Friday, March 2, 2018

Thoughts: Writing Reviews, Their Impact and Online Bitchiness - Zenith and Sasha Alsberg

I have been thinking a lot lately about bloggers, BookTubers and other people who review books. I was already in a conflicted space when Zenith, the hyped debut novel of prominent BookTuber Sasha Alsberg and her more established co-author, Lindsay Cummings, was released.

Zenith, having tasted the NYT bestseller list in its self-published form, debuted at number 7 in its first week of release under publishing house Harlequin Teen. The book has, since then, fallen completely off the list.

So what does this mean? Why has such an anticipated book basically fallen off the bestseller radar?

This is going to be a long post so grab some tea and let's unpack everything and take a critical look at the online book community and the impact it has on selling books.

Sasha Alsberg - Author Photo

Sasha Alsberg is pretty much a celebrity in bookish spheres. She started her channel, abookutopia, in 2013 and was literally one of the pioneers in the BookTube space. At the time of this post, she has 366 000 subscribers, putting her at number two on the list of most popular YouTubers (Number one is the insane Christine Riccio of polandbananasBOOKS). Obviously, her signing a book deal was a huge thing and was often talked about on her channel well before Zenith was published.

What people seem to forget though, is that Sasha is only 20. A young age to have already spent 5 years of her life in the public eye with the pressures of creating content and keeping her thousands of subscribers happy. Up until the release of Zenith, she was BookTube's golden girl, running a massive content creation regime and making public appearances at all the Cons and major book launches. Readers across the globe looked up to her and trusted her opinions on books.

Surely, that amount of pressure is quite a load to bear as it is. Now, with the hype around Zenith, fans had even bigger expectations and doubters were waiting in the wings, hoping that her book would fail.

Let's face it. Fame is a raging asshole (I went there. If you don't get the reference, just watch any scathing review of Zenith). There was bitterness by the truckload when she landed the book deal that only escalated when the book was released. Disgruntled people felt that Sasha had used her existing celebrity status to get published and that she didn't have to work very hard for the opportunity. I think this influenced a large number of reviews.

All you have to do is a search for Zenith reviews on YouTube and probably 90% of them are of the rant variety. Some are pretty fucking mean about it too. Yeah, I see all those YouTubers who are also writing books of their own jumping on the Zenith-bashing bandwagon. Because it's cool and probably fuelled by bitterness.

You have to question people's motives behind leaving rant reviews. A lot of them had not even finished the book and were basing their opinion on other opinions because they wanted the views while they were hot.

And this, dear readers, is why Zenith is suddenly not the hyped book it was made out to be.

Does this then mean Zenith is really a bad book? And how much stock can we really put on these reviews? Should you read it?

It was co-authored by a 20-year old. Who is going to write a masterpiece at that age? Sure, some have been successful, but they have had time to edit and were away from the pressures of a hyped-up fanbase. Especially when they are writing to please fans and trying to create a world and universe they hope they will love.

I am reading Zenith now and I regret seeing all those bad reviews before I had been able to form my own opinion of the book. Huge regret, as I honestly feel Zenith is not all that bad, but my judgment remains clouded.

I feel bad for Sasha and the vitriol she has gone through and I really urge everyone to read the books that they find compelling and not just because people are hyping it. Because sometimes, the hype is also a lie.

Stay tuned for a full review in the next few weeks! I promise to be 100% honest and fair, as always.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Review: Appaloosa Summer by Tudor Robins

Title: Appaloosa Summer
Author: Tudor Robins
Publisher: South Shore Publications (June 2014)

Sixteen-year-old Meg Traherne has never known loss. Until the beautiful, talented horse she trained herself, drops dead underneath her in the show ring. 
Jared Strickland has been living with loss ever since his father died in a tragic farming accident. 
Meg escapes from her grief by changing everything about her life; moving away from home to spend her summer living on an island in the St. Lawrence River, scrubbing toilets and waiting on guests at a B&B. 
Once there, she meets Jared; doing his best to keep anything else in his life from changing. 
When Jared offers Meg a scruffy appaloosa mare out of a friend’s back field, it’s the beginning of a journey that will change both of them by the end of the summer.
Since the age of 12 or so, I have been a sucker for a good horse book. I still love finding gems like this for the pure nostalgia element of it. Even better if the book is realistic and doesn't have its characters achieving miracles with their horses for the sake of the plot.

I loved Appaloosa Summer so much. It is a quaint and charming read with a strong-willed protagonist who actually has decent horse-sense. It is not just a romance but a story of personal growth and healing.

The author is also so good at creating setting and memorable characters. I could see everything so vividly and felt like I knew everyone on the island as friends by the time to book drew to a close.

This is not just for horsey folk, but for any reader who loves a good, honest story.

I cannot wait to reread this book and return to the island with Meg and Jared.

Review: The Law of Tall Girls by Joanne Macgregor

Title: The Law of Tall Girls
Author: Joanne Macgregor

When you really stand out, can you ever fit in?

Seventeen-year-old Peyton Lane is a tall girl. So tall, it’s the only thing most people notice about her.  
On impulse, she accepts a bet to prove she can be as attractive and desirable as other girls. Now she just needs to go on four dates (including the prom) with one of the guys on her very short list of very tall boys. 
Number one on the list is Jay Young – the new guy that Peyton already likes way more than she should. Because not only is Jay already taken, he’s also breaking her Law of Tall Girls, and he’s determined to discover the awful secret she’s been hiding for most of her life.

I cannot relate to being a tall girl. Maybe a skinny girl back in the day, before my 30's hit me like 20 kg. Literally. I was worried about relating to Peyton, the protagonist, but that actually wasn't a problem at all. And not for reasons I was expecting either!

The Law of Tall Girls, in spite of generally being a fun, romantic read, had some pretty dark themes which I appreciated so much because they were not blown out of all proportion like the style of a lot of YA contemporaries these days. I know I harp a lot about the failings of John Green's earlier works, but he is solely responsible for the recent wave of "sick-lit" with authors trying to emulate his particular style and weirdly mature, deep characters who are into odd shit like Neitsche.

This book was not like that at all and the teens were still teens. Peyton and her friends are wonderful and a joy to spend time with. The romance is well-paced and believable with some seriously swoony moments.

Of course, if I had to tell you the thing that really made me connect to Peyton (and even got a bit emotional about it), I would be giving away a major plot point. So just go read the book already!

If you are seeing this post BEFORE Sunday the 17th February 2018, The Law of Tall Girls is still on special for a steal at $0.99 on Amazon here. I have not just helped you find a read for this weekend, but also helped you save money. So go buy it.

Also, this book was nominated for and won YA Book Central's Best Indie Award!

Monday, February 12, 2018

Review: Charmed by the Bartender by Piper Rayne

Title: Charmed by the Bartender (Modern Love #1)
Author: Piper Rayne
Publisher: Amazon Digital Services

I know my regular readers are probably looking at this post and wondering if I have been abducted by aliens or something equally implausible. I promise, this is still Monique and I am still 100% myself, but I thought it is time to reveal a side of my reading habits I used to feel ashamed about.

I love cheesy romance. I really do. I have been reading them since my mid-teens when I discovered Heart of Fire at the age of sixteen (hot, steamy sexytimes with a ton of adventure!).

This is something people can get judgy about and I really don't understand why. Your reading choices also are not a reflection of your relationship or marriage and if anyone implies this, smack them. Hard.

I was trawling the freebie reads on Kindle over the festive season because I wanted to get my Kindle reading fitness up before spending any large sums of money on books. It sounds ridiculous, but I have always had a traditional approach to reading. And reading off a weird, little device is a hugely different experience. What better way to get into it than with some fun, romantic reads?

Charmed by the Bartender was one of the choices that I went with and I started it with pretty low expectations, as it is also self-published (this is a topic for another day!). It was because of this that I was so surprised by the book.

This is a fun, charming read with characters that I absolutely adored. The romance was perfectly done and, of course, there were some hotter scenes that didn't feel over the top. Whit is an awesome character and I love her approach to romance and life.

And this is so funny! The dialogue is hilarious and flows so naturally between the characters, it is almost like watching a Cameron Diaz movie.

I enjoyed this so much, I went and bought the next two in the series, which follows Whit's two best friends and their romances.

If you want to try this out, go grab a free copy here. Just don't go hating me when you need everything else Paper Rayne has ever written.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Thoughts on Social Media and the Blog

Hey everyone!

You may have noticed that I have been pretty quiet of late. Just when I think I have a handle on keeping the blog and my Social Media presence updates, life stuff gets in the way.

Don't worry. I am not going anywhere and I have some big plans for 2018 for this place of mine on the web. One of the big things revolving around how I utilize Social Media to get visitors such as yourself here.

Let's face it. Twitter is a breeding pool for all kinds of nastiness lately and I honestly do not want to spend any more time on there than is absolutely necessary. I just get angry and how narrow-minded and selfish people really are. And I am tired of all the hate. The result is that I will be using Twitter for blog update posts only. So, if you do find your way here from my tweets, that part won't change at all. I will just be less engaging on that platform.

However, I need to make up for that and will be a lot more active on Instagram. It is relatively free from nasty trolls and has a lot of opportunities to engage with a wider audience. I also dabble in photography, so it has been fun to play around with images and filters. Give me a follow on there if you aren't already. @urbanisedgeek of course!

Also, I am getting so tired of Bloggers, BookTubers, and other reviewers all reviewing the same titles at the same time. I used to think that I had to do this in order to stay relevant. But, who honestly wants to see the same titles being rehashed all the time?

 Of course, I will still chat about new releases but I would also like to give older and lesser-known titles some appreciation too. This will include Indie authors both locally and abroad.

Another thing I am working on is my review format. It's not exactly spicy and engaging currently, and I really want to come up with something more concise and structured. This will mean no copy-pasting of blurbs and something more personal and hopefully still informative too.

Authors are welcome to contact me to have their books reviewed, although if you fall outside my range of tastes, please do not be sad if I decline review copies of your books.

That's about it for now! Any comments and suggestions are always welcome.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Review: Warcross by Marie Lu

Title: Warcross (Warcross #1)
Author: Marie Lu
Publisher: Penguin (September 2017)

For the millions who log in every day, Warcross isn’t just a game—it’s a way of life. The obsession started ten years ago and its fan base now spans the globe, some eager to escape from reality and others hoping to make a profit. Struggling to make ends meet, teenage hacker Emika Chen works as a bounty hunter, tracking down players who bet on the game illegally. But the bounty hunting world is a competitive one, and survival has not been easy. Needing to make some quick cash, Emika takes a risk and hacks into the opening game of the international Warcross Championships—only to accidentally glitch herself into the action and become an overnight sensation. 
Convinced she’s going to be arrested, Emika is shocked when instead she gets a call from the game’s creator, the elusive young billionaire Hideo Tanaka, with an irresistible offer. He needs a spy on the inside of this year’s tournament in order to uncover a security problem . . . and he wants Emika for the job. With no time to lose, Emika’s whisked off to Tokyo and thrust into a world of fame and fortune that she’s only dreamed of. But soon her investigation uncovers a sinister plot, with major consequences for the entire Warcross empire.
Marie Lu is one of those authors whose books I have collected simply based on her excellent reputation for exciting storytelling. I read Legend a while back, did a reread of it at the start of this year and then jumped right into Warcross.

I absolutely loved everything about this book. There are so many geek culture references and the whole idea of Warcross, a VR MMO that the novel revolved around, is so plausible. I would love to play it. It reminds me a little of Overwatch, with players being allocated specific roles and facing off against another team of real players.

There is solid world-building in between epic action scenes. I didn't feel that anything about the world in Warcross was glossed over and enjoyed that it also wasn't too far removed from our own.

Emika is a decent enough character, though she does fall into some YA trope territory. I admit that she was more of a vehicle for the story than the reason I wanted to keep reading. But that's 100% ok as this is not a character-driven novel.

There is a smattering of romance, which actually does play a role in the story, but to tell you more would give important things away. ;)

This is even better than Divergent, although not a Dystopian, and shares a similar feel in the latter parts of the novel. So if you found the former lacking, give Warcross a try.

As an added incentive, the hardcover version in SA stores at the moment is totally worth owning and sports a stunning cover under the dustjacket.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Magic: The Commander Player's Toolkit

If you are new to Magic, or even new to the more casual format of Commander, it can be a little daunting picking which cards will work well in your particular deck.

Fortunately, Commander does have some pretty solid staples which will fit in, no matter who your choice of Commander is.

With this in mind, I have picked the list below as a good starting point for any Commander deck. These are all colorless and will either help you fixing mana, improving early game board state or just generally being annoying to your friends. The best part is that these are fairly cheap, although not always the easiest to come by due to their key place in Commander decks.

My advice is, if you see these in your buddy's trade file, grab them and ferret them away for future decks. Or let me know you have them!

Sol Ring

A one-cost artifact that you can immediately tap for two colorless mana is a bit crazy. If you are able to get this down on your first turn, it sets you up nicely for a four-cost drop in turn two. Which is, basically, insane in this format.

This is why pretty much all the pre-constructed commander decks will have one of these. It helps you and it will upset your buddies.

Lightning Greaves

Something you can equip for free and move around, keeping your most important guy protected, is always a good idea. No spells that say "target" will be able to touch him.

This is useful if you have a Commander that has both active and passive abilities, but you don't need to target with anything else.

It also sticks around if the creature it is equipped to dies, ready to help you out again.

Swiftfoot Boots

So you dropped a big, bad boy and you want to start hurting your opponents right away? Swiftfoot boots allows for just that, as well as protection from targeted removal.

Sure, you have to pay to equip it, but the payoff is a little better with having a creature on the battlefield ready to bring some pain.

Command Tower

This is a pointless card for mono-color decks, but should be standard with just about any other deck than runs two or more colors.

It will fix your mana issues and is free to use, without getting any pain for tapping it for a color. Good luck finding them, though, as they are scarcer than an honest politician.

Evolving Wilds

A waste for a mono-colored deck, but dead useful if you are screwed for mana of a particular color. Especially if you are one of those players who runs all five colors.

Can also be used with or replaced by Terramoprhic Expanse, which is literally the same card.

Reliquary Tower

It's a land that taps for one colorless and gives you an unlimited hand size. What's not to love?

It's also quite annoying for your opponents because it's not often they will have land-destruction and, if they do, they usually overlook the Tower.


A free artifact that gives you an unlimted handsize.

Perfect to back up Reliquary Tower and will also fly under the radar of most of your opponents.

Temple of the False God

A land that taps for two colorless mana once you control 5 or more lands, this is perfect for mid-game.

It will help you get your big boys out onto the field and also help you recover if you miss a land drop.

Solemn Simulacrum

If your deck allows you to constantly sacrifice creatures and retrieve them from the graveyard, this card is an obvious choice.

He lets you fetch a land when he enters the battlefield and lets you draw a card when he dies.

Chromatic Lantern

If your deck runs three or more colors, this is a great addition to help with mana fixing.

It allows any land you control to tap for any mana and it also has that same ability.

Commander's Sphere

A three cost artifact that taps for any color of your commander's colour identity. Basically, acts as the poor man's Command Tower.


If you can produce tokens you are not really attached to, running Skullclamp lets you kill them off to draw two cards. If you don't have worthy tributes out on the battlefield, it can just sit there until you need the card draw.

Exotic Orchard

This useful land taps for any colour mana that lands your opponents control can produce.

I am sure you see the theme by now. Mana can be problematic in Commander and there are a lot of ways to help ease your woes.

Darksteel Ingot

This also helps you with mana issues and is indestructible. Plus, if someone wipes out your lands, this will help keep you in the game.

Gilded Lotus

Helping you with mana rap, this is an artifact that taps for three of any colour mana.

Nevinyrral's Disc

An artifact that comes into play tapped, but tap it and pay one and you basically reset the board by wiping all artifacts, creatures, and enchantments.

Your opponents will be either scrambling to get rid of it or waiting for the inevitable destruction.

And there you have it! I hope you find this little guide useful in kitting our your decks.