Mayhem by Estelle Laure

Rating: 3 out of 5.
Shielded (Shielded, #1) by KayLynn Flanders

It’s 1987 and unfortunately it’s not all Madonna and cherry lip balm. Mayhem Brayburn has always known there was something off about her and her mother, Roxy. Maybe it has to do with Roxy’s constant physical pain, or maybe with Mayhem’s own irresistible pull to water. Either way, she knows they aren’t like everyone else. But when May’s stepfather finally goes too far, Roxy and Mayhem flee to Santa Maria, California, the coastal beach town that holds the answers to all of Mayhem’s questions about who her mother is, her estranged family, and the mysteries of her own self. There she meets the kids who live with her aunt, and it opens the door to the magic that runs through the female lineage in her family, the very magic Mayhem is next in line to inherit and which will change her life for good. But when she gets wrapped up in the search for the man who has been kidnapping girls from the beach, her life takes another dangerous turn and she is forced to face the price of vigilante justice and to ask herself whether revenge is worth the cost.

Hey all, another ARC review for my little challenge to reach an 80% reviewed ratio on NetGalley.

Mayhem is a book about the struggles and heroics and magic of the Brayburn family, who, for generations, have been tasked with protecting their city by a mysterious curse/magical water (it never really gets explained beyond this). Mayhem, our protagonist, and her mother, Roxy, have finally left Roxy’s abusive husband after years of marriage and returned to Roxy’s childhood home in Santa Maria. There, Mayhem begins uncovering the truth behind her biological father’s death and the strange force that drove her mother to leave all of those years ago.

Mayhem talks of magic and deep family roots, but the atmosphere that Laure created felt flat to me. I can’t really describe it in any other way–it’s almost as if this world was a 2D painting that Laure was trying to convey as a sculpture. I feel extremely harsh putting it this way, but I can’t tell you that it was something that it’s not. The characters also felt a bit static to me. They were archetypes of the usual YA personalities, and though there was some attempt at character development, it was pretty shallow and didn’t feel organic.

I should address the fact that this book includes some serious topics, namely rape, murder, domestic violence, and drug addiction/abuse. I really appreciate the way Laure handled these topics, and from her foreword, I know that this book was her way of addressing her personal relationship with them. While these topics did drive some aspects of the story, they weren’t particularly descriptive so it would be manageable for a more mature young adult audience.

This review is going to stay pretty short since I really don’t have much to say. Unfortunately, this is another book that fell a little flat for me. I think the concept itself was strong and exciting, but Laure didn’t execute it to its full potential. All in all, I’m not sure I would recommend this. It was kind of all over the place in terms of themes, dialogue, setting, and pacing. The storyline didn’t flow super well and was also pretty anticlimactic. It was entertaining, at best. The cover is also pretty.

Happy reading (but maybe not this book)

The Four Profound Weaves: A Birdverse Book by R.B. Lemberg

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.
Shielded (Shielded, #1) by KayLynn Flanders

The Surun’ do not speak of the master weaver, Benesret, who creates the cloth of bone for assassins in the Great Burri Desert. But Uiziya now seeks her aunt Benesret in order to learn the final weave, although the price for knowledge may be far too dear to pay.

Among the Khana, women travel in caravans to trade, while men remain in the inner quarter as scholars. A nameless man struggles to embody Khana masculinity, after many years of performing the life of a woman, trader, wife, and grandmother.

As the past catches up to the nameless man, he must choose between the life he dreamed of and Uiziya, and Uiziya must discover how to challenge a tyrant, and weave from deaths that matter.

Find out more on Amazon and Goodreads.

I received a copy of this from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I have a lot of conflicted feelings about this book. It was rambling, but also profound, I suppose. It was a little contrived but spoke honestly and bravely about claiming one’s identity. It did not know if it was a poem or a book or a novella, but I didn’t mind that so much. It started out slow and dense but resolved itself beautifully.

The Four Profound Weaves is an LGBTQ+ fantasy set in a brutal world full of harsh societies and a hostile desert. The book follows two transgender characters, who, after looking back on a life of pain and longing, set out on a journey to find what they most desire. The novel is prose-heavy, but driven by some semblance of a plot. It is a story about transformation, hope, acceptance, and death. Its imagery is fantastical but its messaging is very real.

This book will resonate with those who are struggling to be themselves or find themselves in a society that does not accept them. Because of the importance of its themes and the beautiful journey it takes its readers on, I think it is worth reading even if you are not in love with the world or the writing. It is only around 200 pages, so for me, it was worth pushing through what I thought was overly lyrical writing to get to the heart of the story.

Thanks for reading my quick little review! Happy reading 🙂

Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.
Shielded (Shielded, #1) by KayLynn Flanders

Trust us, you belong here.

A gothic-infused debut of literary suspense, set within a secluded, elite university and following a dangerously curious, rebellious undergraduate who uncovers a shocking secret about an exclusive circle of students . . . and the dark truth beneath her school’s promise of prestige.

I received a copy of this from NetGalley; this in no way has influenced my opinion.

So this book. I read it all in a single sitting, and I’m really still trying to gather my thoughts and opinions about it. As soon as I finished, I thought “5 stars”, no doubt. As you can see, I’ve lowered that to 3.5 stars, albeit reluctantly.

This is a story about a girl in a house. She and her peers cannot leave; they can have no connection to the outside world. They have chosen, and been chosen by, Catherine House for one reason or another. They are there to learn, and work hard, and excel in a rigorous interdisplinary education. This is dark academia at its most oblique; it is moody and mean and introspective.

I will warn that this book put me in a funk. The main character is pretty severely depressed. Her environment is completely toxic and her thoughts tend to pull her deeper into her surreal and nightmarelike state of mind. It felt extremely real, which was both the highest achievement of the novel and the biggest trigger warning. It felt especially relevant in this strange time in the world right now, where the days are bleeding together and the passage of time is marked only by when our bodies need to eat.

I’d like to talk more about the introspective tone I mentioned in the previous paragraph. In the book, one of the characters describes the main protagonist, Ines, as having a “sideways” perspective of the world, although she wasn’t particularly academically intelligent. I think that applies to the book itself, in a strange way. Ines takes us through the story in a haze of depression and drunken glee; she overlooks important things and focuses intently on insignificant details. We learn about the setting, the all-powerful Catherine House, in small bits and pieces as Ines pores over details about wallpaper or bouncy houses. No writing in this book is what you will expect it to be. There is nothing typical about the dialogue or the tone or the plot or the characters. It is strange because it seems like everything we learned felt so trivial, but when added together, the details form a more complete whole than most other books can hope to achieve. We know the characters by their quirks and mannerisms instead of the color of their eyes or where they are from.

This book feels like the strange nostalgia of dusk near the end of summer, or the unsettling emptiness of an airport early in the morning. It’s driving down a deserted road in the night or returning to a temporary home when traveling abroad. It’s not that the book described these feelings, exactly, but the emotions it made me feel were similar. It was rich and all-encompassing, a beautiful sort of sadness.

Where the book is, I’d say, nearly flawless in terms of atmosphere, it falls a bit short when it comes to the plot itself. It is a bit mysterious and strange, but quite predictable, even as someone who doesn’t read a lot of thriller-type novels. This is why the star-rating has been reduced. Honestly, I don’t mind books that are all moodiness and little plot (see also: my complete devotion to Murakami), but for the sake of this being advertised around a “dark truth”, I think it won’t quite meet some readers’ expectations.

This review ended up being several paragraphs longer than I intended, so if you made it all the way here, thank you for sticking with me. This book made me feel icky and sad, and I really loved it for that. It’s been a while since a book has made me feel so deeply, and as a reader, I don’t care how dark those feelings are.

I would highly recommend this to fans of Murakami. A few other points of comparison I can offer are The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin and (strangely enough) Fallen by Lauren Kate, with a dash of Roshani Chokshi’s beautiful prose.

Sad Happy reading 🙂

Getting That 80% Ratio (A Stuck-Inside Challenge)

Hello, long time no see!

I hope you, your family, and friends are all staying safe. To any of those who are providing essential services right now, whether it be in the medical field or service sector, thank you. I know you’ve heard it many times but you deserve to hear it many, many more. Thank you, thank you, thank you! And to the rest of you… you better be staying inside. Six feet apart, people!

Anyway, the title of this post might make you think that these are tips on achieving the golden ratio of requested books to reviewed books on NetGalley… I’m sorry, but it’s not. I myself am sitting at a pitiful 60%.

Instead, I’m writing this as a challenge for myself. I haven’t been reading much at all lately, and even less so from my little (ha!) list of NetGalley titles. So, a challenge to myself, and all other reviewers out there, is to reach that 80%!

The bookworm’s ultimate point of sadness, and also a common excuse for reading slumps, is the “I don’t have time to read” conundrum. Whether or not this was true before, it’s definitely probably not true now.

So go log into NetGalley. Look at your shelf. You requested those books for a reason. They intrigued you for a reason!

I myself have 35 books received and 21 reviewed, which means I have to read 7 to reach that 80% mark. Easy peasy. I’m going to be tagging a few people who I will invite to participate in this little quest as well. But if any of you are sitting below 80% (or somehow, you’ve reached it), I’m sure NetGalley authors would love your participation as well!

Thank you all for reading, and good luck!