn't bother me. I tend to like a good dark ending. 

  • Whether you like the plot or not, Ancrum's style is an omen of big things. She uses short, punchy, episodic chapters with evocative titles to unbalance the reader and create an experience as fractured as Jack's hallucinatory reality. August's pyromania gets disappointing short shrift, but in both words and drawings, we get an ominous taste of Jack's fantasy world. The concept of him as king, August as his knight, has an Arthurian quality with a dark edge that's both nostalgic and highly unsettling. I only wish Ancrum had made it more unclear whether the Wicker King's world is real or not; the reveal feels too obvious. 

  • While The Wicker King left me wanting more in several key areas, it was definitely a quick, strange, enjoyable little read that left a lingering sense of unease. Which, incidentally, is a good thing. I didn't love it, but I enjoyed it quite a bit. 

in a sentence

The Wicker King is an uneven debut that short-changes some of its coolest elements, but does deliver on the promise of atmospheric, unsettling psychological horror. 


will i read this author again?  Yeah, her writing is solid enough that I'd like to see where else she goes 
will i continue the series?  N/A I think? 

Note: I purchased this copy.  The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.


ARC Review: C.J.: A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares by Krystal Sutherland

review         book

Book Covertitle: A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares
author: Krystal Sutherland
pages: 368
format: Paperback ARC
buy it: Amazon | B&N | Goodreads
rating: 5/5 (from hated to loved) or 8/10 (all books I've ever read)
recommended for: Fans of dark comedy, of contemporary with an edge, of books like Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer and It's Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini. // CW: Death, Suicide, Child abuse 
Ever since Esther Solar’s grandfather met Death, her entire family has been doomed to suffer one great fear in their lifetime—a fear that will eventually lead each and every one of them to their graves. Take Esther’s father, for instance: He’s an agoraphobe who hasn’t left the basement in six years. Then there’s her twin brother, Eugene, whose fear of the dark goes far beyond the things that go bump in the night. And her mother, Rosemary, is absolutely terrified of bad luck.

As for Esther, she’s managed to escape the curse…so far. She doesn’t yet have a great fear because she avoids pretty much everything. Elevators, small spaces, crowds—anything that might trigger a phobia is off-limits and is meticulously recorded in her semi-definitive list of worst nightmares.

Esther thinks she has it all figured out, until she’s reunited with an old elementary school classmate—and first crush—Jonah Smallwood. The encounter leaves her stranded at a bus stop and swindled out of her phone, all her cash, a Fruit Roll-Up she’d been saving, and her list—not to mention her dignity. But the theft is also the beginning of an unexpected friendship between the two, one that sends the pair on a journey of self-discovery as they try to break the curse that’s consumed Esther’s family. Together they face their greatest fears, one debilitating phobia at a time, only to discover the one fear they hadn’t counted on: love.

in depth

  • Hands down one of my favorite books of 2017, and on the shortlist for all time. Esther's story is a dark comedy that toes the line between giddy and heart-wrenching, delivering on both fronts. It's also one of the few books that I could look into like a mirror, because Esther's particular struggles with depression and anxiety were so familiar I almost cried.  I don't know if it's Own Voices, but it feels so true to my experience that I can only imagine many others will find themselves in it. 

  • The premise sounds supernatural--every member of Esther's family has a special phobia that will kill them--and Sutherland leads you on a merry goose chase trying to guess whether it's real or not. It's such a clever way to make phobia concrete, because when you're scared shitless of something like that, the quasi-magical menace feels real. Esther's journey to break the curse pokes gentle fun at the more ridiculous aspects while still being 100% empathic and respectful towards its characters. 

  • The characters! I love them all, my bizarre and broken darlings. Esther, terrified of basically everything. Her brother, who sees monsters in the dark--and has a much scarier monster inside himself. Her father, who hides in the basement. Her mother, who fills the house with charms and is magnetically drawn to the casino. And the most amazingly adorable Jonah, a biracial artist whose charm and vivacity belies a vicious home life. Each has such depth and personality that you could almost pry them off the page. 

  • Wrapped in sharp prose and a snarky whimsical package is a list-style rom com ala All the Bright Places (I do love my checklists, don't I?) but on a much, much lighter note. Esther and Jonah face each fear on Esther's list in increasingly unusual ways, and obviously they find love and friendship along the way. But it's not about love saving you and all that BS, so no worries there. I only wish Esther's bestie got more of a role and wasn't so sidelined by Jonah; YA best friends get the shaft a lot.  On the other hand, her brother and family are all hyperpresent and fairly treated. 

  • If you don't like "mental health books", try this one anyway. It's a masterful mix of comedy and pathos, with quirky characters, snappy dialogue, and a whole lot of heart. Sutherland plays on a lot of tropes while casually turning them on their heads, and the result is absolutely stunning. 

in a sentence

A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares is a quirky dark comedy that tackles real issues with heart, depth, and a little tongue-in-cheek.  


will i read this author again?  Yes! Definitely want to go back and read My Chemical Heart 
will i continue the series?  N/A, but I'd definitely read more of them 

Note: I received this copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.


Top Ten Tuesday: Ten books that C.J. could re-read forever and Whitley could maybe re-read at least once

Hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl

CJ's Selections

I don't re-read books as much as I used to, because keeping up with the TBR (unless you're @innocentsmileyx or @skizzles22, hem) is exhausting. But I used to, and I absolutely love falling back into a world. I've recently circumvented the time issue by re-reading on audiobook while I'm falling asleep, so it's like a familiar bedtime story. Here are five that I could re-read or re-listen or re-whatever to infinity. 
1.Howl's Moving Castle / Diana Wynne Jones - This is my favorite book. It's hard to pick just one, but this book has been with me since childhood, and it's magic and characters and world have influenced everything from my writing to, I'm sure, my personality. It's SO much better than the movie (I WILL FIGHT YOU DON'T @ ME OR DO) and it's such a beautiful mix of tropes and subversion of tropes and whiny vain wizards and quietly brave women. I listen to it or read it at least once a year.

2.Pride & Prejudice / Jane Austen - Yeah, I'm basic, get over it. I'm literally listening to this one again right now because whenever I'm going through a tough time, I need a bedtime read that'll take me back to old friends, and Lizzie always brings me there. Plus Austen's writing is so cheeky! I could basically list any of her books here, but P&P is definitely my enduring favorite.

3.Ella Enchanted / Gail Carson Levine - I hope that kids are still reading this, because it's the perfect retelling, the retelling to end all retellings, the Cinderella who saves herself and everyone else and only needs her wits and cleverness and heart to do it, no magic or swords required. It's also hella funny and Char will always be my Prince Charming. The audiobook sounds like it's read by a kid, which is weird, but it's worth it to go back to Frell.

4.Harry Potter / J.K. Rowling - I mean, duh. I grew up at the perfect time for HP. I was 10, I think, when the third book came out. I grew up with Harry, and whatever shenanigans are happening now around the new movies, whatever smidgen of wokeness I have now that leads me to critique them more, I will still always always always love these books and go back to them again and again, because they're a part of me so ingrained that I couldn't cut it out with a knife, because they're threaded all the way through everything I am. Wow, that got sentimental.

5.Dark Lord of Derkholm / Diana Wynne Jones - I could list Diana for a while, but this is an absolute classic of fantasy and it's scandalous how few people know about it. It's about a whole high-fantasy planet that's been enslaved by an unscrupulous Earthling to act as a basically a large-scale LARP for rich tourists from Earth who want to come and have a fantasy adventure, complete with a quest, demons, dragons, wizard guides, and a final showdown with the Dark Lord. And it's all staged, and this year's Dark Lord is a rather bumbling and scatterbrained wizard who's set up to make a mess of things, plus his troupe of resourceful children (both human and griffin!). It pokes gentle fun at all the fantasy tropes we love, and it's absolutely fabulous and wonderful and you must read it now. Go. I'll wait.

Whitley's Selections

Oddly enough, most of mine are romance novels? I never would have thought I'd reread a romance novel, but now that's almost exclusively what I pick up twice. I think it's a time thing, they only take an evening to get through again.

1.Any Duchess Will Do - Legit the first romance novel I ever reread, and I think I've read it four or five times now. I love all the characters and I think the scenario is utterly adorable and the angst is so sweet, I just can't help myself! To avoid having this list be all Tessa Dare, all the time, I will go ahead and include here - When a Scott Ties the Knot and A Lady by Midnight.

2.Street Magic - Tamora Pierce was a huge part of my childhood, and Briar was my first (still only?) book boyfriend. I know he's only 14 in this book, but, well, that's how old I was the first time I read it so. He's older in my head now. But this is the book where I first became obsessed with the character, and I still get giddy and cheer for that big action finale. Same as above, there's a lot I reread from this author - Trickster's Choice/Queen, Will of the Empress, Protector of the Small.

3.Beauty - I still have my original copy of this book, and it is quite literally falling apart. It was my road trip book. Every road trip through high school (and there were a lot of them, for some reason) I'd take this along. It was the first book I read to my mom, rather than her reading to me. It still stands as my favorite retelling of Beauty and the Beast, with a calm and refined Beast where the mystery and drama comes from the magic of the curse rather than the characters themselves.

4.Dealing with Dragons - CIMORENE FOREVER. This is another one that I reread mostly for the nostalgic factor, but the whole series is great. Okay, three out of four of the series is great. I adore these characters and the irreverent approach to fairy tale tropes contained within the whole world. In fact, I think I need to reread this one again, it's been a long time.

5.Dragon Sword and Wind Child - I read this first in....middle school? High school? A school, we'll leave it at that. I loved it, I was fascinated with the way it was written and the upending of the moral structures every other book I'd read until that point was built on. (Due to it not being rooted in vaguely Christian culture roots, not necessarily deliberately, but EVEN BETTER.) I can't say I reread this one all the time, but I do it at regular...uh, decade long intervals?  I have a shiny new copy now, so rereading will be easier when I try it again!

Your turn! What books can you reread forever?