Reviews

ARC Book Review: Proof of Concept

Proof of Concept

Author: Gwyneth Jones

Publisher: Tor

Published: April 11, 2017

Rating: 3 / 5

For Those Who Enjoyed: Never Let Me Go, Arrival, Signs, Star Wars, H.P. Lovecraft, H.G. Wells, Apollo 13

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I read the first two chapters of this novel and was immediately into it, despite the fact I had no clue what was going on. I was under the impression that everything going on would become clearer as the plot unfolded. That’s… not exactly what happened. In fact, I’m even more confused than when I started out.

Proof of Concept follows Kir, a girl saved from post-apocalyptic Earth by a super-genius scientist who puts an Artificial Intelligence computer in her brain. For some reason, because this happened when she was still very young, this stunted her growth and I suppose, her ability to conceptualise everyday situations. Either that, or the character development and explanations within the narrative are so flat, Jones misses the point entirely… Anyway, Kir sets off on this experiment expedition to subspace, where they’re looking for somewhere new for humanity to settle. That’s barely what I was able to decipher from this plot and even that I’m unsure of.

This novel feels like what would happen if a scientist, with no previous background in writing fiction, wrote a book. There are people, doing sciency things, and the readers are just expected to understand what the author means with very little to go on. Because Kir’s so emotionally stunted and insular, we don’t get the full scope of exactly what’s going on in terms of anything happening around her. Which is maybe the point. But this suffers from the same issues as Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, as well as any novel involving characters completely lacking in social cues. There are too many instances where Jones drops an interesting little nugget of information and I want to delve into it further, but then it’s gone again, and I’m left with nothing to go on. I have no clue what this experiment they’re doing is. I don’t understand the population control situation. I don’t have any grasp on the simulated intimacy that apparently goes on between coworkers… I just don’t understand.

I think the biggest reason this narrative struggles so hard with it’s plot is because it’s way too short. The plot and world building is stretched way too thin across a 175 page novella. There is not enough room there to fully develop characters and the experiment they’re doing, as well as a full breakdown of the futuristic setting. This is something I find most science fiction novels suffer from. Either there’s not enough background information for casual readers to latch onto or there’s far too much to fully appreciate the plot. With Proof of Concept, it feels like Jones took the iceberg principle, wherein an author should develop characters and world building as much as possible, but only show what the readers absolutely must know to understand the plot, and cut out far too much of all her development. She may know exactly what all her characters’ motivations are and how they relate to each other, and what kind of dystopian world we’re in, and how the science works, but she doesn’t share that with the reader. She simply assumes that we already know.

We can’t read your mind, Gwyneth Jones. You have to spell it out for us.

Another really weird tonal thing going on is the fact that this is a murder mystery? I don’t read many murder mysteries (haven’t read a single Agatha Christie novel in my life…) but if I did, I’d want to be at least emotionally attached to these people before they die. There’s no buildup and no real character development for anyone who died, so I didn’t particularly care if they lived or not. It wasn’t shocking, it was just there.

I went into this expecting there to be some Lovecraftian spookiness to it. And I think Jones was really reaching for it, but didn’t quite reach the mark. I was expecting some The Descent level scare-fests. They’re going deep, deep down into these caves, where maybe there are some pre-civilisation humanoids living down there. I wanted people to be picked off one by one that way. I wanted the AI in Kir’s head to take over and really mess things up in a disturbing way without her realising he’s controlling her mind. Give me some “I’m sorry, I can’t let you do that” realness! That’s what I wanted out of this novel!

I wanted a straight up space science horror novel and that’s not what this was at all.

Sneak Peek Weekends

March Sneak Peek Weekends #1

The first sneak peek of March releases is another set of YA fantasies! Let’s see if they’re worth a read!

Hunted

Hunted

We always know before the change comes. When a storm approaches, we feel it in the thickness of the air, the tension in the earth awaiting the  blanket of snow. We feel the moment the wind changes direction. We sense a shift of power when it is coming.

Author: Meagan Spooner

Publisher: Harper Teen

Published: March 14, 2017

For Those Who Enjoyed: Beauty and the Beast, The Lunar Chronicles, The Shadow Queen/The Wish Granter, Long May She Reign, Court of Thorns and Roses, The Bloody Chamber, Cruel Beauty, Robin Mckinley, The Beast is an Animal, Wintersong, Uprooted

As an agent or acquisitions editor, would I select this for publication?

As I’ve mentioned in previous sneak peeks, fairy tale retellings are very in, and for some reason, Beauty and the Beast is especially hot right now. I’m not sure what the draw is to be honest (though the new movie was a dream). I find this particular fairy tale hasn’t done many authors any favour recently. Sarah J Maas and Rosamund Hodge have both tried their hand with varying success, but I can’t really say either have done anything revolutionary or beautifully written with it.

This one might finally break the cycle.

I’m not sure why almost every single Beauty and the Beast retelling has to start with Beauty and her sisters doing something mundane before the action picks up, but I want something more exciting to open the story for once… Sarah J. Maas almost does it, but her downfall is her weak character development and terrible writing… This is beautifully written, but slow on the pick up.

Because Beauty and the Beast has been done over and over and over so often, would my instinct be to give this one a go as an agent? I don’t know. I don’t know if there’s enough to set it apart, but I genuinely hope there’s something here!

Blood Rose Rebellion

Blood Rose Rebellion

I did not set out to ruin my sister’s debut. Indeed, there were any number of things I deliberately did not do that day. I did not pray for rain as I knelt in the small chapel of our London town house that morning, the cold of the floor seeping into my bones.

Author: Rosalyn Eves

Publisher: Knopf

Published: March 28, 2017

For Those Who Enjoyed: Throne of Glass, Red Queen, Hunger Games, Rebel of the Sands, Divergent, Dark Days Club, These Ruthless Masks, Stalking Jack the Ripper,The Tempest

Would I select this for publication?:

This one has a nice flip to the current fantasy YA trend of special magic girl who wants to be normal. Instead, everyone’s magical and she’s not. I like it… but is that enough? This could go one of two ways: this means she got non-magical talents, or she’s more powerful than anyone else and hasn’t grown into her power yet. If it’s the former, I’m into it. If it’s the latter, we’re just falling back into the usual fantasy conventions which drive me up the wall… I do find the immediate introduction of a love interest concerning. It feels like the protagonist is going to seek validation based on a boy’s interest in her and that’s never a good sign. Unfortunately, what I’m getting most from this opener is that the protagonist is useless and boring and everyone keeps treating her like a child. The inciting incident is showcasing her fighting over a boy with her sister and it’s not endearing in the least. This one would go in the no pile, for sure.

Books, Reviews

ARC Review: True Born & True North

True Born and True North

Author: L.E. Stirling

Publisher: Entangled Teen

Published: May 2016 and April 4, 2017

Rating:

True Born: 3 / 5 Stars

True North: 2 / 5 Stars

For Those Who Enjoyed: The Hunger Games, Firstlife, Snowpiercer, The Diabolic, The Selection, The Stand, The Strain

This is not a spoiler-free review!

True Born

True North

I received an ARC copy of True North from the publisher in exchange for an honest review!

Yikes. Another DNF series… I feel less terrible about not finishing True North than I do about Nexis and Redux because I actually made it 75% of the way through before packing it in. In any other situation, I would push through the last quarter of the book, but this was just so boring, I knew whatever happened wouldn’t be what I wanted to see out of the plot.

This series started out with an interesting premise. The world’s fallen to a plague epidemic and has been split between a hierarchy of Lasters (plague sufferers), Splicers (people who have received treatment for the plague), and True Borns (those who are completely immune to the plague). The lowest of the lower classes can’t afford treatment, and are left to inevitably die of the plague, while most of the wealthy upper class are Splicers, hogging all the possible treatments for themselves. True Borns for some reason I still don’t comprehend, are completely ostracised for being barbaric because they’re genetically different. Many of them have combined human-animal genetics, which I didn’t particularly care for. All it did give me was some pretty spectacular bloody fight scenes, which I could have had way more of. That’s what earned True Born its barely deserved third star…

Somewhere within this plot, Stirling’s trying to speak toward upper class greed destroying the world, but she just… misses the mark. The problem with this series is that she put her protagonist in the wrong class. I’ve read a hell of a lot of YA lately and far too much of it follows a princess, empress, or politician’s daughter and she’s kind of a privileged brat. All that privilege keeps getting in the protagonist’s way and it acts like a smoke screen over any message Stirling’s trying to express. The poor are depicted as disgusting and wallowing in the filth they created for themselves and there are far too many pervy old men sexually harassing girls who aren’t even legal adults yet being treated like “oh, haha, yeah, isn’t it funny how this happens so much in wealthy society??” These are things that go right over Lucy’s head and I kept waiting for her to become aware of her privilege and do something about it.

But it never happens.

There’s a little more of that in True North, where at least she’s aware of how horrible her wealthy social circle is and she tries to break away from it. But it doesn’t quite go beyond her hating the life she was brought into and feeling sorry for the Lasters for how lowly they are. She never has a real resolution to fix the problem plaguing the poor. She never considers convincing any of the elites to donate money to the cause, give them food and housing… Or even, you know, offer some kind of free clinic to help these poor people dying everywhere…

This is even more frustrating when it’s revealed that she and her twin sister, Margot, are genetic anomalies that literally hold the cure for the plague. Why doesn’t she immediately offer up her blood samples, or bone marrow to cure these people???

It may have something to do with the fact that she’s spending almost all her time falling into one of the worst YA romance traps of them all. She and True Born cat-man (yes, actually), Jared don’t even like each other. Nor do they enjoy each other’s company. They can’t have a single civil conversation with each other, but whoops! Guess they have to stick together, because they’re inexplicably in love! (Ok, but you don’t even like each other…) They spend more time arguing, then making out, then arguing again than they do making any cohesive plan to do any good. They also have one of the most bizarre meet-cutes I’ve ever read. He somehow manages to save her from falling over a school stairwell railing. They then spend ten whole pages having a conversation, while he’s holding onto her skirt the entire time. Ten. Pages. When my characters go on and on for that long in a precarious situation like that, that’s when I have to dial it back and rewrite the scene.

Girl, you have to rewrite the scene!

The romance is so dominating over everything else, it’s all the more clear that Lucy (and Margot) are utterly useless, which is shocking, considering they’re upper class girls in the middle of a plague apocalypse. Because they come from a wealthy family, they’ve been brought up to look pretty, talk eloquently during political events, and find a husband. They have absolutely no combat training, not even once Lucy joins the True Borns, who are predominantly either armed guards or soldiers. Whenever Lucy gets caught in a sticky situation, a man conveniently shows up to save her.

Because she’s a useless sack of beans.

Her sister is equally useless, if not more so. She spends the majority of the first book obsessing over boys and then playing the victim (which, admittedly was based on a horrible, traumatic incident). She’s so useless, she gets herself kidnapped and sent to Russia. That’s where True Born ends, which led me to automatically assume True North would pick up in Russia, where she’s off to find her missing sister.

Nope. We spend 300 whole pages faffing about with useless information instead. The author needed to get there from page one. I don’t need to know about how all these experiments are taking forever, and how all these socialite events are doing nothing to help her find her sister…

I know, because she’s all the way in Russia!

All of this could have been summed up within a chapter. Give me the run down, get her on a train, give her some information about her genetics, great. I’m there.

Oh, look. They’re in Russia already? Fabulous. Let’s get back to gory ass kickings and to the matter at hand. That’s all I needed.

Because we didn’t get to the actual plot until three-quarters of the way through, there was no way it was going to wrap up in the last 100 pages the way I envisioned it. True North feels more like a bizarre interlude before the series finale than anything else and I don’t appreciate it. Just make it a duology and cut the entire middle book.

There. Problem solved.

You can probably tell by now that this series in not well written. Not even the writing style has some saving grace. I often had moments where I wondered whether English wasn’t Stirling’s first language because she mixes up a lot of words with the wrong meaning. I would often read her similes and metaphors more than once just to check to make sure they were actually describing the thing she was describing. At some point, a character’s neck “bunches like grapes”. His neck. Bunches. Like grapes. Because he has more than one suddenly? I don’t know what’s happening or why Inigo Mantoya didn’t show up to inform her that he does not think that word means what she thinks it means…

I was going into this expecting kick ass blood and guts fight scenes, with maybe a zombie or two. Instead, I came out of it criminally bored.

Books, Reviews

ARC Book Review: The Inconceivable Life of Quinn

The Inconceivable Life of Quinn

Author: Marianna Baer

Publisher: Abrams/Amulet

Published: April 4, 2017

Rating: 3 / 5

For Those Who Enjoyed: Juno, Jane the Virgin, Asking For It, The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer, Lost Girls, To the Lighthouse, Chopin’s The Awakening

This is a spoiler-free review!

Inconceivable

I was given an ARC copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review!

Don’t ask me why, but I’ve always been fascinated by pregnancy plots. Anyone who’s familiar with my fiction writing knows I sneak it into my narratives at least once. So I was instantly interested in checking this book out. Given how taboo teen pregnancy is, I’ve seen very few books on the topic in the young adult market, so I was shocked when a chick lit type fluffy novel showed up. Why would a lighthearted book about teen pregnancy be out there in the world? I had a lot of questions about it and I needed the answer.

The plot itself isn’t a particularly original one, given Jane the Virgin’s been doing the same schtick for three years now. But the magical realism element gave it its unique heft. Unlike Jane the Virgin’s hook of an artificial insemination gone wrong, Inconceivable doesn’t tie itself to a logical explanation for Quinn’s virgin pregnancy. Most of the novel is spent trying to make sense of it and the mystery is what keeps the narrative afloat. I could have easily set this one aside one chapter in, but something about the intrigue of it all kept me going. There are so many I need to know where this is going paths that just about excuses the almost mediocre writing style.

Baer addresses possibilities for how Quinn may have been impregnated without knowing in ways I haven’t seen YA authors address female sexuality before. Going into this novel, I didn’t think she would be touching up on drugs, rape, incest, and PTSD that might come with it as much as she did. And because this is supposed to be such a light fluffy novel, I found the tonal shifts very jarring. The assumption is that something horrible has happened to her to give her regressive memory, so much so that her parents are more willing to lie and convince her she’s been victimised than they are to believe something extraordinary has happened. There’s a really serious, intense, important message building there that Baer doesn’t quite drive home. As if she’s not fully committed to the severity of the situation.

Her use of multiple narratives throughout gives Quinn’s character development some interesting depth. Quinn takes on the majority of the narration, but the novel is peppered with outsider narratives that really challenge her reliability as a narrator. There is nothing I love more than an unreliable narrator, so I would have liked Baer to really go there and make the reader seriously question whether she really is suffering PTSD or if she did have a divine experience. It would have been a far darker story, but I think it would’ve been stronger and more meaningful for it, especially as a novel written to counteract slut shaming, rape culture, gossip media and religious extremism.

I really hope Abrams and Amulet market this with all those messages in mind, because this book is definitely trying to say more than it appears on the surface. It’s opening that dialogue, in however a fluffy way, and I think that’s important.

Books, Reviews

Book Review: Empress of a Thousand Skies

Empress of a Thousand Skies

Author: Rhoda Belleza

Publisher: Razorbill (Penguin Random House Canada)

Published: February 7, 2017

Rating: 2.75 / 5 Stars

For Those Who Enjoyed: Star Wars, The Diabolic, Jupiter Ascending, The Martian, Firefly, Serenity, Starflight

This is a spoiler-free review!

empress

I’ve been conflicted about this one for months now, flip-flopping back and forth between 2 and 3 stars. It’s not that it’s poorly written, it’s just boring. Which is madness, because it should be impossible for space capers to be boring! Since this novel is so one-note, I could not tell you what happened in the plot any time I picked it up to read. The Cantina Band from Star Wars could’ve been playing in my head on a loop every single time I turned on my ereader for all I know. It would’ve by far been more exciting than what happened in this book.

The problem with Empress is that it’s essentially Star Wars, from every angle. A princess (sorry- empress) loses her entire family in a political maneuver and suddenly everyone’s out to capture her. Meanwhile, a pair of ragamuffin pilots who are clearly Han and Lando get embroiled in the mess alongside their sarcastic droid. I’m pretty sure a planet or two blew up. The Death Star was there. Gosh, I don’t know.

There’s the Cantina Band again…

The only remotely interesting thing going on in this plot is that Han and Lando– ah, Aly and Vin are dreamy to-die-for reality tv stars. Unfortunately, this nuance does nothing to further the plot. In fact, Alyosha is completely isolated and his stardom is kind of a non-entity to his character in general. I find everyone’s motives and actions in this novel baffling. The plot twists are one part “yeah, I know…” and two parts “wait, did I skip a chapter?” for how predictable and lacking in the real meat of the story it is. This is an instance where the dual narrative doesn’t do the plot justice whatsoever. Belleza has a nasty habit of ending chapters right on the climax of a scene, moving on to the second narrative, and returning to it later, completely resolved.

Did I zone out with my internal Cantina Band for half the book? Am I missing something? Wait, when did that important character die? How’d they go from being on a space bus to being on a completely different planet halfway across the galaxy? When’d they get off the bus??? I can’t answer any of these questions, because none of it actually happened on the page!

For the most part, I’m disappointed. I love a good space opera, but if I wanted Star Wars without any of the actual action, I’d squirm my way through the prequels instead…

Books, Sneak Peek Weekends

February Sneak Peek Weekends #4

This week’s sneak peeks are two books focusing on minority characters. Although they may not be meant for me, they’ll undoubtedly resonate with readers they’re representing!

At the Edge of the Universe

edge of the universe

 I sat beside the window pretending to read Plato’s Republic as the rest of the passengers boarding Flight 1184 zombie-walked to their seats. The woman next to me refused to lower her armrest, and the chemical sweetness of her perfume coated my tongue and the back of my throat. I considered both acts of war.

Author: Shaun David Hutchinson

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Published: February 7, 2017

For Those Who Enjoyed: We are the Ants, History is All You Left Me, Dante and Aristotle, The Rest of Us Just Live Here, Final Destination

If I were an agent/acquisitions editor, would I select this for publication based on the opening chapter?:

 

I know I only have the first twenty pages to go off of, but this one isn’t doing anything for me. The blurb promises a unique plot in the form of a male protagonist searching for his missing boyfriend. It’s doing similar things as History is All You Left Me, which makes me think this novel shouldn’t be ignored in terms of LGBT content, which although growing, is still pretty sparse.

In terms of its opening sequence, it’s slow building. This setup is likely intentional to lull the reader into a false sense of security. It takes ten pages to get going. I don’t know if I’d read that far before making a decision in terms of pitch selection. There’s no indication that the inciting incident is a plane crash by the blurb, so I wouldn’t necessarily have much to go on if this were pitched to me. As a mere reader, though, the cliffhanger at the end of the first chapter is a solid hook that leaves you curious.

Hutchinson is engaging with the world in ways I don’t ordinarily see male writers doing. Very early on in the text, he shames frat boys for boasting about date rape. More male writers should be engaging with this kind of discourse, even if it’s for a quick, throwaway line. I do find, however, that this protagonist is a little man-splainy, which is what I hate about male writers in general. But as far as male writers go, this one’s hardly offensive.

From a publisher’s perspective, this is an interesting case, because while books with gay protagonists are in the minority, such manuscripts shouldn’t receive a free pass. Which is why many publishers don’t necessarily see the potential in so many of these books. I, for instance, wouldn’t be the agent or publisher to publish this one, but that doesn’t by any means mean it shouldn’t be on the shelves.

The Education of Margot Sanchez

the education of margot sanchez

A cashierista with flaming orange-red hair invades my space the minute I step inside the supermarket. I search for Papi but he’s walked ahead into his office already.

Author: Lilliam Rivera

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Published: February 21, 2017

For Those Who Enjoyed: Allegedly, Ugly Betty, Jane the Virgin

Would I Publish This?

I am so clearly not the right audience for this novel. This is clearly meant for Latinx readers, which is hardly a bad thing whatsoever. The fact that I can count the amount of Latinx narratives I’ve engaged with lately on one hand is distressing and should be challenged in the contemporary literary canon.

I have no idea if this plot is going anywhere particularly bold or revolutionary in terms of messages, but the opener suggests Rivera isn’t trying to say anything too important with her narrative. The protagonist comes off as vapid and uninteresting. I personally find characters who natter on about their clothes and their “big booty” to be a giant turn off. I don’t know if this is some kind of reflection of Latinx culture or not, but it’s not an aspect I’m keen to engage with.

Books, Reviews

Book Review: Firstlife

Firstlife

Author: Gena Showalter

Publisher: HarlequinTEEN

Published: February 23, 2016

Rating: 4 / 5

For those who enjoyed: Divergent, Hunger Games, Snow Piercer, Lord of the Flies, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Orange is the New Black, Beauty Queens

This is a spoiler-free review!

Firstlife

This novel is bonkers in the best way. It’s like an extremely camp version of Hunger Games and I loved it more than I should have. It’s everything I wanted Divergent to be… There is so much going on, I don’t even know where to start.

The heroine, Tenley Lockwood, who has possibly the best character name I’ve stumbled across since Wuthering Heights, lives in a dystopian society divided into two factions: Troika and Myriad. As you can imagine, one’s peaceful, one’s violent. And Ten has to choose between the two for her second life after she dies. For one reason or another, both sides want her more than anyone else and it seriously irks them that she refuses to choose in an attempt to find her own, independent way. Even though it’s totally unclear why she’s being pursued and why she refuses to sign with one or the other, that’s why I’m completely taken by her. She’s stubborn and obstinate, and unwilling to bend to anyone’s will.

Best of all, she can kick some serious ass.

It’s Ten’s fierce independence that saves her from being a stereotypical YA heroine. There are so many aspects of Showalter’s writing that teeters on the edge of cringe-worthy, but she’s exceptionally good at pulling it back to the right place. For instance, there’s two boys chasing after her? Don’t worry – she sees one of them as her brother. There’s a superficial mean girl bullying her in prison? Oh, look… she’s got complex, grey morals and now they’re best friends. Oh, the heroine keeps finding herself in dire situations she can’t get out of? Doesn’t matter, she’s already beat up her attackers, saved half a dozen people, and is on to the next thing. Amazing. I’m here for all of this.

None of the developments in this plot should work, and yet it does.

Her love interest, Killian, is your conventional bad boy with a secret heart of gold. And maybe I’ve been seduced by his name alone (what? You mean Killian Jones, right? Eyeliner wearing, leather clad bad boy pirate, Killian Jones from Once Upon a Time? Where do I sign up???), but I fell hook line and sinker for him in ways I’m never tempted by YA love interests. He comes from the violent Myriad faction and the entire way through, even though the sensible thing to do would be to join the peaceful Troika faction, the odds are stacked in favour of Myriad. I mean, you get the hot guy and you get to beat people up. It just so happens to make for the more interesting story. The chaotic neutral in me has mad love for Killian and Myriad. You know what? Yeah… go wreak havoc with your hot boyfriend. I’d far rather read that than watch her sing Kumbaya with her new guardian angel bestie for an entire novel…

The whole way through, Tenley knows better than anyone that there are flaws in both Myriad and Troika. Neither is perfect and both have their own ulterior motives she’s constantly aware of. Ten’s incredibly calculating, a characteristic we don’t see too much of in female characters. She’s earned her nickname, Ten, for her love of numbers, and the fact that she’d undoubtedly be a mathematician if the factions let her simply be what she wanted to be, does so much to set her apart from the conventional dystopian heroine. Unlike a lot of dystopian heroines who are thrown into the maylay without any skills for war or rebellion (I take it back, Katniss. You are great with a bow), I can definitely see Ten strategizing and leading rebellions in future books. The factions supposedly want her because of a prophecy stating she’ll be the leader of them all and I can see her doing just that.

The point I’m trying to make her though, is that I want more logically inclined girls in YA. I want girls to be able to read stories about girls like them who are good with numbers, or science, or leadership, so they can feel validated in what they love to do. This is what YA heroines should be doing in the grand scheme of their stories. They should be helping real life girls pursue their passions, no matter how many people tell them they can’t because it’s not a girl’s job. And I think, against all odds, Tenley Lockwood is leading the charge.

Books, Reviews

Book Review: Nexis

Nexis

Author: A.L. Davroe

Publisher: Entangled Teen

Published: December 2015

Rating: 1 / 5 Stars

For Those Who Enjoyed  Read These Instead: The Hunger Games, The Diabolic, Firstlife, The Handmaid’s Tale, 1984

This is not a spoiler-free review! You can find a spoiler-free version on goodreads!

Nexis

This is as good a time to write this review as any, given how much furor Harlequin Teen has received over The Black Witch lately… I read Nexis with full intentions of reading the sequel, Redux in time for its release, but I can’t in good conscience read Redux, let alone finish Nexis. Which I feel really terrible about because I received Redux not just in exchange for an honest review from the publisher, but I got it as a granted Wish on NetGalley… If anything, I hope this post raises awareness as to the types of things publishers should be aware of when considering sensitivity reads.

This series has an interesting enough premise. It’s set in a post-apocalyptic world (called Evanescence, by the way. I hope that sets the tone…) where humans have let the Earth fall to ruin. The poor are left to rot in the toxic air of the outside world while the elite literally live in their own bubble of ignorance. It’s essentially a cheap imitation of The Diabolic. The elite pat themselves on the back for doing a favour to the poor by creating virtual reality video games that allows people to essentially live a second life. (So basically, virtual reality Sims.) Fine. Cool. The author says to just roll with it and let it happen.

So I do.

In amongst this dystopian world is Ellani, who happens to go by 500 different pet names, half of them cringe-worthy. She’s a stuck up, bratty teen obsessed with boys and disrespectful to her father, who tries so hard to teach her how the Earth once was and all the terrible things human beings have done to it in their selfishness. I can see where Davroe is going with this. It’s heavy-handed, and you expect Ellani to get it at some point and realise she has to do something about it. But nope.

In one ear and out the other.

While her father’s busy trying to teach her empathy for the world that once was, she’s too preoccupied with begging for plastic surgery for her birthday because she’s the only one who hasn’t been altered in some way. She also happens to solely accept validation in the form of how many boys notice and fall in love with her. So vapid is she, she’s apparently “in love with” the prince, who never gives her the time of day, never said a word to her, and doesn’t even know who she is. Not only that, he owns what Davroe is calling Dolls, who are basically slaves he uses to experiment cosmetic surgery upon… If this were, say, The Hunger Games, this would be making all sorts of really intense social commentary on just how corrupt and beauty-obsessed society has become. But no, this, just like everything else, is treated as the norm.

Not only is cosmetic surgery completely normalised in this world, so is assimilation of culture. It’s explained early on that black people were completely weeded out of the gene pool. They’re literally extinct. At this point, I have to put down my ereader and whisper eugenics to myself, which is never a word I want to associate with books I’m reading unless it’s something making important statements against it. This book is not, and in fact, is so blasé, I almost miss when they use the actual word eugenics to explain the way people look so homogenous. And it’s not in a “eugenics happened and now the world is fucked up” way. But in a “and also, eugenics happened… anyway…” way. Casual as you please. As if the reader’s just supposed to accept it and move on. Because that’s exactly what the characters do…

So, Ellani enters the game, which takes all its world-building from how the world used to be before mankind destroyed it. And for 4.5 seconds, she’s taken with how beautiful it is and what a shame that the sky and wildlife and trees and rain are gone. And I think, thank god, maybe she’ll be motivated to do something about it in the real world.

But then a boy comes along. And it’s instalove, so everything else she was inspired by has instantly been wiped clean from her brain (not literally, but wouldn’t that be interesting?) because clearly boys are more important than stopping planetary extinction…

Just when you think I’m done describing the offensive things being so casually name-dropped in this novel, I have one more horrifying tidbit. The big, instigating plot device that gets Ellani into the game in the first place is this big crash which (spoiler alert), kills her father. Fine, you could see it coming from miles away. Alright. But then she loses her legs. And given how poorly Davroe has handled literally everything else in this novel so far, you can maybe see where this is going. Two or so chapters later, she enters the game and discovers she can have her legs back. Well, I was looking forward to seeing a disabled character kick ass in a dystopian world (again, please see The Hunger Games!), but sure, this isn’t a horrifying, ableist alternative at all

I can now glean a couple messages Davroe is leaving with this:

  1. Attention from cute boys is all the validation girls need.
  2. Being beautiful is all girls should aspire to be.
  3. God forbid, if you wind up disabled, you’re better off dead.
  4. You know what was a good idea? The Holocaust.

Cool. With that, I have absolutely no interest, or intention of reading the rest of this series. I sincerely hope Entangled Publishing reads this review and strives to do better next time.

Books, Sneak Peek Weekends

February Sneak Peek Weekend #3

This week’s Sneak Peek celebrates the ever-growing representation of mental illness in YA!

10 Things I Can See From Here

10 Things

I could easily admit that it was nicer and faster to take the train from Seattle to Vancouver. But the last time I took the train, a woman threw herself in front of it just outside Everett.

Author: Carrie Mac

Publisher: Knopf

Published: February 28, 2017

For Those Who LIked: All the Bright Places, Perks of Being a Wallflower, A Tragic Kind of Wonderful, History is All You Left Me, A List of Cages, Girl on the Train

If I were an agent/acquisitions editor, would I select this for publication based on the opening chapter?:

Absolutely.

This is a silly, subjective thing, but Mac immediately sets the setting of Seattle and Vancouver, which I automatically connect with because I’m somewhat of a West Coast girl. I’m already excited to get into her protagonist’s frame of mind, having at least somewhat been that girl traveling from Seattle to Vancouver island and back again before. Paired with the comforts of a familiar setting, the author throws in an overly anxious protagonist whose witnessed a traumatising event. This trauma is shocking and reading about a character grappling with witnessing a suicide is shocking and instantly pulls you in. There’s a lot of dynamic things going on in terms of character and setting development. I know what journey she needs to go on right away.

Like a lot of books I’ve read lately concerning mental illness, the protagonist is attending therapy right from the start. I will always have tons of respect for this, because therapists are not the enemy and teenagers need to be told there’s nothing wrong with asking for help. With this in mind, this gives me strong All the Bright Places vibes. It’s got very similar subject matter. Maeve is obsessed with death like Finch was, and on top of that, extra paranoid. She’s a sympathetic wreck and I feel for her.

Another little touch I appreciate is the chapter relates to a different way to die as Maeve does her obsessive research. I love these types of hooks because it makes me wanna know what the next chapter’s focus is. So many things in this novel’s opener just crooks a come hither finger at you and you have no other choice but to read on…

I should also make a case for the fact that this features a wlw girl, something that wasn’t immediately obvious to me based purely on the opener. But I see so few queer plots featuring girls lately (without deliberately digging for it, which I don’t ordinarily do), we should be supporting these plots more often!

Optimists Die First

Optimists Die First

The first time I saw Bionic Man I was covered in sparkles.

Author: Susan Nielsen

Publisher: Tundra Books

Published: February 21, 2017

For Those Who Enjoyed: All the Bright Places, 10 Things I Can See From Here, Perks of Being a Wallflower

Would I select this for publication?:

I personally wouldn’t, simply because there’s too much going on. I don’t know where I’m supposed to look. There are far too many characters introduced right away and I can’t tell who I’m supposed to glom on to. Opening chapters should be reserved for the protagonist and because there’s so much going on here, I’m struggling to connect.

This opener also makes the mistake of describing what the protagonist is wearing, in detail, from the protagonist’s point of view. I hate this trope. There are better ways to describe characters’ appearances and I just happen to think a protagonist has more important things to do than talk about what everyone’s wearing.

It’s a shame, because I think the title is really great and what drew me in in the first place.

 

Bonus: A Tragic Kind of Wonderful

a-tragic-kind-of-wonderful

My big brother, Nolan used to say everyone has a superpower. Not a skill you learned, but something you were born with.

Author: Eric Lindstrom

Publisher: Poppy (Hachette)

Published: February 7, 2017

For Those Who Enjoyed: All the Bright Places, Perks of Being a Wallflower, Mean Girls

You can read my full review of A Tragic Kind of Wonderful here!

 

What’s your favourite novel addressing mental illness?

 

Books, Reviews

ARC Book Review: These Vicious Masks and These Ruthless Deeds

These Vicious Masks and These Ruthless Deeds

Author: Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas

Publisher: Swoon Reads (Macmillan)

Published: February 2016 and March 14, 2017

Rating:

These Vicious Masks: 4 / 5 Stars

These Ruthless Deeds: 3 /5 Stars

Overall: 3.5 / 5

For Those Who Enjoyed:  X-Men, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Pride and Prejudice, Northanger Abbey, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, The Dark Days Club, Frankenstein, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, The Parasol Protectorate

This is a spoiler-free review!

These Vicious Masks

I received an early release copy of These Ruthless Deeds from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

I’ve decided to review these two together, because I finished the first book immediately before the second and wouldn’t have had time to post a review of These Vicious Masks before the release date of These Ruthless Deeds. Plus, I think my love for the first book gives a richer context to the second.

As a fanatic of both Victorian literature and magical powers, I was so giddy getting into These Vicious Masks. What made it even more enticing was the silly, tongue in cheek way the characters and dialogue was written. It’s like a solid mix of Joss Whedon and Jane Austen in terms of sassy, witty rejoinders. There’s a stereotypical dark and brooding love interest which the protagonist keeps poking fun at for being so. You suspect you’re getting into a Rochester or Heathcliff situation with him, when really he’s just a socially awkward, kind-hearted Darcy. The pair of them, plus Evelyn’s best friends and sister have this very snappy whip smart dynamic which is easily the triumph of the series.

Oscar Vicious Masks

I felt These Ruthless Deeds lost some of that charm with the shift in focus from that ragtag team to the Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters-esque Society of Aberrations. The first book spends so much time poking fun at society matters that the focus on Evelyn’s return to society was boring by comparison. Because she spends so much time under the Society’s thumb, the narrative loses the snappy dialogue that made the first book so fun to read in the first place. I happened to read an interview snippet from Zekas who noted that she and Shanker only keep dialogue that make them both laugh in their drafting stages and it feels a little like they abandoned that rule by the second book in favour of this dry political intrigue plot.

What I did like about These Ruthless Deeds was how Zekas and Shanker addressed the British Empire. There are moments here and there where it’s explicitly stated that the Society of Aberrations is working to round up people with magical abilities in order to protect the country’s Imperial interests. Since the British Empire’s historical background is rooted in horrific deeds and has been documented as such in so many novels of the time, I wanted them to go full blown dark, gothic horror on it. Although bringing down the political conspiracy within the Society does have massive consequences by the end of the novel, I wanted it to go further with it and really drive home the horrible things the Empire is doing to the world and not just immediately to the characters at hand.

While I did still thoroughly enjoy These Ruthless Deeds, the novelty of what made the first book so good wore a little thin. But if you’re a huge fan of Jane Austen, Gothic literature, X-Men, and Joss Whedon’s sass, you will love this series.