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, Sneak Peek Weekends

February Sneak Peek Weekends #1

This week’s collection of sneak peeks gives a nod to the latest trend in YA: fairy tale retellings. While I’ve complained about exhausted trends in fantasy in previous reviews, this one just doesn’t get old. Here are some amazing authors and their novels that continue to give fairytale retellings their great reputation!

Long May She Reign

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A hundred doves burst out of the pie.

Author: Rhiannon Thomas

Publisher: HarperTEEN

Published:February 21, 2017

For Those Who Enjoyed: The Sineater’s Daughter, The Lie Tree, Uprooted, Lunar Chronicles, Throne of Glass, Truthwitch, Caraval, The Night Circus, Pantomime

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

Yes.

This novel opens with doves flying out of a pie. Right away, you know the story is a fairytale nod, and therefore know exactly what you’re getting. I personally appreciate the reference to more obscure nursery rhyme aspect of fairytales, so I’m drawn in by the first paragraph.

Although the narrative is on the simpler side in terms of fairytale narratives, there’s a lot going on in the opening chapter. The immediate first impression of the protagonist suffers from a minor case of special snowflake, not like other girls syndrome, but Thomas reels it back in by making her logical and scientifically oriented. I for one, want more analytically minded female protagonists in my life!

Her best friend is introduced right away, on the other end of the personality spectrum from her. She’s more of a traditional female protagonist- she likes reading and more artistic pursuits. There’s a lot of polar opposite female friends in YA lately, particularly in terms of the delicate best friend and the bolder protagonist, but as long as there are female friendships in the books teenage girls are reading, it’s not necessarily a bad thing…

This opening chapter’s attention to detail also succeeds in giving a solid insight into royal dynamics in Thomas’ world. The descriptions are solid. I get the world we’re in, but in a really subtle way in that she’s not giving the whole game away with entire info dumps. It’s colourful, and frenetic, and aesthetically pleasing. It’s just her protagonist’s world, as she’s experiencing it, and that’s exactly what it should be.

The Wish Granter

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Humans were pathetically predictable. Always longing for more. Always desperate to get their way. Shamelessly grasping for what remained out of reach, even when it cost them dearly. He despised them.

Author: CJ Redwine

Publisher: Balzer + Bray (HarperCollins Children’s)

Published: February 14, 2017

 This is a sequel to The Shadow Queen, but far as I can tell, it doesn’t seem to follow the original characters, so I think it’s safe to say you could pick this one up as a standalone. (I wouldn’t ordinarily preview a sequel, but I thought this one would be safe enough…)

For Those Who Enjoyed: Once Upon a Time, Lord of the RIngs, Rebel of the Sands, Aladdin, Robin McKinley, A Darker Shade of Magic, Throne of Glass, A Court of Thorns and Roses, The Bloody Chamber

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

Yes.

It’s written in third person! This is shockingly rare for YA novels and I’m so relieved to pick up something not in first person for once! I need very little convincing on that front. The third person makes a huge difference in terms of writing style. It’s beautifully written and feels mystical, like a real fairytale. The place names, characters and spells are gorgeous in terms of linguistics, with some kind of Celtic, Welsh base. They’re very reminiscent of Tolkien.

It’s set in a fae kingdom, which usually squicks me out when done wrong, but these fae read more like the elves from Lord of the Rings than your fae of Throne of Glass.

This is based on Rumpelstiltskin, a fairytale not usually retold. Not since before Once Upon a Time, anyway.This is an exciting prospect! It’s not your run of the mill princess story. It’s different. I’m thrilled to see these fantasy writers looking outside of the box for their materials. I honestly don’t need one more Snow White or Cinderella.

Wintersong

wintersong

Once there was a little girl who played her music for a little boy in the wood.

Author: S. Jae-Jones

Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books (Macmillan)

Published: February 7, 2017

For Those Who Enjoyed: Robin McKinley, The Bone Witch, Labyrinth, Pan’s Labyrinth, Princess and the Goblin, Goblin Market, Grimm’s Fairy tales, Hans Christian Anderson, Uprooted

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

Yes. I loved this instantly from the first page. It gives off this magical vibe, like you’ve been transported into this mystical realm. It’s doing similar things in terms of building atmosphere as the previous two, yet it’s so much richer, if that’s possible. I instantly know the fairy tales she’s referencing and it’s very clear she’s well-read in her subject.This particular retelling is about the Goblin King, so again, this is another surprising side to the fairytale canon you don’t see redone a lot. Although it’s a little more obscure in terms of well-known fairy tales, there are so many stories she’s clearly drawing from. Jae-Jones is serving David Bowie in Labyrinth and Rosetti’s “Goblin Market” rolled into one and it’s beautiful. Any novel putting Victorian literature on a teenage reader’s map is doing aspirational things.

The Witch’s Kiss

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Witches do not kneel. They do not grovel. They do not beg favours from any creature, mortal or immortal.

Author: Katherine and Elizabeth Corr

Publisher: HarperCollins Children’s Books

Published: June 2016 (This was obviously published in the past year, but I’m previewing this one because its sequel, The Witch’s Tears, did come out this February.)

For Those Who Enjoyed: Once Upon a Time, Twilight, The Graces, RoseBlood, The Bone Witch

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

No.

I’m not a fan of modern fairy tales. Or even modern protagonists being thrown into fairytales. It’s not terribly original and it’s not doing anything new with the genre as far as fairytale retellings go. The prologue is great. The aesthetics are strong and sets up a spooky atmosphere. And then chapter one brings you right back to a boring modern protagonist, having a really boring, typical teenage experience with her brother. The protagonist is paranoid, obsessed about a killer on the loose (which is a sketchy trope at best). That’s not what I want out of a fairytale. I need something new.

 

What are your favourite fairy tale retellings? Feel free to share in the comments! 

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.

the-bone-witch

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!

Reviews

Book Review: A Tragic Kind of Wonderful

A Tragic Kind of Wonderful

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

Rating: 3 / 5 Stars

*This is a spoiler-free review!

a-tragic-kind-of-wonderful

In my grand list of new February releases to check out, this one wasn’t a particularly high priority. But after RoseBlood, I needed a quick palate-cleanser and A Tragic Kind of Wonderful happened to be instantly available at the library.

I will say right away, I’m always so excited to see contemporary YA authors confronting mental illness in a raw, honest, and meaningful way. And although bipolar disorder seems to be a hot topic in contemporary YA over the last few years, I feel like I definitely learned more about the disorder reading this than I expected. It doesn’t feel nearly as lovingly written as All the Bright Places was, given how short it is, but it’s undoubtedly well-researched. And because it was so well-researched, all the coping strategies put in place felt very true to life. As someone who’s gone to therapy for mental illness, I saw my own experience in main character, Mel’s interaction with her own therapist and how she puts her coping mechanisms in place. What’s more, she has a stable, productive, and positive relationship with her therapist, something that isn’t always portrayed in YA, depending on what aspect of the struggle with mental illness any given author is trying to address. (Jennifer Niven, for instance, looks to highlight how adults tend to shrug off mental illness as irrelevant.) So I think it’s nice that even though it’s mentioned that Mel’s been through a handful of therapist she hasn’t liked, at the point the novel takes place, she’s finding a routine with this therapist that does work for her. Even nicer still, the novel opens with Mel already aware of her bipolar disorder, and with her coping mechanisms in place. It’s that day to day dealing with mental illness as part of a narrative that I enjoy. I know my experience and many others’ is being represented. And that’s a great feeling.

All the subplots in comparison feel very secondary to the mental illness. There are several plots and twists being woven into this short narrative (it’s less than 300 pages long) and in the end, none of them really feel like they matter in the grand scheme of things. It’s as if Lindstrom wanted to write a novel about bipolar disorder, with bipolar disorder as the main character. Everything’s kind of frazzled and all over the place and nothing quite fits together until the end. None of the characters quite feel fully realised and I didn’t quite care about them as a result.

Given that, the more I think about it, the more I feel like this story would be more interesting and groundbreaking if the protagonist were a trans boy. Throughout the novel, I kept reading Mel as a boy (and often forgot her name entirely). The only real thing that differentiates her as a girl is the fact that she’s on her period throughout the novel. But who says she can’t be a boy struggling with this same issue? There is certainly a lack of trans protagonists in literature in general and menstruation as a genuine issue for trans boys is an even rarer discussion in the media. Men rarely write in such detail about women and menstruation in fiction, and it’s already shocking that Lindstrom’s doing it here, and making an important plot point out of it. He’s not making any statements about how periods control girls’ behaviour. Instead, he’s addressing a very real fact that menstrual hormones cause imbalances when paired with bipolar medications. While I think it’s great that he’s going there with a female protagonist, I would’ve liked to see him go one step further.

That’s not to say the whole menstruation plot is the only reason why I’d cast a trans boy as the protagonist. There’s also a lot of discussion about sexual identity in this novel. There’s talk about being gay and out to your friends, and bisexuality, and how this is a valid way to identify. And again, it’s doing fine as is. It’s already going a lot further than many narratives go in terms of that discussion. But there’s a Mean Girls-type subplot, which is almost overdone at this point. Granted, the queen bee who drops her best friends because they’re not cool enough for her anymore is a very real social issue that happens again and again and again in high schools. It’s happened to me and it’s happened to other girls in my life. I personally think writing Mel in as a trans boy would’ve slotted well into that bullying plot, and done something new with it. I like to hope trans kids have at least some people in their lives to support them, but there is always going to be that one person who refuses to accept who they are, and would cast them aside for not being something they can control in their lives.

I just wanted this story to be bigger, and saying larger things.

I certainly wouldn’t discourage anyone from reading this novel. In fact, if you’re someone who suffers from bipolar disorder, or knows someone who suffers from it, I’d say give it a go. It offers an interesting insight into the everyday experience of living with a mental disorder. Who knows? You might learn something from it.

Books, Uncategorized

Book Review: RoseBlood

RoseBlood

Author: A.G. Howard

Publisher: Harry N. Abrams

Published: January 10, 2017

Rating: 1 / 5

For People Who Liked: Twilight, The Mortal Instruments, Dracula, Phantom of the Opera, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

*This is not a spoiler-free review! (A spoiler-free review can be found on Goodreads!)

roseblood

Wow… This author sure is doing… a lot. I wish I could say it’s in a way I enjoy, but it’s not. I first stumbled upon RoseBlood at YALC back in July. I can’t tell you why this book of all upcoming releases promoted at the YA convention was the one I was going to spend months watching out for, but it was. It was the retelling of Phantom of the Opera that got me. I love a good retelling, and gothics only clinch it for me.

I guess the one thing I can say about A.G. Howard is that she knows her shtick. Not that it’s a very good shtick. Just that she knows what she likes and she does it her way. It just so happens that she does it badly. In terms of retellings, there’s nothing remotely original about this story. The way I would define a retelling is taking an old classic and spinning it into a new adventure.

That’s not what Howard’s doing here.

Instead, what we get is a bizarre information dump of every single piece of research the author’s done on Phantom of the Opera (which, according to her website and author’s notes doesn’t actually culminate to a lot). Not only do some of the original characters show up in this story, but so does the book itself. So I have to ask: is it a retelling if the characters are canonically aware of the original text? If the protagonist is obsessed with Phantom of the Opera and then happens to find herself ensnared by the phantom himself?

As a standalone completely separate from the original text, I would say maybe it’s a little more interesting? That’s being far too generous to the terrible writing though. There are aspects I would say in a far better written story, I’d really like. The story is set in this gothic abandoned opera house in France… Vampires are (sort of???) involved… There are graveyards… Mad scientist things keep happening… It could’ve been so good…

Instead, what we get is this terribly cringe-worthy narration with one dimensional characters and weird quirks that are just there… to be weird. Every single character gets a painstakingly detailed physical description from the colour of their hair to their clothes. Which isn’t that unusual as far as description goes. But Howard pairs that with their so totally weird hobbies they  do in their spare time and… that’s it. That’s her character development, done. It’s as if she’s interpreted modern day gothic literature to be the golden age of emo from 2007. All the characters sound like they shop at Hot Topic and do all the things they do just to be extra. In an opera school, which presumably teaches opera, we get a handful of weird teachers who do weird things in their spare time including: mad science experiments, having tea parties with mannequins, taxidermy, and graveyard fanaticism. This would be really cool, if it meant anything to the plot whatsoever. And guess what?

It doesn’t.

I kept waiting for there to be a big reveal at the end where they all come together to reveal “ha HA! We were in on it all along!” and they pulled together their weird expertise to culminate to something insane.

That’s not what happened.

…and I haven’t even gotten to the main plot. The premise of the story is that Rune is being shipped off to this prestigious opera school outside of Paris, which apparently only accepts American students, because she did something horrible in her hometown. But her big, quirky thing is that she has some sort of musical Tourettes. In that she sings… uncontrollably. …and apparently this is so severe, it could kill people. Oh, but it’s only ever triggered by opera. So her mother… sends her off to a school, where there is nothing but opera singers? Everywhere? All the time? Seemingly the logic here is so she can learn to control her musical struggles. This would make more sense, if there was a single hint that this school actually bothers to teach any form of music. Instead, all there is is an opera performance, which needs to find its leading lady. You would think in any other variation of this story, the protagonist would be going for that role and fight for it.

Nope.

She avoids it like the plague, even though she’s clearly the best singer there, and when she gets the part, makes an excuse and gives it to her friend. Again, this would be a nice twist, if Howard bothered to even have this friend of hers show up for longer than one or two scenes. None of these characters matter, and in extension, nothing Rune does matters. She spends an exorbitant amount of time trying to figure out what causes her uncontrollable singing and has zero self-preservation skills. She’s got no agency, and even less clue.

Which brings me to the love interest. Thorn (yes, his name is Thorn, because that was the name the Phantom gave him…) casually stalks Rune her entire life. Now, I get this is taking a page out of Phantom of the Opera itself. Christine Daae grew up with the Angel of Music watching over her, which turns out to be the Phantom, terrorizing her for his own ends. That’s dark and creepy and he gets his just desserts at the end. Cool. Except here, Thorn and Rune have this psychic connection they’ve had all their lives, so by the time he physically stalks her and watches her in her bedroom, she’s apparently fine with it? He pulls together this convoluted plan to bring her to the Phantom by giving her this bleeding rose. Bleeding. Rose. RoseBlood. See what she did there? This is a motif that shows up again and again and again as if bleeding roses are a thing that actually exist and show up on a regular basis in gothic literature? Do they? I’ve read a pretty fair amount of gothic literature and I don’t… I don’t think that’s a thing.

It’s not a thing.

After a drawn out series of creepy steps to get her to meet him for the first time, Rune shows up and is instantly enamoured with him. …even though he’s literally stalking her and intruding on her thoughts. She later sneaks out to a rave club to see him again, where he and the Phantom psychologically date rape the entire club. As in they lure people into the club, sap them of their energies and then drug them to conveniently forget? And apparently because they’ve drugged everyone, it makes it okay? There is far too much talk of “oh, but it’s okay, because they’ve just been drugged.” Um…?

When is that ever okay?

Not even if you are a “psychic” vampire is it okay. Not just vampires. Psychic. Vampires. If this were a real, legit vampire story, I want some good, old fashioned consequences to their actions. The thing with vampires is, they know what they’re doing is messed up, as does the author. That’s what makes them so horrifying. They’re predators. This is precisely why vampires shouldn’t be glamorised or romanticised! If there was a single ounce of “my god, they’re drugging the whole club and draining their souls, we should stop them!” I’d be into it.

But this is not. How you write vampires!

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One final thing that just puts the nail in the coffin for me (heh) is this mad scientist subplot (if you can even call it that), which finally comes full circle by the end of the novel. One of the other totally super weird things that happens in this novel is there are animals in the woods surrounding the opera house that make noises other animals would make. Crows meowing, swans, croaking… it’s a cacophony of weird! It turns out that Thorn’s totally super weird quirk is that he surgically experiments on animals who are hurt. Which apparently involves swapping their vocal cords. Now, I’m not an expert in anatomy, but I’m pretty sure that’s not how vocals work. Especially when it later comes to swapping other people’s vocal cords? It’s like that weird b-movie trope that if you swap someone’s brain or heart with a serial killer’s you’ll get a Jekyll and Hyde situation. That’s not a scientifically accurate thing… Maybe that’s what Howard was going for, but if she was, throw some supernatural potion in or something to make it a little more believable.

This is a cult classic d-movie in the making if ever there was one. It’s the kind of thing little emo 16 year old me and her friends would’ve read or watched and laughed at hysterically during a sleepover or something. Except there’s not a chance this would ever get filmed by anyone in their right mind. So if you’re interested in reading it, maybe… don’t. And read Dracula, Frankenstein, Jekyll and Hyde instead… Even the original Phantom of the Opera itself. Literally any other gothic classic but this one. And if you want some campy, gothic crack, go watch Rocky Horror. (No, seriously. Watching The Rocky Horror Picture Show would be a far better use of your time, by far.) Hell. You could read the infamous worst Harry Potter fanfiction ever written, My Immortal and have a richer reading experience.

There are so many way better gothic stories out there. Go read or watch them instead.