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, 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, 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.

Books, Reviews

Book Review: Truthwitch

Truthwitch

Author: Susan Dennard

Publisher: Tor Teen (Macmillan)

Published: January 2016

Rating: 2 / 5 Stars

For Those Who Enjoyed: Throne of Glass, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Stardust, Lord of the Rings, Rebel of the Sands

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

Truthwitch

Welcome to the Witchlands, where everything’s made up and the plot doesn’t matter…

This book made me irrationally angry. Which is probably what I get for picking up a book with a Sarah J. Maas endorsement on the front cover. What kills me is that it took me two thirds of the way through before I even realised it was making me angry. And that’s not even to say Dennard is a terrible writer. She’s just not a character writer. …and not a plot writer.

What she is blatantly skilled at is action writing, something I personally struggle with. That being said, without the other two elements to buoy the narrative development, the rest of the story falls apart. Dennard should be writing for video games or DnD campaigns, just not… novels.

Speaking of DnD, this entire world she’s created is essentially a dungeons and dragons adventure. There are bards and paladins and everyone’s got different powers and swords they’re constantly fighting things… Which could’ve been fun. If Dennard were doing anything particularly original with it. It’s a shame, because there are clearly elements where she’s trying so hard to make the world her own. Her world is called the Witchlands, where everyone wields some form of witchcraft or another and for some reason, despite the fact that some witches control the sea, or the weather, or people’s blood, or poisons, the Truthwitch is the most powerful, sought after of them all…

I should just say, this story shouldn’t have followed Safi (the Truthwitch) at all. She’s the worst type of fantasy hero. She’s impulsive and selfish and completely lacking in self-preservation and motivation… The choices she makes are very quick short-term fixes to dire situations without any concern for the long-term. The novel opens with her losing all her money at cards because a guy who flirted with her once charmed her into believing him. (Let me remind you, her speciality is in identifying the truth). During several emergency situations that unfold because of this mistake, she proceeds to intentionally rip up her clothes multiple times, simply for convenience’s sake. The DnD player in me says ripping up her skirts so she can be more effective in combat and giving chase sounds aesthetically pleasing. Why don’t fantasy writers use this option more often? But then I think about it a little more and…

Practicality.

It’s just not practical. Which is literally every single decision she makes in this novel. Another example of poor choices the protagonist makes is although these villages seem to be full of perfectly nice people who might lend her things if she asked, she still beats passing strangers up on the streets so she can steal their weapons. Or not just weapons. Their horses. She beats people up and steals their horses. On numerous occasions! These villagers must be completely desensitised to being used and abused because Safi’s not the only culprit who gets away with it. Her love interest, Prince-and-occasionally-Admiral Merik has this seemingly loyal crew who adore him and think he’s the best, yet he chains them up below deck as punishment? This same person shows up for the first time ever at this new settlement for his people (who have been suffering from the royal family’s debts), and everyone’s celebrating him in the streets, even though there is literally no explanation as to what he’s done to warrant such devotion.

There is literally no explanation as to why lots of things happen in this book. Which is why the development is so weak in all cases. Why are all the kingdoms at war? Why do all the rulers want the Truthwitch of all the other witches for their power grab? Why would the Emperor want lowly no one Safi as his Empress? Why isn’t this story about her soul sister, Iseult?

Why isn’t this story about Iseult?

Dennard missed such an opportunity by not making Safi’s BFF the protagonist here. Iseult has so much going on and is easily the most dynamic character in this narrative. On the surface, she’s got this meek, stuttering Tara from Buffy the Vampire Slayer vibe, but you find out she actually packs more of a Willow punch with Buffy’s fighting skills. She comes from this nomadic tribe that’s being usurped by this creepy Puritanical preacher a la Fantastic Beasts. And she’s got this complicated relationship with her mother, who supposedly abandoned her when she was young, but in actuality, she was protecting her, and she’s taken on this new apprentice to replace her… She clearly comes from a minority background, like she’s representative of Native or Romani culture even though Dennard doesn’t ever put it into so many words, so she’s got a lot of old world traditions, and she’s constantly the center of casually racist threats (by the other characters, not the author). Meanwhile, she’s also got this ominous voice in her head gently swaying her to the dark side and even though everyone thinks she’s so powerless, she’s actually the most powerful of basically everyone…

Why isn’t this story about her?

I really wish Dennard had done the bold thing and killed off Safi. Iseult would’ve gone total Dark!Willow on everyone and destroyed everything. It would’ve been great and I would’ve loved it. Instead, we got Safi, being selfish and dumb and completely contradictory to her powers… Apparently, lie-detecting protagonists in fantasy is in right now, because this was the second of three books in a row I’ve read with such a trope. So I know for a fact girlfriend’s not doing it right. At all. Having read Traitor to the Throne immediately before this one, where Amani’s fact-checking every little thing someone says to her, Safi never once uses her power. And when she does, it’s like “oh, yeah, I believed it was true, even though it wasn’t, so my power did too”. Why is everyone running in circles, trying to find this useless girl when Iseult is bursting at the seams with every magic there is?

Why wasn’t it about Iseult???

To sum up, this novel should’ve been about Iseult. And I’m upset about it.

I’ll be reading and reviewing the new sequel, Windwitch, soon, so we’ll be able to see if Dennard makes good on that front…

Books, Reviews

ARC Book Review: Brother’s Ruin

Brother’s Ruin

Author: Emma Newman

Publisher: Tor (Macmillan)

Published: March 14, 2017

Rating: 3 / 5 Stars

For Those Who Enjoyed: A Hazard of Good Fortunes, H.G. Wells, Dracula, Sweeney Todd, Mirabelle Mysteries, Sherlock Holmes, The Dark Days Club, Northanger Abbey, Jane Eyre, From Hell, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde, The Parasol Protectorate

*This is not a spoiler-free review! You can find a spoiler-free version on Goodreads!)

Brother's Ruin

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review!

This was a nice, pleasant read. If you’re looking for a quick, simple vacation read where you don’t have to think too hard about the plot, this one’s for you. Brother’s Ruin has that very quaint quality to it that many cosy historical crime novels in women’s literature would have. It’s not a gripping thriller mystery beachside read. But a gentle mystery you save for a rainy day at your lake cabin with a cup of tea.

Because it’s so short, I don’t have too much to say about it. If  you’re stuck inside on a snow day or something, it’d definitely take you one sitting to read it in its entirety. What grabbed me about it was the fact that it’s set in the 19th century. Victorian history and literature is my jam (my undergrad was focused on it). The cover design has a steampunk vibe to it, which is always appealing. And I was personally hoping the title would hint at some tragic demise.

That’s not necessarily what happened… but it was charming nonetheless.

Newman has an extraordinary talent of making the grim underbelly of Victorian London oddly warm and inviting. Not to say that she strips away the grungy aspect of the poor and terrible living conditions, like many people who glamourise the 18th and 19th centuries do, but that she incorporates it in a very quiet, gentle way. The plot focuses on Charlotte Gunn, who is engaged to a lovely, if boring, straight laced man, and earns her own living as an illustrator on the sly. Her family is in dire straights because her father owes money to a seedy lending business, and her sickly brother is being tested as a recruit for a magical institution. It plays like your typical Victorian domestic novel. And even with the subtler supernatural elements, it reads like one. There are no intense action sequences to be found, despite the fact that shocking things do happen. Newman just has a way of glossing over the more vulgar plot points without ignoring them altogether.

Brother’s Ruin is the first book in a series Newman’s titled Industrial Magic, which isn’t the most original title in existence when it comes to steampunk magic plots. But I do like that it hints at the type of rules for her magical world building she’s created for herself. Newman’s magical focus is on this new age of industry, where factories have come into prominence and trains and clocks have become the latest thing. Applying things like pyromania or telekinesis to engineering is a stroke of genius I wouldn’t have necessarily thought of, and I like that little twist.

As such a lover of Victorian crime, I would’ve liked to see Newman go darker with it. The big twist is that there’s a death trap that causes heart failure, and I would have loved to see a proper exploration of exactly how that contraption works and the magic at play there. It was just a little too vague for me and I didn’t feel completely connected to the darker elements of the plot as a result.

One of the last things I wanted to address was the fact that the cockney dialect almost crosses the line into Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins territory, but it toes that line well. As a result, because it’s so concise and the dialogue is, for the most part, true to the era (which is also more than can be said for many modern writers of Victorian history), it feels like a genuine Victorian novel. It doesn’t quite have the crazy insanity of a penny dreadful, but it would undoubtedly belong in a women’s periodical.

It’s just very pleasant and safe, and a nice book to pick up if you just want to shut off for a little while.

Books, Reviews, Uncategorized

ARC Book Review: Traitor to the Throne

Traitor to the Throne

Author: Alwyn Hamilton

Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers (Penguin Random House)

Published: March 7, 2017

Rating: 5 / 5 Stars

For People Who Enjoyed: Wrath and the Dawn, The Grisha, Six of Crows, Star Wars, Rogue One, The Big Lie, Blame

This is a spoiler-free review!

traitor

I received this ARC from Goodreads and Penguin Random House Canada in exchange for an honest review! Yay! This was my first ever ARC, and as a genuinely fantastic read, definitely worth celebrating!

I completely forgot how much I loved this series. It’s been just over half a year since I read the first book, Rebel of the Sands, so I was pretty rusty on the previous events and who was who. Fortunately enough, Hamilton gives a solid Here’s What You Missed On Rebel of the Sands… in the opening chapter, which was both informative and didn’t feel like an unnecessary info-dump rehashing of what we already know.

I’d been warned by friends and various reviews that this book was different than the last and it had me worried. I went in with a deep love for Jin. He just about makes the series for me. Without Jin, I wasn’t sure if the plot could carry itself, because he carries half the charm. So when he wound up only showing up for about a fifth of the novel, it was disappointing, but I also didn’t find myself constantly looking for him or waiting for him to show up again. There was a delightful amount of action going on in the interim between Amani and Jin’s separations and their inevitable reunion. I almost forgot to wonder when I’d get to see their Han/Leia style snarky  banter again.

Which brings me to one of the cleverest things Hamilton has done with this novel. It’s difficult to imagine Amani without Jin and Jin without Amani, both as two halves of a romance, and as partners in the rebellion. Yet by doing away with Jin early on in the plot of Traitor, Hamilton proves that Amani can, in fact, survive without a man. Not only does she cleave Amani from her love interest, she tosses her out of her comfort zone in a very female dominated environment. She goes from the very equal roles shared between the men and women of the rebellion, to the extremely insular patriarchal harem of the Sultan. Hamilton recently did a promotional interview explaining her choices in tossing her into the harem, which nicely expresses precisely why I have so much respect for this choice. By throwing this strong, independent female character into this group of women placed in a feminine space exclusively for the male gaze, Hamilton’s prised apart the problematic nature of patriarchal society and how much more work we have left to do in the feminist fight to demolition it.

Rebellion’s never  been more relevant than now. When women are still fighting for reproductive rights in not only third world countries, but Western society today, we’re still fighting to be taken seriously in the modern world. And that’s exactly what Hamilton is reflecting here. She may not have started Rebel of the Sands with a particular real life fight in mind, but now she has one, and it gives her series so much meatier context. These women have no choice but to fight for their survival, whether it’s in the middle of the desert, fighting for justice, or fighting for the attention of the men that hold power over them. The women in Hamilton’s series are all united under the same struggle, regardless of their class.

I saw Alwyn Hamilton speak a handful of times while I was at YALC in July (hence the reason I read Rebel of the Sands in the first place) and at the time, her panel discussions on building a team of rebels was hypothetical and silly, goofy, fun. But now it’s real and she’s hitting the nail on the head. Hamilton is no dummy. The way she weaves her tales, builds characters, and gets her message across exudes intelligence. She knows exactly what she’s doing and it’s beyond a desert romance. It’s so much bigger now. It’s fighting for what’s right, no matter your gender, your class, your race… Fighting for truth, and justice…

For all.

Books, Reviews

ARC Book Review: The Bone Witch

The Bone Witch

Author: Rin Chupeco

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Published: March 7, 2017

Rating: 3.5 / 5 Stars

*This is a spoiler-free review.

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For Those Who Enjoyed: Uprooted, The Grisha, Six of Crows, Lord of the Rings, Sabriel, Interview with a Vampire, Memoirs of a Geisha

I received an Advanced Reader Copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

I feel a little bit like I’ve been robbed of a five-star experience. Everything about this on the surface screams like a book I would love. It’s got a great title, a beautiful cover, a cool dark premise, and gorgeous aesthetics. It’s one of those stories that could have been the perfect book if there was more action. Since it doesn’t, it reads like many first novels in a series do: it introduces the world building and characters. I’m prepared to tentatively let it slide when I know first novels aren’t always the best novels when it comes to series. If the next book gets more into the nitty gritty battle sequences, I’m on board. We’ll just have to wait and see…

What this book does do really well, however, is give you an immersive, ornately curated experience. It’s like walking through a beautifully curated museum exhibit, full of intricate details that draw out hints of the past and tell a story about the wealth of a culture. There’s this very carefully put together array of Japanese-inspired wardrobes and culture and I feel very much like I’m opening a window into the history of this magical, mythical place. Every robe is intricately detailed and every tradition entwined in becoming a bone witch is extremely rich.Yet ultimately it’s too detached from what truly happened with time that we just don’t get the meat of the story. There’s no knitty-gritty action or juicy details. It is beautiful and full of life, but because it’s nothing but an exhibit behind glass, you don’t get the full story of what made these people tick. Everything’s already been long lost to legends of the past.

Without a doubt, this book is beautifully written. If anything, Chupeco prioritises aesthetic over plot and in this way, it succeeds far more as a work of art than as a novel. And maybe that’s not so bad. Maybe The Bone Witch is ushering in a new definition of what a novel can be.

All I know is, I had a really nice time at the museum.

 

Reviews, Sneak Peek Weekends

January Sneak Peek Weekends #3

Today I’ve got a handful of fantasies following a suspiciously similar trope…

Flicker and Mist

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Having the ability should have been fun. In another world, a child who could become invisible might play pranks on her parents, might sneak around with friends, might go ride the beasts in the dead of night. In another world, the Ability might have brought freedom and joy. But I was not born in another world, I was born in the Upland, where the Ability was used as a weapon of war.

Author: Mary G. Thompson

Publisher: Clarion Books (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Published: January 3, 2017

For People Who Liked: Scorpio Races, Half Bad, The Grisha, X-Men, The Incredibles

Target Audience: Fantasy readers, fans of characters with superpowers and/or magical abilities.

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

If this were the first fantasy manuscript involving a protagonist oppressed or hunted for having a magical power that set her apart from everyone else, I might give it a tentative pass. Or at least put it in a pile for later considerations.  Which might be what I’ll say for any book on today’s list. But being a regular reader of fantasy, and YA fantasy at that, I know the tropes. I’ve seen these tropes over and over again.

I get it. We’re still chasing after the next Harry Potter. It’s been 20 years. Let’s put the magical Chosen One/weapon convention to rest. I want a new fantasy novel to grab me and do something new with the genre!

The publishers want this one to follow in the footsteps of Half Bad. I can tell. It’s got that exact same vibe as Sally Green’s series. Except Half Bad is also not doing anything unique with the genre, nor does it have a particularly great reputation in terms of diverse representation. Granted, Flicker and Mist already hints at better writing than Half Bad, so maybe, just maybe the same ol’ conventions might be taken in a new direction.

Frost Blood

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I offered my hand to the fire. Sparks leapt from the hearth and settled onto my fingers, heat drawn to heat, and glittered like molten gems against my skin.

Author: Elly Blake

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers 

Published: January 10, 2017

For People Who Liked: Half Bad, Frozen, Lord of the Rings, Red Queen, Throne of Glass, X-Men, The Incredibles, Flicker and Mist.

Target Audience: High fantasy readers. The same people who might pick up Flicker and Mist; they can take them home as a package deal.

Would I select this for publication based on the opening chapter?:

I picked this one up immediately after Flicker and Mist. If these two crossed my desk at the same time, and this one happened to be lower on the pile, I’d put it down immediately. This isn’t to say that this book is terrible and shouldn’t be read. But rather, agents aren’t wanting to see exactly the same plot in every submission they see.

If I were an agent, my personal focus would be on fantasy and sci-fi, and as I said, I’d be looking for that unique hook that sets a manuscript apart from other novels in the canon. The trouble is, there’s that trope again and I’m not going to wait around to see if this is putting a twist on the convention. This is especially why I chose to do these sneak peeks. Opening chapters aren’t going to give you nearly enough to tell you whether the story’s going to be amazing or not. But that’s exactly what most agents are using to pass judgement on whether it’s good enough for publication.

That being said, there’s nothing particularly new going on with Frost Blood either. Though it does help that it can easily slot into an already existing subgenre alongside so many other stories in a similar vein. And that’s exactly why it was published in the first place…

Lost Girls

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I remember last night perfectly. I know what we ate for dinner. I know my little brother didn’t do his homework. I know Dad drove me to my ballet lessons, then waited for me in the Starbucks across the street.

Author: Merrie Destefano

Publisher: Entangled Publishing

Published: January 3, 2017

For People Who Liked: The One Memory of Flora Banks, The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer

Target Audience: Readers who like gritty mysteries, amnesia plots, or paranormal/urban fantasies.

Would I select this for publication based on the opening chapter?:

No. The entire first page is word for word the back cover blurb. Which I know isn’t the author’s fault, but as far as novel openers go, as an agent, I’ve already read the blurb, and would be looking for something in the manuscript sample to tell me something I don’t already know about the novel. So often, I find myself 50 pages into a novel, turn to the back cover and go “oh, that’s what this novel’s about?” and it’s a feeling I thoroughly enjoy, because it means the author’s keeping me guessing. That’s not what’s happening here and it’s just very lazy on the publisher’s part. My interest just isn’t piqued and it isn’t helped by the juvenile writing style.

Also, you can’t tell from anything in the marketing of this book, but she’s got hints of possibly having some special magical power and I’m already bored.

If you want something a little more original and engaging, try:

You Don’t Know My Name

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The numbers on my phone stare back at me. Thirty more minutes of target practice before I can start my homework. I take a breath and run the back of my hand across my forehead. It’s still damp with sweat from my run and the hour of Krav Maga with Mom.

Author: Kristen Orlando

Publisher: Swoon Reads (Macmillan)

Published: January 10, 2017

For People Who Liked: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Catch Me if You Can, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, James Bond, The Bourne Identity, A Series of Unfortunate Events

Target Audience: Readers who like spy or undercover plots

Would I select this for publication based on the opening chapter?:

I will admit, I had a lot of fun reading the prologue of this novel, which is shocking, because despite what a prologue is supposed to do, it’s rarely the most engaging part of a novel. It feels exactly how I felt watching Netflix’s new A Series of Unfortunate Events. It’s surprising, it’s action packed, it’s doing something you don’t ordinarily see in YA. I’m excited by the My Parents are Spies! angle.

This is the exact type of book as an agent, I’d request the full manuscript. The opening narrative is strong and pulls you in. With this in mind, if I were to then receive that full manuscript, I’d have to give it a pass because it quickly devolves into a silly high school plot where the author tries too hard to make cool teen lingo happen. But I was excited for that hot second and I encourage people to give it a shot just in case it is the fun spy plot it says it is.

Poison’s Kiss

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I’m not a bad person. At least that’s what I tell myself over and over as I wend my way through the marketplace, past the vendors selling spiced meats and bright fabric, incense and rare birds.

Author: Breeana Shields

Publisher: RandomHouse

Published: January 10, 2017

For People Who Liked: Wrath and the Dawn, Rebel of the Sands, Six of Crows, The Raven Cycle, The Sineater’s Daughter

Target Audience: People who like more lyrical prose, fans of the deadly kiss trope, fantasy lovers.

Would I select this for publication based on the opening chapter?:

After about five hours of poring over books, I was more than a little weary of reading the same plot over and over again. And so it was with such delight and relief that I stumbled across this beauty. This one was unquestionably the easiest yes I could give to any of the 11 books I flicked through on this particular day. It’s got this vivid, beautifully written, colourful world building that feels very much like Alwyn Hamilton or Leigh Bardugo’s handiwork.

I’ve harped on this entire post about taking the usual and making it unusual and this is the perfect example of how an author can do that successfully. For some reason completely unknown to me, I love the doomed lovers convention where if they kiss, one of them will die. It’s one of those things that is likely done to death in a million horribly written ways, and yet I’ve read a handful of really well-written twists on the theme. This being one of them. I’d love to see this one get more attention as time goes on!