Again, But Better – review

Author: Christine Riccio
Publication date: May 7, 2019
Genre: young adult, contemporary, speculative fiction (?)
My rating: 1.5/5 stars

Note: I first published a version of this review on my Goodreads account in June 2019. I figured, with the fact that this dumpster fire is up for a Goodreads Choice Award now, I should clean it up a little and get my (very strong) opinions up here as well.

That was…disappointing. There were some promising elements (some of the details hit way too close to home…), and the premise was cool, but the execution was lacking, and it was a little painful to get through. For some context, I read this because the new Barnes and Noble YA Book Club chose it as their first monthly pick, and I was going to go to that discussion. But when I finished the book, I was not a huge fan–didn’t despise it, so I wasn’t going to rant about it or anything, but didn’t have any desire to spend even another minute on it. So when my mom and brother decided they were going to get Dairy Queen shortly before when I would have had to leave for that meeting, I opted to go get ice cream and skip the discussion altogether. That’s the kind of apathy I felt.

In retrospect, I actually did hate it a lot more than I initially thought, to the point that I decided to sell this book–which I had actually paid just about full price for, in hardcover–to Half-Price Books for about $3 (yeah, they’re kind of cheapskates…) because I didn’t want it on my shelf, nor did I want to give it to my friend who is a high school English teacher for her classroom library, because, again, it was garbage.

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Top Ten Tuesday 9/3 – Books I Enjoyed That Are Outside My Comfort Zone

Hey, y’all! Hopefully everyone in the US enjoyed their long weekend for Labor Day, and hopefully everyone else enjoyed their normal weekend and subsequent Monday. Today’s post is another Top Ten Tuesday, a themed weekly post run by That Artsy Reader Girl, and the topic du jour is, as you probably gathered from this post’s title, “Top 10 Books I Enjoyed That Are Outside of My Comfort Zone.” A few of these titles are ones I read for school, but a fair number are also ones I tried out just because, so I included a little explanation with each one. As usual, the titles are in no particular order. Enjoy!

1. Red, White, & Royal Blue

I used to always insist that I didn’t like romance. At all. I didn’t want sappy stories, and I didn’t get the point of a book that was exclusively about two people being in love with each other. Even now, I’m okay with romance, but I don’t like it to be the focus of a book. But when I saw the rave reviews this one was getting, along with the facts that a) it took place in a world with a female US president,  b) the relationship was between ruling families of two separate countries, meaning political intrigue was a factor, and c) the main couple was a gay couple (!!!), I couldn’t resist. Oh man, did this book deliver. Heart and humor in abundance, and a truly adorable couple at the center of it all. It was all the nice mushy feelings, but with an actual plot and social relevance, too. Maybe I shouldn’t write off all romances going forward…

2. A Gentleman in Moscow

I don’t read a lot of historical fiction. It isn’t that I don’t like it, but it’s a genre that I often associated with “school reading” as a kid. As I got older, I tended to only like historical things if they were nonfiction; fictional stories were more fun when they weren’t set in the past. But I received this book as a gift last year, so naturally I gave it a shot–and it was nothing short of delightful to read. Artfully written, with a smart and quirky protagonist you couldn’t help rooting for. It has actually made me want to start branching out into historical fiction a bit more!

3. Nevernight

“But wait!” you’ll say, “This book is a fantasy story with a sarcastic, kickass female lead! That’s not out of your comfort zone at all, Kathryn!” And you would be right…but also wrong. See, Nevernight had sex scenes in it. Several of them. Fairly explicit ones. I’m not a huge fan of most sexual content–not because I’m a prude or anything, it just isn’t very interesting or enticing for me. (To put it in the words of one of my favorite Facebook tag groups, “I’m too ace for this shit.”) But in this book, I actually didn’t dislike the sex scenes. They were all for very specific character development purposes, and that made them a lot more palatable to me. So in the sense that it included scenes that normally I would avoid at all costs, I would say this definitely counts as a book that was out of my comfort zone.

4. Waiting for Godot

We read this absurdist play in AP English my junior year of high school. It is an entire play about two guys sitting under a tree, waiting for someone (or something). They don’t know who/what it is or when it is coming, just that they need to wait. That’s it. Yet I found it refreshingly entertaining. Funny and cynical and–depending on how you read it–weirdly insightful and philosophically significant. You know, in a “the world is meaningless and nothing matters” sort of way.

5. Snow Crash

This one was just a wild ride all the way. I read it for a class on New Media that also included a day spent playing in our university’s VR lab and a homework assignment to download and play Pokemon Go. Our professor was spectacular and if I could go back and take more classes with her, I totally would. Anyway, point is, the class was crazy (in the best way), but the book was even crazier. Cyberpunk satire that opens with a high-speed pizza delivery/police car chase, about a virus that can crash both your computer and your real-life brain, featuring elements of linguistics, history, and skateboarding, and a main character named Hiro Protagonist.

Yep. Wild ride. Super fun and well worth it, but the whole book was kind of like one long “wtf” moment.

6. Ulysses

Let’s be real, this book is outside EVERYONE’S comfort zone. Chapter formats include scattered newspaper headlines, a play script, a Q&A dialogue, and a literal stream of consciousness without punctuation. Read it in college for a course on James Joyce, though I will confess I skipped a few chapters because I got really sick during the semester. Still, I read most of it, and it is one of those books that, regardless of whether you LIKE it (I did, but I know some people don’t), you can’t deny that it is a brilliant piece of writing.

7. Hamlet

Everyone remembers their first Shakespeare. At least, I think they do? Shakespeare is weird the first time you give him a try. The iambic pentameter, the old language, the convoluted plots, the lack of normal descriptors because it’s a play…it isn’t easy. But when my 8th grade English class read this bad boy, our teacher (Ms. LaBianca, you were amazing and we all owe you big time for teaching us how to read and write well) brought it to life, helping us through tricky passages and even having us read/act out scenes as we went along. The big end scene where everyone dies was particularly fun, including the use of mugs in place of wine goblets, tiny plastic beads representing poison in the cup, and people getting stabbed with rulers instead of swords. Since then, I’ve read 10 or so plays by the Bard, but if I hadn’t gone out on a limb for that first one, I probably wouldn’t have.

8. There, There

Going into this book, I didn’t know much about what to expect. I knew people said it was good, and I knew it was about the modern urban Native American experience. Until I picked it up, I hadn’t even realized that I’ve really only read one other book about somewhat contemporary Native Americans: Ceremomy, by Leslie Marmon Silko, which I read for a senior year AP English class in high school and frankly didn’t enjoy much. This story was so much better–at once broader in scope and more intimate with its characters, and written with a voice that is entirely new yet not unfamiliar.

9. Red Rising

This is another one you might look at and wonder why the heck I would call it outside of my comfort zone, because the whole dystopian world and classic vicious-fighting-between-precocious-teens-to-win-favor-from-the-government thing is totally my speed. True. But it is also the first full audiobook I listened to (at least that I can recall). After trying a couple other ones with sub-par narrators that quickly made me want to give up, this one was brought fully to life by the talented Tim Gerard Reynolds, whose performance actually made the book hold my interest.

10. The Shadow Hero

While we are on the subject of “firsts,” might as well include my first graphic novel, too. This was assigned in a different college course with that same crazy/cool/brilliant professor from New Media. Technically I did read the W.I.T.C.H. series as a kid, which had some graphic novel elements, but this was my first one since then, and can I just say, Gene Luen Yang is so talented? His most famous graphic novel, American-Born Chinese, is now on my TBR.

So, what did you guys think? Anyone else do this week’s TTT? Have you read (and enjoyed) any of these? Leave a comment and let me know!

Top Ten Tuesday 8/20 – Favorite Tropes

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly themed post hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, and I’ve seen several others doing it, so I figured I would take a stab at it as well! This week’s prompt is “Top 10 Favorite Tropes.” I have a lot of favorites, and yet I still had a hard time coming up with this list, so hopefully y’all like it. Without further ado…here we go!

1. Kickass female protagonist
Who doesn’t love a little girl power? Mia Corvere, Inej Ghafa and Nina Zenik, Sancia Grado, Vin and Sarene and Siri and Vivenna, Katniss Everdeen…these are the girls I want to be like and love to read about. Girls who kick ass and take names, who stand up and don’t run away when the going gets tough.

2. The angsty one who loves the happy one
This may sound weirdly specific, but you know the type. Sullen, angry Ronan Lynch who loves the innocent sweetheart Adam Parrish. Crowley, a demon, who loves the angel Aziraphale. Baz, the Draco Malfoy-vampire-type character who loves Simon Snow, the hapless Chosen One. I just think it’s so sweet to see icy exteriors that defrost for one specific person.

3. The morally ambiguous hero
Much as I love a hero who really has pure motives, I’m more intrigued by the heroes with dubious codes of honor. An obvious example is Kaz Brekker, from the Six of Crows duology, who doesn’t really care who gets hurt as long as he gets his payment. Another obvious one is Kelsier, from the Mistborn trilogy, who has good motivation for his revolution, but who sometimes lets his hatred of the upper class overpower his sense of decency. People aren’t simply black or white, good or evil, and a complex hero is more interesting (and believable) to read about.

4. The morally ambiguous villain
Yep, that’s right. I like moral ambiguity in all its forms. When a book reveals that the so-called villain is actually doing what they do for really good reasons–or reasons that started out good, anyway–their villainhood becomes more complex, and their relationship with the protagonist grows as well.

5. Surprise! They’re gay!
Not sure if this is accepted as a legitimate trope, but I find it very cool when a character who isn’t obviously queer-coded ends up being gay. Not that there is anything wrong with out-and-proud, obviously gay characters, but when it happens subtly, believably, a character who grapples with an unexpected realization about their sexuality is great, especially when it leads to greater development for them. Plus, you know, I’m a huge fan of representation for minority groups in general, especially the LGBTQ+ community. Bonus points for oft-neglected genders/sexualities, like trans/nonbinary characters, bisexuality, and asexuality. (Note: this does not include retconned diversity, a la “Dumbledore is gay,” nor does it include characters whose sexuality is briefly mentioned once but then never plays into their character again.)

6. Reluctant allies
“The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” and all that jazz. Or, “we both need the same thing, so let’s join forces.” I’m listening to the audiobook of Shadow of the Fox right now, and Yumeko and Tatsumi are in this exact situation. It also makes for a great setup for an enemies-to-lovers romance…at least when done correctly.

7. The sarcastic narrator
Don’t you love it when the person telling the tale makes it humorous and enjoyable for you as a reader, even if the story itself isn’t particularly funny? Lemony Snicket in A Series of Unfortunate Events is a perfect example. Another one is the narrator from the Nevernight books, whose snark never fails to brighten even the goriest of scenes.

8. Tragic backstory/tortured soul
So I like characters that are basically emotionally devoid as a result of past trauma, or ones who somehow managed to stay positive despite their lives being absolutely awful. I promise I’m not a terrible person–they’re just so interesting! Their growth almost inevitably ends up profound and fascinating. This applies across all genres, from fantasy to contemporary to historical to nonfiction.

9. Breaking the fourth wall
This isn’t one I come across super often, but a great trope, especially in satire, is when the characters say something to obliquely acknowledge that they’re in a book. You see this crop up in Quichotte by Salman Rushdie, for example. Or, an example from television is the song “Who’s the New Guy?” in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

10. The funny sidekick
Comic relief is generally appreciated. In real life, most friend groups have that one person who’s “the funny friend,” and in books, it’s nice to have a character who is constantly making wisecracks, or whose subplot is way lighter than the main one. From the Fool characters in Shakespeare to the antics of Karou in the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy, humorous side characters have existed across centuries and across genres.

So…that’s my list for today! What do you guys think? Any of these that you also love (or ones that you hate)? Which tropes do you love that I didn’t include? Let me know in the comments!