Off the Shelf: A Review of We Know it was You by Maggie Thrash

I picked up a copy of BookPage this week at the library, and in it, someone had reviewed We Know it was You. You could tell from the review that the author wasn’t such a fan but was trying to spin the review on a positive note. The part that stuck out to me most was that, when reading We Know it was You, you may find that “the satire may not resonate with all readers”. I’m not sure if that was meant to be an understatement, but I can tell you one thing, nothing about this book actually resonated with me, and that’s including the satire.

I received an ARC of We Know it was You from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. I emphasize “honest” here because as much as I WANTED to like this book, I just didn’t, and I think it’s important to discuss why.

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Release Date: October 4, 2016

Summary (via Goodreads)
It’s better to know the truth. At least sometimes.

Halfway through Friday night’s football game, beautiful cheerleader Brittany Montague—dressed as the giant Winship Wildcat mascot—hurls herself off a bridge into Atlanta’s surging Chattahoochee River.

Just like that, she’s gone.

Eight days later, Benny Flax and Virginia Leeds will be the only ones who know why.

Things I Liked:
It’s a fast read. Something moderately lighthearted that you can read quickly in a matter of hours. I had a night where I couldn’t get to sleep, so I picked this one up and had it finished well before my alarm for work went off. As much as I didn’t enjoy it, I can say that you will want to follow through to the end, just to solve the mystery.

Things I Didn’t Like:
First off, I didn’t like ANY of the characters. They are so offensively stereotypical that it was just painful to read about them. You’ve got your gossip, your socially awkward Jew, your jocks, your cheerleaders, your strange foreigners, etc. And guess what? None of their actions make any sense whatsoever. Was there a real motivation for any of them? If there was, I couldn’t find it. Perhaps it was buried somewhere under all of the irritatingly pointless plot lines. I really thought at first that I was just irked because they sounded like annoying high schoolers. I thought, well, I sounded pretty annoying when I was in high school. But NO. It’s just that the author is forcing so many cliched tropes down your throat that the whole story is hard to digest.

Second, and this is the part we really need to talk about – I am so grossly offended by the way the topic of rape is treated in this story. If you’re looking for a book that spreads an unhealthy message about rape and sexual assault, well, you’ve found it. I won’t spoil all of the details, but I was actually intrigued that a book finally tackled the subject of a female rapist. That intrigue didn’t last long. Whenever it’s discovered that a character is essentially being raped, it’s like everyone just brushes it off as no big deal. No, we shouldn’t report that to authorities. No, the abuser shouldn’t be punished – she’s so pretty and rich! Let’s just keep her victim in the dark and do nothing about it. I’m sure that will work out just fine. ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME?! No. Just no.

Speaking of problematic sexual scenes, I think I almost lost my cool over one scene in particular. *SPOILER WARNING*
At one point, a secondary character…someone who really doesn’t do much in the story overall…sits in his car with a bayonet in one hand and is masturbating with his other hand. Yes, it’s graphic from start to ‘finish’. No, it did not add ANYTHING to the story. I’m still clueless as to why it was included. What purpose did it serve to the story? I don’t think it had one. I feel like the author included it solely for the shock value, thinking that sexually frustrated teenagers are going to think this story is automatically ‘cool’ because it included some detailed masturbation. Trust me though, the descriptions are cringe-worthy at best.

My biggest problem with this book though? Nothing gets resolved. The killer rides off into the sunset, never to be punished. Another victim will never see justice for being raped. Law enforcement is never informed – actually, no, worse than that. Law enforcement is INTENTIONALLY not informed. Not even when one of the main characters sits in a cop’s car just shortly after uncovering a child pornography ring. Does she tell the police about it? Nope! That might somehow impede the work of her teen detective club. I’m sorry, but that was just ridiculous.

Overall Rating:
According to Goodreads, this is going to be a series. I somehow doubt it though, because although nothing was resolved at the end, it had a certain sense of finality to it.  Either way, if there is a sequel, I don’t think I’ll be picking it up.
Some books can make you uncomfortable and challenge you in an exceptionally good way. This is not one of those books. It just leaves you uncomfortable, and that’s it. I’m giving it a 1.5 on the sole fact that I actually wanted to finish it and see how it all turned out. Disappointing as it was, it was a quick (although not painless) distraction.
I’m still not sure if it was really meant to be satire, or if that’s just what people are going to say to defend it. Me? I love satire. I did not love this.

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HomeChef: Six Month Subscription Review

I know it’s unusual to see a review on this site that isn’t book-related, but a few months ago, I posted Subscription Showdown: Blue Apron vs. HomeChef, a comparison of two meal subscription services I have tried. That post has quickly become one of the most popular posts here on Among the Authors, and I’ve heard a lot of great feedback from those who gave the services a try thanks to the review. The short version is this: I subscribed to Blue Apron for six months, until I made the switch to HomeChef and never looked back! We’ve now been subscribing to HomeChef for six months, and I don’t foresee that changing any time soon. Since we’ve hit our six month home-chef-iversary, I thought it might be time for an update so that anyone still on the fence about meal subscriptions could see why once you try it, you won’t want to give it up.

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So what is HomeChef?
HomeChef is meal delivery subscription service. That means, each week we receive a refrigerated box packed full of fresh ingredients to make the meals we’ve preselected. There are about 12 options each week that always include a variety of meats, at least three vegetarian options, a breakfast, some smoothies, and a fruit assortment.

What does it cost?
Meals are typically $9.95 a serving (although sometimes you can select a premium option which is a bigger meal, but also costs more), and shipping is free over $50. We typically order three meals for two people each week. Sometimes, we even select an extra meal just because the options are so great we can’t pick just three. So… Two People + 3 Meals = $60 a week. The value is even greater when I consider just how little I go to the grocery store anymore, other than for essentials. Not going to the grocery store as much means I’m less likely to impulse buy, so no more of that “I spent $200 and barely bought anything” feeling after leaving the store.
Want to make it an even better deal? If you use this link, you get $30 OFF your first week of HomeChef!
(A green banner will pop up in the window after you’ve first clicked the link, and it just says that your $30 discount will be applied at checkout)
So if you’re buying for two and select three meals, that takes your first week down to $30 (shipping is still FREE). Can the two of you dine out three times in a week for under $30? Not likely.
$30 OFF your first week of HomeChef!

What’s the food like?
Ridiculously good. Seriously. I think we’ve only skipped one week of service the entire six months (only because we were on vacation), so out of ALL of those meals, we’ve never had a meal we totally disliked. The ingredients come super fresh, the recipes are simple, and we look forward to new menus being released so much that we always have our dinners planned out a month in advance! No joke. We really like the fact that, while there are a lot of great ‘safe’ choices (steak and potatoes, fried chicken, spaghetti and meatballs, etc.), there are also so many adventurous choices that have led us to try new things and discover foods that we never knew we liked (I just had a chayote for the first time!).

Here are a few photos of some HomeChef meals we’ve made. If you asked me to select a favorite, I don’t think I could. Pictured:
– Patio BBQ Steak Sandwich on buttery hoagie with charred onion, cheddar, and grilled corn
– Backyard Seafood Boil with lobster, shrimp, and spicy sausage (Premium meal)

-Beef and cheese enchiladas with sour cream, sweet corn, and cheese
– Lasagna Bianca with cremini mushrooms and spinach


Are the recipes actually simple?
Even if you’ve somehow lived your life without ever operating a stove, I’m pretty sure you could cook a HomeChef meal. When you place your first order, HomeChef also includes a free recipe binder so that you can preserve the recipe cards they send with your meals. These cards explain everything! What kind of pans you’re going to need to use, how to prepare the ingredients, and even down to how long it should take you to make a meal. I don’t believe we’ve ever had a meal that took over an hour to prepare.

It’s also nice to have the recipe cards on hand if there’s an especially good meal that you’d want to try to make again on your own. Caution though – it always costs me more when I try to recreate a meal myself, mostly due to the fact that when you get the ingredients through HomeChef, they are already portioned out rather than having to buy a bulk amount at the grocery store just to get the amount you need. I’m also bad about waste because then that leftover bulk amount sits in my fridge forever because I’ve forgotten to use it. That’s why HomeChef’s pre-portioned ingredients are such a money saver – I get exactly what I need without spending big $ and without wasting anything.

Recipes are broken down into no more than six steps that include photos. It also includes reminders if an ingredient is going to be used more than once in a recipe so that you don’t use it all at once. The only additional ingredients that you need to have on hand that Home Chef doesn’t include are olive oil, salt, pepper, and occasionally some water. If you cook at all, you probably already have those items in your kitchen.
recipe

Final thoughts?
I’m sure there are a lot of great meal delivery services out there, and I always intended to try several. We’ve just had such great experiences with HomeChef, though, that I don’t really want to give it up, even for just one week. So, we’ll be sticking with HomeChef! The meals are delicious, you can’t beat the price, AND it increases my love of cooking! I’ve always enjoyed cooking, but HomeChef has really opened me up to different techniques and different ingredients that I otherwise wouldn’t have ever tried.

Ready to try it? Click here to get $30 off your first week of HomeChef.

Off the Shelf: A Review of Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

It’s with a heavy heart that I have to admit that I just could not finish this book. That’s not something I say often. It’s very rare that I can’t even force myself through to the end, but that was absolutely the case with one of my most anticipated books of 2016, Three Dark Crowns. I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. I began reading that ARC July 2, and it’s now the end of September. I’ve lost count of how many times I tried to start over and give the book another chance, but it’s just not working for me, so instead of doing my usual kind of review (things I liked, things I didn’t like, overall rating), I’m going to talk about why exactly this book was such a struggle for me.

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Release Date: September 20, 2016

Summary (via Goodreads)
Every generation on the island of Fennbirn, a set of triplets is born: three queens, all equal heirs to the crown and each possessor of a coveted magic. Mirabella is a fierce elemental, able to spark hungry flames or vicious storms at the snap of her fingers. Katharine is a poisoner, one who can ingest the deadliest poisons without so much as a stomachache. Arsinoe, a naturalist, is said to have the ability to bloom the reddest rose and control the fiercest of lions.

But becoming the Queen Crowned isn’t solely a matter of royal birth. Each sister has to fight for it. And it’s not just a game of win or lose…it’s life or death. The night the sisters turn sixteen, the battle begins. The last queen standing gets the crown.

If only it was that simple. Katharine is unable to tolerate the weakest poison, and Arsinoe, no matter how hard she tries, can’t make even a weed grow. The two queens have been shamefully faking their powers, taking care to keep each other, the island, and their powerful sister Mirabella none the wiser. But with alliances being formed, betrayals taking shape, and ruthless revenge haunting the queens’ every move, one thing is certain: the last queen standing might not be the strongest…but she may be the darkest.

 

Why it Didn’t Work:

I think my biggest problem with this text was the point of view. It’s told in present tense but the POV is third person omniscient. There’s a lot of head hopping, and I don’t just mean between the three sisters. In any given scene, you’re getting insights into the minds of all the secondary characters as well, and trust me, there are a LOT of secondary characters. From a writer’s standpoint, it was all “telling” and not enough “showing”. It’s unfortunate, but I often found myself far more interested in some of the secondary characters rather than any of the sisters. I never really got a true sense of the characters, and they all sort of became interchangeable to me. I worried that the point of view was just something that confusing to only me, but I let a fellow librarian take a look at a small excerpt to see how she’d react, and I believe the exact words were, “How are you even supposed to read that?!” It’s difficult to keep track of where the story is going. I’m sure for some there will be no problem at all, but now that I’ve given up and looked at the reviews from fellow bloggers, I can see I’m not alone in my confusion. I anticipate this being a big reason other readers will have to mark this one DNF.

The premise gives us promises of a bloody battle and deceit between sisters, but really, there’s not much of anything going on. The story bounces around from one training session to the next, which isn’t exactly the dark game of life or death that I had been so looking forward to. Mostly we just get two sisters lamenting about the fact that their powers are nonexistant and the other sister just sitting around making some nasty weather. That’s about it. No real excitement. Nobody getting their hands dirty. Nobody really making me care whether they live or die.

I made it over a quarter of the way through this book before I absolutely had to give up and just mark it as “did not finish”. It’s disappointing, to say the least, because when a book is really, really good, I finish it in a matter of hours. Three months and multiple attempts later, I just couldn’t make this one happen. I think that speaks volumes.

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Waiting on Wednesday #10

Have you ever read a synopsis of a book and been left not knowing anything about what the book will actually be about? Not in a bad way, but in an utterly mysterious, enchanting way. I have been regularly checking Goodreads over the past few months to see if a new summary will be posted for Strange the Dreamer, something that would give me just a little more of a hint about how incredible this book is going to be, but it’s still the same summary every time. It’s so vague and cryptic that it has me dying to get my hands on this book just so I can know all the depths behind this story.

strange
Strange the Dreamer
By Laini Taylor
Release Date: March 28, 2017

Summary (via Goodreads)
Strange the Dreamer is the story of:

the aftermath of a war between gods and men
a mysterious city stripped of its name
a mythic hero with blood on his hands
a young librarian with a singular dream
a girl every bit as perilous as she is imperiled
alchemy and blood candy, nightmares and godspawn, moths and monsters, friendship and treachery, love and carnage.

Welcome to Weep.

Why I’m Waiting:

I’m a little sad because when I first discovered this upcoming book, I marked the release date on my calendar as September 27th of this year. Checking on the release date now as I write this post, it appears they’ve pushed it back to March 28, 2017. Maybe it was my mistake, but my hopes and dreams just plummeted. Now, I must wait even longer to know what happens. But who knows? Maybe they held it back for one more revision just so they could pack a little more awesome into its pages. Either way, I can’t wait.

You also have to know by now that any YA story that incorporates a librarian as a character is going to find its way to my shelf. You combine a librarian, war, alchemy, and all kinds of mystical chaos? I’m sold.

Mark this one on your calendars, ladies and gents, and we can ride out this long wait together.

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine that spotlights highly anticipated upcoming releases.

Off the Shelf: A Review of A Shadow Bright and Burning by Jessica Cluess

It’s a wondrous feeling when a book burns so brightly in your mind that it’s all you can think about for days and days. I’m especially drawn to books that combine fantasy and magic, and in particular, books that can do so with an exciting and unique premise. A Shadow Bright and Burning is exactly that kind of book. It has a wealth of intriguing characters, hair-raising battles with terrifying monsters, and an abundance of twists and turns which are sure to make this a series you won’t want to miss!

 

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RELEASE DATE: September 20, 2016

Summary (via Goodreads)
I am Henrietta Howel.
The first female sorcerer in hundreds of years.
The prophesied one.
Or am I?

Henrietta Howel can burst into flames.
Forced to reveal her power to save a friend, she’s shocked when instead of being executed, she’s invited to train as one of Her Majesty’s royal sorcerers.
Thrust into the glamour of Victorian London, Henrietta is declared the chosen one, the girl who will defeat the Ancients, bloodthirsty demons terrorizing humanity. She also meets her fellow sorcerer trainees, handsome young men eager to test her power and her heart. One will challenge her. One will fight for her. One will betray her.
But Henrietta Howel is not the chosen one.
As she plays a dangerous game of deception, she discovers that the sorcerers have their own secrets to protect. With battle looming, what does it mean to not be the one? And how much will she risk to save the city—and the one she loves?

I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Things I Liked:
There are several things about Henrietta Howel that I absolutely admire. She’s strong, passionate, and will do anything to protect her friends. A lot of this book is Henrietta finding herself and coming to terms with who she really is. She also has to deal with a lot of discrimination based on her gender, her magic, and her low birth. Henrietta handles all of these with a head held high and efficiently puts those who look down on her in their place. Her interactions with the other characters are both witty and clever, and I found myself taking a screenshot of quite a few humorous quotes from Henrietta and the other characters just so I could giggle at them again later. I think I fell in love with every scene where Henrietta truly used her power, setting herself ablaze, because you get a sense of how fearsome yet beautiful she is, and you feel the passion behind her desire to save people. She’s obviously one of the only females in a cast of characters that’s mostly male, but while the interactions with her fellow trainees are fun (especially the charming and sarcastic Magnus), I really enjoyed her conversations with the older characters like Master Agrippa, who first discovers her power, and the magician Hargrove, who at first I thought I would dislike but then rapidly became one of my favorite characters.

There’s also what some might call a love triangle. In my opinion, I foresee it being a love square, but we will get to that. The romance doesn’t take a leading role in this book. There’s so many other things going on, that I would have been turned off to the book if Henrietta was solely focused on a boy(s) and his opinion of her. Luckily, the romantic moments take a backseat to the story, and what moments are mentioned actually do a lot to further the plot and Henrietta’s motivations. As for it being a love square, I have to say that there’s one of Henrietta’s fellow sorcerer trainees that stands out above the rest to me –  Blackwell. While the relationship between the two right now might not seem more than just a strained friendship, I picked up on some heavy Pride & Prejudice vibes between the pair. I think this is something that will play out more in the next book (hopefully), and it’s definitely the ship I’ll be rooting for.

The world building is another excellent factor to this book. From the first page to the last, I felt like I was living inside this alternate world in Victorian London, plagued by demons known as the Ancients. The descriptions are vivid, and the author makes clear distinctions between the types of magical people and how those inside/outside the protective ward live. I’m looking forward to exploring this world further in the next book.

Things I Didn’t Like:

I’ve seen a few people complain that this book uses the same old tropes, and if you’ve read one fantasy novel, you’ve read them all so you may as well forget this one. FALSE. I’ve read so many fantasy novels that take the idea of a “chosen one” and it plays out on repeat across the board. Nothing new or exciting. A Shadow Bright and Burning took that idea and twisted it, something I rather enjoyed, because it shows you don’t have to be “chosen” to do great things.

So, sorry, not going to hear any complaints from me. I loved this book the whole way through.

Overall Rating:

I reserve 5 star ratings for books that truly deserve it, and this book is a well earned 5 star for me. It’s exactly the book I’ve been waiting for, and it’s a magical adventure from start to finish! It’s exciting, empowering, and absolutely enchanting. You’ll race to the finish, be left stunned by the twists in the ending, and then we can all commiserate about how long we have to wait until the next book in the series comes out.  Add this one to your TBR list IMMEDIATELY. Seriously! You don’t want to miss out.

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