Books, Reviews

Book Review: Passenger

Passenger

Author: Alexandra Bracken

Publisher: Hyperion

Published: January 5, 2016

Rating: 4 / 5 Stars

For Those Who Enjoyed: Indiana Jones, Outlander, Back to the Future, A Wrinkle in Time, This Savage Song, Dreamland Burning, The Lie Tree, Code Name Verity, The Diviners

Passenger

This was kind of everything I want in a novel. I may be extremely biased, considering I too have written a time travel series about family blood feuds, but I’m still absolutely here for it all the same. This is my first Alexandra Bracken novel (she’s far better known for her insanely popular The Darkest Minds series) and I somehow imagined a far simpler writing style on par with most YA fantasy series out there. I am, however, delighted to find my assumptions were wrong, and in fact, Bracken weaves together a complex, beautifully written story crossing the boundaries of time.

There were so many things going into this novel that had me absolutely grinning ear to ear giddy. Etta (who has a great, original name vintage flavoured name, which I loved) is an incredibly smart, driven female protagonist. She’s an insanely affluent violinist training to play with the greats. She’s so focused, with her eyes honed right in on the prize, that it all almost works to her detriment. This is something I definitely think is lacking in YA female protagonists lately. So often, they’re drifting and don’t know what they want at the start of the story, and often don’t figure it out until the end of the series. But here, Bracken gives us a different take. Etta knows who she is, what she wants, and how to get it, and Bracken throws her in the deep end of the complete opposite of what she expects. Etta effectively loses the one part of her life she can depend on in being thrown back in time. I gotta say, although I’m upset that the likelihood of Etta’s returning to her life as a sharply-motivated violinist is pretty slim given how her arc progresses, I’m loving this inversion of the YA female stereotype. Etta has to learn to let go and be less of a control freak in her own life and I like that.

There is nothing that makes me more excited in a book than surprise Victorian settings. As with any time travel plot, Etta and Nicholas to a certain amount of bouncing around from one era to the next. Shockingly enough, for a time travel writer, I might not have a good sense of what a typical time travel story is like, but I can’t say I’ve ever read one that uses the jumping from one era to the next so liberally and so effectively. A lot of the time travel novels I’ve read have stuck to a single era, but this one has a very clear goal propelling them through the different time periods. Bracken’s very meticulous about her every choice she makes and no time jump feels out of place or superfluous to the plot. Etta and Nicholas stay as long as they need to in every era, no more, no less. Although this may not be your usual quick YA read, the plot is tight and gets on without any unnecessary waffling.

That being said, I am a little disappointed that we couldn’t linger and properly savour each era. Bracken’s so hyperfocused on Etta’s task at hand, she never gives the reader an opportunity to explore each new setting. In the span of the novel, we see World War 2 London, 19th Century France, 16th century Damascus, and yet it’s a very insular perspective on each era. One that doesn’t fully embody the atmosphere of each place and time. The tight rules of time travel in Bracken’s world seems to work against her in this way. Because Etta and the other time jumpers aren’t allowed to interact with themselves from different timelines, or really interact with big world events, there’s no opportunity to do any fun name drops to give that real sense of place.

Refusing to let her characters interact with the world around them, Bracken effectively strips all meaning of time and place. Both Nicholas and Etta struggle with their sense of belonging. Etta, a modern girl being thrown into the past, and Nicholas, a 19th century boy punished to never jump through time again. The pair of them are essentially blank slates, ones who could redefine that sense of belonging; that sense of home, not applying it to a specific place or time, but in with each other.

Very rarely do time travel romances do the whole “their love defies time and place” without being cheesy and melodramatic, but Passenger definitely succeeds without being overwrought. The romance, when it starts picking up steam, doesn’t overpower Etta’s original mission. She’s determined to find the astrolabe to save her kidnapped mother and Nicholas is 100% there to support her through it. (A trope I’ve also been known to use on a pretty regular basis). That mission is first and foremost a priority and Bracken doesn’t diminish its importance in favour of the central romance, while still making Etta and Nicholas’ romance a sweeping one. And I respect that!

I will say, I read this book on and off within a series of about four months, while getting distracted by other books. I feel like had I read it within a week, I would be far more in love with it than I was. I was fully on board for it in a big way within the first 150 pages, and I think my enthusiasm diminished the longer I left it sitting on my bedside table. So if you like some fantasy, like some history, like some romance, all tied together in a heftier-than-usual YA package, this is that novel. Just expect to really take some time to savour it because I think this is definitely one of those books you have to spend quality time with.

Sneak Peek Weekends

March Sneak Peek Previews #2

I’m rounding out the month with some of March’s contemporaries for you guys!

The Inexplicable Logic of My Life

Inexplicable Logic

I have a memory that is almost like a dream: the yellow leaves from Mima’s mulberry tree are floating down from the sky like giant snowflakes.

Author: Benjamin Alire Saenz

Publisher: Clarion Books (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Published: March 7, 2017

For Those Who Enjoyed: History is all You Left Me, At the Edge of the Universe, The Rest of Us Just Live Here, David Leviathan, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, A List of Cages, Perks of Being a Wallflower

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

Full disclosure, I have not read Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, (not that you’d need to  – this one isn’t the long-awaited sequel), so I’m going in completely blind. I expected Saenz’ writing to be more poetic for some reason. It’s not doing a ton of things any different than the contemporary authors I’ve read lately. But it does feel very true to the teen experience, so I definitely understand why teens are so attached to his writing in that sense. I do like seeing more and more stories written by male authors about boys who cry and feel things. It’s important for boys to see themselves in the stories they read, and be told that they’re allowed to be emotional, to let it all out. Toxic masculinity hurts boys just as much as it hurts girls in the realm of patriarchy and feminism, so it’s nice to see more authors taking on that conversation. The narrative voice also has a lot of character; it’s engaging. The dialogue is so realistic, and so natural, it’s easy to forget you’re even reading.

In terms of if I would personally pick it for publication, it’s a bit unfair of me to say I wouldn’t, simply based on my leaning more toward fantasy, but that’s how publishers/agents are like in real life… And that’s why we have publishers and their imprints specialising in different genres! What doesn’t fancy one agent or publisher would be gold for someone else! That doesn’t make this one a bad read at all. In fact, I would highly recommend it to readers, especially those who already love Saenz’s work. It’s nice that Clarion at Houghton Mifflin picked this one up! (Fun fact: Simon & Schuster have full bragging rights for snapping up Aristotle and Dante, meaning Saenz is published under different houses…)

You’re Welcome, Universe

You're Welcome

Six stencils in and it’s gone. Okay, the tag vanished by Stencil Number Two, but I have a point to prove. I’m not covering up your scribbled slur with just anything, I’m making art here. I’m creating. I’m on fire.

Author: Whitney Gardner

Publisher: Knopf

Published: March 7, 2017

For Those Who Enjoyed: History is all you left me, Love and First Sight, The Fault in Our Stars

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

I’m not terribly interested in a graffiti plot, so I wouldn’t personally publish it, but the hook is both interesting and important. I’m seeing more and more disabled characters in YA lately, which is really nice. I’ve seen a handful of blind protagonists, but I don’t think I’ve seen any deaf protagonists until now. I’m so glad YA authors are starting to write stories about disabled characters doing normal teenage things, getting into trouble, being rebellious, talking back… All these things you’d expect from an able-bodied character. Almost as if they’re ordinary people or something… hmmm…

In any case, good on Knopf for bringing representation where representation is needed. See? Look how easy that was. Publishers, take note!

 

Goodbye Days

Goodbye Days

Depending on who–sorry, whom– you ask, I may have killed my three best friends.

Author: Jeff Zentner

Publisher: Tundra Book

Published: March 7, 2017

For Those Who Enjoyed: A Good Idea, History is All You Left Me, All the Bright Places

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

Wow, that opening line gives me chills… This may be because I’ve got morbid interests, but this is the exact kind of contemporary I’m into. I could probably read contemporary YA novels about death forever. I don’t like happy, fluffy novels. That’s why I don’t read contemporaries that often. Which is why I’m so here for all these heart-wrenching contemporaries that really go through the motions in terms of addressing grief and trauma. I will always defend YA novels that deal with real, hard truths of being a teen that go beyond the everyday rabble. People die, and teens struggle with that. It’s important that they have a voice to speak for them, and tell them that they’re not alone. I support that and I will continue supporting that. Also, the consequence of texting while driving is something I rarely see addressed without being condescending. Teens know it’s bad, but there’s that assumption that if it’s going to happen to someone, it’s definitely not going to happen to them. And I think it’s nice to bring it back to them in a shocking way that talks to their level. This is where I might make an exception in my extremely sci-fi/fantasy based imaginary agency/publishing house and choose this one for publication. Or at least pass it on to a more contemporary imprint.

 

Books, Reviews

Book Review: History is All You Left Me

History is All You Left Me

Author: Adam Silvera

Publisher: Soho Teen

Published: January 17, 2017

Rating: 3 / 5 Stars

For Those Who Enjoyed: Perks of Being a Wallflower, We All Just Live Here, At the Edge of the Universe, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, We are the Ants, Two Boys Kissing, Every Day

History is all you left me

I’ve received requests to review this one and I’m sorry it took so much longer than I expected to write it up! But here it is!

I struggle to explain myself when it comes to review contemporaries because I feel like at the end of the day, I’m commenting on the same exact things every time. I like reading at least one contemporary per month, just to keep up with the types of important topics are being addressed in the YA market, because it’s a huge priority for my work in the publishing industry. So this one was my March contemporary read.

I do have to say, I definitely feel like I was not the target audience for this novel. I am not a young, gay boy, and thus I don’t appreciate the nuances of what Silvera’s doing with his plot and characters as other readers would. I have heard this book has earned a handful of starred reviews, which means that it must be doing something right. I just couldn’t tell you of any of its accuracies in terms of queer representation because I’m just not that demographic. Since I’m clearly not the target audience for this novel, my opinions may be incredibly biased based on my own experience, or lack thereof with the LGBT community.

My biggest thing was that at some points, it became all about the sex and it felt like almost too much, even though it was hardly graphic in any way. And it wasn’t that Silvera was falling into a gay stereotype; he wasn’t. It’s just that from my observations, that’s the conversation that always comes about when it comes to gay men and I almost wish gay narratives could take a more Troy Sivan route and give a more romantic perspective. My other issue, which may be a controversial statement, but I’m gonna make it anyway, is that by the end of it, everyone was gay. I make these two complaints not from a heteronormative point of view. I’m not looking for a chaste, heterosexual love story. I’m actually just coming at this from the point of view of an asexual reader who’s tired of seeing both sex and one single sexual orientation being showcased. It’s great that there’s so much mlm gay representation and it’s amazing that Silvera can reach out to boys out there who have experienced what Griffin has. I fully support that and wouldn’t want to take away from that conversation. But I would love for authors to take the next step and engage even further with the concept of bisexuality (which Silvera does do, however briefly), and the general LGBT+ spectrum. It seems very much as though publishers are only approving novels involving a binary of gay, straight, or bi characters and I would love to see engagement with pansexuality, asexuality, demisexuality… just all of these rich aspects of the sexual spectrum that teens are really starting to explore at this point.

A positive though, Silvera does do an amazing job of creating characters that feel real. Multiple times while I was reading, I’d find myself coming home and thinking “gosh, I wonder how Griffin’s doing. I hope he’s doing okay.” I was genuinely concerned for him and his grief. I wanted him to find closure and positive coping mechanisms for both his loss and OCD. In that sense, I liked that these were just normal people, going about their normal lives. These are just high school kids, obsessing over video games, comic books, and Harry Potter. They’re just trying to figure out who they are and I feel for that.

I do have a lot of questions for the teen runaway trope though. I think in all the contemporaries I’ve read, they’ve included the protagonist running away, whether on their bike, or bus, or car, or plane. As the pretty darn well behaved teen I once was, I can’t fathom going against my parents and hopping on a plane across the country. How does this happen? How do these kids find the money to do this? It just goes right over my head.

They’re just too crazy for me to handle, I guess… these new fangled kids, hanging out in exclusively gay social circles and hopping on planes on their own without parental consent… It’s not something I understand, so I’ll just leave it to the teens who do relate to that. Because I know they exist. And I respect that.

Books, Reviews

Book Review: The Beast is an Animal

The Beast is an Animal

Author: Peternelle van Arsdale

Publisher: Mary K. McElderry Books (Simon & Schuster)

Published: February 28, 2017

Rating: 5 / 5 Stars

For Those Who Enjoyed: The Sineater’s Daughter, Stardust, Blair Witch Project, Dracula, The Raven Cycle, Carmilla, RoseBlood, A Darker Shade of Magic, This Savage Song, The Grisha, Six of Crows, “Goblin Market”, “Pied Piper of Hamlin”

Beast is an Animal

This book felt the way my soul feels. The irony if this is delicious, considering the plot follows a pair of spooky soul-eating sisters of Welsh lore. The first 50 pages of Beast is an Animal took my breath and raised goosebumps on my arms in ways a YA novel hasn’t done since Libba Bray’s The Diviners. Real, intense suspense is a rare feat in YA and for a debut author, I’m impressed by how solidly van Arsdale nailed it. It’s dark, it’s haunting, it’s gothic, it draws you in, chews you up, and spits you out, and it’s just so so good.

Those first 50 pages could almost be a completely separate novel from the rest of the story. If anything, if you’re interested in picking up this book, but don’t want to commit, at least read those first 50 pages, because it’s literary magic. The remainder of the narrative follows Alys, whose village was brutally ravaged by the soul-eaters, leaving every adult dead. What follows is a slow-moving coming of age plot as she comes to grips with the darkness within her that has allowed her to survive the sisters’ wrath. It’s one of those stories that really needs to be savoured until the very end before outright dismissal. The middle segment drags and it doesn’t become clear where van Arsdale’s going with it until you’ve hit the final act.

Although the middle lulls compared to the rest of the novel, it offers hints of Neil Gaiman level storytelling. It’s quiet, yet ominous. Alys and the remaining children get sent to a neighbouring town, which is extremely Puritanical and suspicious of them all. Fearing the threat of the soul eaters, they build a wall around the town, where Alys and her kin are forced to guard it every night while the townsfolk sleep well in their self-righteous, religious beliefs. There’s something akin to Stardust here (which I love), injected with surprisingly accurate witch-hunt context. Taking the Puritan witch hunt angle is hardly a new one, yet it still speaks to modern society more than ever. The religious, pearl clutching fear mongering does not rely on facts, but rather savage gossip against the unknown in order to justify actions. The town is, as one might expect, all white, in fear of the other. All races not like their own are labelled children of the Beast, also wrongfully assumed to be evil incarnate.

Alys’ own character arc is here to showcase how evil isn’t just evil and good isn’t just good, there is no black and white. She slips into the grey areas pretty seamlessly, giving her moments of solitude with the Beast and moments of melancholy in her power struggle against the sisters. She learns the true evil is with those who believe themselves to be morally superior above all else, despite their hypocrisy. It says a great deal about modern so-called Christians, who preach only what conveniently applies to their outlook, without any concept of empathy toward people who differ from them. Van Arsdale’s social commentary on how these people can justify racism and damnation of the Other is weaved into her narrative with such ease, there’s not an ounce of preachiness to it. It’s just raw, honest discussion of humanity and what makes us beastly.

Had I only read the first two thirds of this book, it would’ve only earned 4 stars, but stepping back, and seeing the plot as a whole, van Arsdale has three very clearly laid out acts. I love a well-thought out narrative, and I have a lot of respect for her for it. I know exactly where she split her plot in even thirds. From the extended prologue of the sisters’ attack on Gwineth, to the watchers of the wall, to the climax in the tranquil Lakes. I got it. It’s organised, not overly complicated in any way, and it makes for beautiful storytelling.

Another thing I appreciate in Beast, is that the romance takes a backseat to Alys’ confronting her fears. In fact, her love interest doesn’t show up into more than halfway through. I have to say, I approve of fantasy authors doing this more often, because it gives so much room for the protagonist to develop beforehand. Alys has a clear objective (even though she doesn’t fully confront it until years after it’s set for her; the only pitfall of the novel) and not even falling for a boy will stop her. Her relationship with Cian instead feels like an added bonus to an already fantastic plot. The romance doesn’t feel forced or intrusive or tacked on. He’s just there for her in the background, willing to wait for her while she does her thing. That’s how I write my fantasy romances…

I should also note that the Welsh folklore of the soul-eaters is the exact same myth that A.G. Howard struggled to recreate in RoseBlood. It wasn’t until near the end of Beast that I made this connection, and understood why Howard would make that leap from soul-eaters to vampires. Van Arsdale’s soul-eaters are undoubtedly vampires in that same hair-raising way that Dracula is undoubtedly a vampire. The only difference is, van Arsdale doesn’t bother bashing you over head with this parallel like Howard does (repeatedly. With a nail-spiked iron bat). She’s subtle and just lets them be what they are, and it pays off.

I loved everything about this novel. I loved that it was quiet, and atmospheric. That it made me feel like I could take my time, like an unencumbered walk in the woods. That she used the witch and vampire tropes without being cheesy about it. That her villains were flawed supernatural women giving some creepy Lucy Westenra Bloofer Lady realness. That van Arsdale wasn’t afraid to murder her entire cast. This novel made me want to get back to my literary roots. Reread all my Victorian gothic faves.

Go read this book. And then go read Dracula. Both are fab depictions of spooky creatures of the night.

Reviews

ARC Book Review: Proof of Concept

Proof of Concept

Author: Gwyneth Jones

Publisher: Tor

Published: April 11, 2017

Rating: 3 / 5

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

FullSizeRender

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Books, Reviews

ARC Review: True Born & True North

True Born and True North

Author: L.E. Stirling

Publisher: Entangled Teen

Published: May 2016 and April 4, 2017

Rating:

True Born: 3 / 5 Stars

True North: 2 / 5 Stars

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

This is not a spoiler-free review!

True Born

True North

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

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

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

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

But it never happens.

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

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

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

Girl, you have to rewrite the scene!

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

Because she’s a useless sack of beans.

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

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

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

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

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

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

There. Problem solved.

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

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

Books, Reviews

ARC Book Review: The Inconceivable Life of Quinn

The Inconceivable Life of Quinn

Author: Marianna Baer

Publisher: Abrams/Amulet

Published: April 4, 2017

Rating: 3 / 5

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

This is a spoiler-free review!

Inconceivable

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

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

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

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

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

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