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, 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

long-may-she-reign

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

the-wish-granter

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

witchs-kiss

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.