Backlist Bonus: The Dark and Hollow Places

8535273by Carrie Ryan
YA Dystopian
2 of 5 stars

This is much better than the previous book but Gabry’s sister Annah still has a bit of an issue taking charge of her own life. The twins were separated in the Forest of Hands and Teeth and now that the Dark City has largely fallen to the Horde, Annah is alone waiting for Elias to come back for her.

Annah considers herself the ugly twin because of the barbed wire scars across her face, and much of her story is spent lamenting her appearance and how it will prevent anyone from having feelings for her. A bit much to worry about in a world of the undead where it’s difficult to survive, but priorities. But before Elias returns, Annah meets someone new: Catcher, tied to everyone and everything she wants to forget about the past but who sees more than her scars or “Gabry’s sister” when he looks at her.

This is much darker and bleaker than the previous books and really draws you into the depression humanity feels, knowing it’s on the brink of obliteration. We see more of the shattered infrastructure of America, and the group feels more and more desperation to escape—despite the fact that a safe place to escape to might not exist. Aside from a haphazard scheme at the end (which completely departs from reality) this one is better paced and written than its predecessor. Just wasn’t exactly fun to read.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Dark and Hollow Places is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion – The only zombie book I enjoyed, probably because there’s more wry humor than dark introspection about Earth’s fate. “R” lost most of his memories when he became undead, but Julie stirs something in him he thought was lost forever.
  • Bones & All by Camille DeAngelis – Not exactly zombies, but Maren’s ability to consume anyone who loves her—bones and all—has all the gore and chills you’d expect. When her mother abandons her, Maren seeks out her estranged father, trying to find out why she is a monster. See my review here.
  • Daughter of Deep Silence by Carrie Ryan – A departure from dystopian but a story of revenge by the same author that had me turning the pages until the end. Francis survived a cruise ship disaster that took her best friend’s life, but she has a plan to dispense justice for those responsible. See my review here.

The First Time She Drowned

24724627by Kerry Kletter
YA Contemporary
5 of 5 stars
Debut novel: March 15, 2016

I fell in love with the cover for this book, then I fell in love with the jacket summary, then I finally got it from the library and I fell in love with the writing. I’d seen a few reviews commenting on how beautiful the prose is in this story and they were all accurate. From the memorable first line, “My mother wore the sun like a hat…” to the last page, the diction and imagery captured me. To me it read like an adult novel rather than YA because Cassie is in college, the tone is heavy, and the story is about the adult relationship between Cassie and her mother. There is a lot of crossover appeal here, either way.

Cassie is checking out of her mental health hospital AMA (against medical advice) to attend her first semester of college. She’s understandably more nervous than excited because she’s been sequestered from the world for two years since her mother left her there against her will. We follow Cassie as she adjusts to the real world and tries to move past the complicated relationship with her mother. But just as she decides she’s over it all and will focus on her future, her mother reappears, promising the love Cassie has craved her entire life.

We slowly see the two narratives at war in Cassie’s life: what she believes her childhood was like, and what her mother says it was like. What Cassie believes herself to be, and what her mother thinks of her. As Cassie meets more and more people who seem to react strangely to her relationship with her mom, Cassie finds it harder to decide what really happened. This novel is an incredibly moving picture detailing how insidious and toxic abusive relationships are with chilling scenes and dialogue.

I’ve had friends with relationships that reminded me of Cassie’s mom; these women would strike their daughters physically and lash out verbally in my presence; they commented on their daughter’s weight/appearance; they said no boy will ever want them unless they can change everything about themselves, and then called their own daughter a whore or a slut. And half an hour later we’d be called out for dinner as if nothing happened. It was embarrassing and heart-breaking for me, and I can’t imagine how my friends felt at the time. When you’re a freshman in high school (especially from a religious background) nobody tells you how to react or help or deal with these issues. I wish now I’d done more than just tell my parents—it came down to “it’s none of our business” and that response made me sick to my stomach. As if their life had to be in danger before anyone would intervene, but their mental and emotional stability were fair game.

This story is emotionally exhausting and important to read. So often the mental health issues behind abuse aren’t thoroughly explored (for both the abuser and the victim) and the author handles this in an expert manner. I can’t recommend this enough!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The First Time She Drowned is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson – Lia and Cassie are best friends with a pact to be the skinniest girls in school. Cassie prefers to vomit whatever she eats, Lia chooses to eat nothing. But when Cassie dies, Lia feels doubly haunted by her friend’s spirit and her own eating disorder, a nasty voice in her head that whispers if she can just lose enough weight, she and her problems will disappear. See my review here.
  • Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero – Gabi is a self-described fat Mexican-American just trying to fit in and survive her senior year. Between her absent father’s infrequent appearances, the pressure not to be “White,” her friend’s pregnancy and her other friend attempting to come out to his family, Gabi has a lot on her plate. But writing becomes her sanctuary in this beautiful, coming-of-age story told through her diary entries. See my review here.
  • Mosquitoland by David Arnold – Mary Iris Malone (Mim) is not okay with how her life is going. She’s not okay with knowing everyone thinks she is crazy. She’s not okay with her father’s remarriage. And she’s not okay with her father moving her replacement family hundreds of miles away from her mother. When letters from her mother stop, and Mim overhears a conversation that indicates her mother is ill, she wastes no time. She takes a bus to her mother. See my review here.

Backlist Bonus: The Dead-Tossed Waves

6555517by Carrie Ryan
YA Dystopian
2 of 5 stars

This sequel wasn’t nearly as enjoyable as the first book. Although we get to see the lighthouse and Gabry’s life that Mary fought so hard for in The Forest of Hands and Teeth, Gabry herself is so annoying that you just want the story to end.

Gabry is one of the weakest characters I’ve encountered. In fact, her lack of agency was so prevalent I included the sentence structure for most of her thoughts in my Goodreads review: “I wanted to [insert course of interesting actions, revealing my true feelings, etc]. Instead, I [did the complete opposite and was as passive and silent as possible].” Gabry never finds her feet in terms of making her own place in the zombie-filled world and the decisions she does make are usually dumb. She’s consistently frustrating.

The world remains interesting, dark, filled with bleak insights into what a post-zombie apocalypse society is like. Difficult decisions about humanity abound. But Gabry is not the person to take you through this story or world with any semblance of common sense or interest, and the supporting characters aren’t strong enough to save you.

Flat characters and flat-lined pacing, this book is a good concept that doesn’t reach its potential, and that always makes me sad.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Dead-Tossed Waves is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard – A dystopian America ruled by super-powered silver-blooded elites, in denial that a commoner red-blooded uprising is going to happen. See my review here.
  • Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion – “R” doesn’t remember much before he became undead, but when he sees Julie he starts feeling urges he hasn’t felt in a long time—they might almost be human. This is a charming retelling of Romeo and Juliet with zombies.
  • Bones & All  by Camille DeAngelis – Maren wakes up on her 16th birthday to her mother’s abandonment. Maren understands. Since Maren was a baby, she’s consumed everyone who has ever loved her—bones and all—and her mother probably feared she was next. See my review here.

Backlist Bonus: In the Hand of the Goddess

handofby Tamora Pierce
YA Fantasy
4 of 5 stars

The titles are overlong but these short books in the Song of the Lioness quartet are some of my favorites. In the first book, Alanna disguised herself as a boy to train as a knight alongside the prince of Tortall and a band of noble boys.

Alanna earns her place as a squire but her closest friends discover her secret identity. Now that they face more responsibility as they train to earn their shields, Alanna must work harder than ever to earn respect in the ranks. As she tries to reject the burdens of her true gender, Alanna must also contend with a plot on Prince Jonathan’s life—when she realizes it’s also a plot against her own. Her growing magical abilities threaten to reveal her to her enemies as she struggles to save the prince anonymously.

The themes and tone of this story have aged with the characters, and this is my favorite in the series. Everything I loved from the first story (secretly beating boys at their own games, political intrigue, dangerous magic, intriguing allies) is present in this installment with better adventures. Alanna fights against the all-too-true realization that when her friends learn she is a girl, their entire treatment of her changes (often in a bad way), regardless of her achievements or opinions. Her refusal to be put in their damsel-to-protect box is the fire of this series and was so important to me growing up. A must-read for fantasy-lovers!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, In the Hand of the Goddess is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • Wild Magic by Tamora Pierce – Set in the same world, Daine’s gift with horses gets her a job at the royal stables. But when she is unable to hide the magical nature of her gift, Daine must confront her past or risk never controlling her magic at all. A new set of characters and adventures with the same flair that made you fall for the Song of the Lioness quartet.
  • Sabriel by Garth Nix – Sabriel is studying to take over her father’s role as the kingdom’s Abhorsen (a necromancer that lays the dead to rest). When her father goes missing, Sabriel must rescue him despite having only a fraction of the knowledge and training she needs. One of my absolute favorite stories, see my review here.
  • Chalice by Robin McKinley – Another favorite of mine, Mirasol struggles to accept her new magical abilities within her demense’s government. If she fails to learn in a few months what most apprentices learn for years, her kingdom could collapse. A Beauty and the Beast re-telling coupled with intriguing characters and slow-burn romance. See my review here.


Winterby Marissa Meyer
YA Fantasy / Science Fiction
5 of 5 stars
Fourth in a quartet

This came out months ago and it took me so long to get to it because of the holidays, and then my insistence on re-reading the series first (which I am so glad I did!). This was worth waiting for! The perfect ending to this fantastic series of fairy tales told with a few science fiction twists.

To be honest, I worried about the size of this book. Once you start creeping over 600 pages I start to wonder if all those words *need* to be there. We’ve all encountered the stories that didn’t need to be that long, right? (Looking at you, Charles Dickens). Cress meandered a bit for me, so I had some anxiety, but it turns out those fears were unfounded! The writing is direct, compelling, and the characters kept surprising me! The pacing and points of view are perfectly balanced. Zero complaints.

Winter becomes one of our POV characters and she is fantastic! Unique from the other three girls and with her own demons to overcome. Through her we see the Lunar court and the damage done by Queen Levana’s regime, while through Cinder and Scarlet we see what life is like on Luna for the average citizen (spoiler: not good). As Cinder and her friends infiltrate the moon right before Levana and Kai’s wedding ceremony, Levana becomes more and more paranoid. When she attempts to have Winter killed for her beauty, all hell breaks loose on the moon. Winter is running out of places to hide, and Cinder is running out of time to claim her throne!

This had so much action and so many deeply emotional scenes–probably the most emotive in the series. Yet there’s still humor mixed in with the continued exploration of what makes us human. I highly recommend this series to anyone who loves fairy tale re-tellings!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Winter is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • A Long, Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan – Rose wakes up after 62 years in stasis to find out everyone she knew is dead and she is the missing heiress to the largest company in the world. And not everyone is happy she’s alive.
  • Uprooted by Naomi Novik – A dark and compelling fantasy novel (with humor too!) about a girl taken by the local sorcerer to be his assistant for ten years. This wasn’t her plan at all–and neither is the discovery that she may have her own powers. See my review here.
  • Queen of Shadows by Sarah J. Maas – Aelin returns to Adarlan to dismantle the web of corruption controlling the country, starting with her old master, the King of the Assassins, and ending with the King of Adarlan himself. See my review here.
  • Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo – A band of criminals unites to retrieve a prisoner with the knowledge of how to enhance a person’s magic (with fatal results). They all plan to betray each other eventually, and it’s a question of who will crack first. See my review here.
  • The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey – Echo is a common thief (who happens to be friends with the Avicen, a bird-like race) who decides to steal the Firebird, the only thing that can stop the perpetual war between the Avicen and their dragon enemies. See my review here.

Backlist Bonus: Allegiant

17383918by Veronica Roth
YA Dystopian
2 of 5 stars

This was one of my biggest disappointments of 2013. I loved Divergent, Insurgent was all right, and I was confident that the finale would more than make up for any slow bits in book 2. That’s what trilogies do, I said. I was wrong. I won’t copy and paste my Goodreads review (which is the full account of my dissatisfaction with this book) but reading my review again I decided to stand by my initial opinion.

I’m yet to be a fan of changing POV once a series has begun. If it’s one person, keep that person. Don’t add a new POV character part-way through. It never seems to work, and the voices always end up sounding the same. The action is repetitive (so much so that the characters remark on it), and the entire tone of the book changes from hopeful to negative. Tris in the first two books goes through some terrible things, but ultimately believes humanity is good and worth fighting for. Tris in book three learns that humanity is born evil, has no way of redeeming itself, and is probably not worth fighting for after all. Tris doesn’t accept that, but the other characters are skeptical of her positive outlook and their opinions rule the story. Finally, for a series based on “your choices make you what you are,” this book rejects that idea in favor of Genetically-Pure (?!) and Genetically-Damaged (?!?!) people who are predestined to be good or bad. What. (The science of all this is not explained).

The end of this trilogy went against everything I expected, and I don’t mean because it wasn’t a “happy” ending. Everything from the characters to the tone betrayed what the first two books stood for and left me feeling lost, wondering what I just read.  I definitely support taking risks in writing and not going for the easy ending in a series, but this wasn’t enjoyable to read and couldn’t be more different from the first book. It’s possible I would have liked this story if it was the beginning of a series or something, but adding it to the Divergent universe just felt like jamming the wrong puzzle pieces together.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Allegiant is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins  – Another depressing end to a trilogy but it fits with the world and although it’s not pleasant to read, the grit of it is excellent. See my review here.
  • Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve – As a literal interpretation of municipal Darwinism, the largest cities are mobile and sweep across the world consuming and absorbing each other for resources and labor. Tom finds himself stranded on solid ground and must find a way to survive in this stark post-apocalyptic world.
  • The Dark and Hollow Places by Carrie Ryan – The final book in a zombie-apocalypse trilogy that follows Gabry’s twin sister Annah in the Dark City—one of the last human strongholds in America. Annah is waiting for Elias to come back for her to start their life together, but Catcher promises something new in a world full of nothing but death.

Revisions: Clearer on 1, or clearer on 2?

In the last month I’ve ripped apart my first chapter several times and although it’s better, recent consensus (and looming deadlines) indicate I need to drop it and move on for now.

Am I still feeling positive about revisions? Yes, which is still a first for me! I’m moving through my changes much faster and trying new things without having as much anxiety about it, so although my first chapter needs a break, it doesn’t worry me the way it used to. For some reason I used to operate under this fear that if I changed something I couldn’t go back to it (um, computers make that super easy!) or I was somehow betraying my original intent by altering it. I’d get stuck on these thoughts and end up making the most minor substitutions (a word here, a semi colon there) and then growl about how revising was pointless, look, it’s not any better, I’m gonna write something Shiny and New that will obviously be Perfect on the first try.

Complete nonsense of course! I’m starting to get addicted to making the changes my book needs to make it better. It’s like spring cleaning – you throw everything open to the fresh air and get rid of the clutter and bring in something fresh and alive. Voila! The chapter is better!

That’s how I’ve felt most of the time. On the flip side, revising feels like going to an eye exam. You sit with pages and notes in front of you with different ideas for improvement and ask yourself “Is this clearer on 1? Or clearer on 2?” a few times, with no right answer. (Because seriously, the difference between those always seems so small to me!) Or THIS happens–you’ve been going through options one and two for a few pages, making some choices, everything is moving along and then BAM!

“Or what about 3?”

What the hell, I thought we were working between these two options, you can’t change the game now!

“Or 4? Here they are again, 3 or 4?”

NO-well, wait, maybe Option Four…dammit, I said there were only two options, do you know how this screws with everything down the line if there are FOUR options??? But Option Four does solve Character Arc Problem 2…ughhhh, fine, Option Four. Let’s revisit the previous ten pages with all four options in mind…

Too many options can give me anxiety. I outline, I make a plan, this plan is supposed to avoid Surprise Options this far into the process. That moment of “What about 3?” always used to make me tear my hair out. I wanted to make progress, I didn’t want to start over yet again–but now I’m finding that instead of freaking me out with Too Many Choices these moments get me excited! Because if that’s what you need, find it out now and put it in and then move on with something great!

This book has been in the works for years…partly because it’s been so hard to let go of things and make changes, so now that I’m finally ready to do that, I’m excited to see how it turns out. So back to the cave for another month!

And a special thanks goes to Erin for always responding with enthusiasm when I text her “Heyyyyyy…wanna read my first chapter again?” ❤

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