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Book Review: The Girl at Midnight

While this title has been languishing on my TBR pile for a while, it was still a bit of an impulse grab at the library because I saw it sitting looking pretty on the shelf and just had to take it home with me.

TGaM

Beneath the streets of New York City live the Avicen, an ancient race of people with feathers for hair and magic running through their veins. Age-old enchantments keep them hidden from humans. All but one. Echo is a runaway pickpocket who survives by selling stolen treasures on the black market, and the Avicen are the only family she’s ever known.

Echo is clever and daring, and at times she can be brash, but above all else she’s fiercely loyal. So when a centuries-old war crests on the borders of her home, she decides it’s time to act.

Legend has it that there is a way to end the conflict once and for all: find the Firebird, a mythical entity believed to possess power the likes of which the world has never seen. It will be no easy task, but if life as a thief has taught Echo anything, it’s how to hunt down what she wants . . . and how to take it.

But some jobs aren’t as straightforward as they seem. And this one might just set the world on fire.

This book has been compared a lot to the beloved Daughter of Smoke and Bone series. I read the first book in that series and can see where readers may find similarities. In both books we have a pretty sassy heroine who flits about the world through magical doorways. There are mythical creatures in both series – demons and angels in Laini Taylor’s books, anthropomorphic dragons (Drakharin) and birds (Avicen) in Grey’s. To be honest, that’s where the similarities ended for me. I don’t understand why some reviewers see The Girl at Midnight as a ‘rip-off’ of Taylor’s series. It’s really not, and, to be honest, I strongly preferred The Girl at Midnight – Although Taylor wins hands down when it comes to exquisite writing, world-building, and description.

The Girl at Midnight is a little be Neverwhere-ish in that there is a hidden world operating in tandem with the human world, a world divided into the scale-adorned Drakharin and feathered Avicen. These two are, of course, at odds with each other and a human girl – our protagonist Echo – gets caught up in the middle of all the action as she goes in search of the mythical Firebird. At the mention of the Firebird, I was hoping for a stronger tie-in with Slavic folk-lore and was disappointed when the Firebird in this story seemed completely disconnected from the traditional mythology. Not that it isn’t cool in its own right in terms of the story world, but it’s a lot more Phoenix than fiery peacock from Russian fairytale.

It’s a little tricky to talk much more about this story without spoiling the plot. Suffice it to say, there was a twist, but I saw it coming from about halfway through the book. That said, it was still fun to see how the characters coped with the revelation even if it didn’t elicit quite the OMG reaction in the reader as I think the author intended.

The true strength of this novel lies in its characters, and not just the protagonist. Actually, Echo is possibly the least interesting of the lot. This book has multiple POVs, switching between various characters sometimes erratically. At first, I found this irritating because I was struggling to connect with Echo. In the end, I’m glad the author chose to give the reader personal time in the other characters’ heads because they were a fascinating bunch. I strongly preferred the chapters from the dragons’ perspective. Caius and Dorian all but stole the show, Dorian in particular who seemed to suffer the most internal conflict which made him the most interesting character even if he was relegated to the periphery. His interactions with the Avicen were some of the best scenes – particularly the snappy dialogue between Dorian and peacock-ish Avicen named Jasper. I could easily have spent the entire book in their POVs, following their story rather than Echo’s. This is both a positive and negative, I guess, because the story was meant to be Echo’s but there was so much going on with the side characters that I sometimes resented returning to Echo when I found other characters more compelling. I was particularly pleased to see the LGBT characters getting so much page time and even POV chapters of their own. Hooray for a diverse YA fantasy read!

In conclusion, I really enjoyed this book and appreciated the fact that the romance element took a backseat to the plot. I also really enjoyed the exploration of supporting characters even if the switching POV chapters sometimes felt disruptive. I think there could’ve been more nuanced world-building, but this is only book 1 so perhaps more details are coming in book 2. While I don’t find myself too emotionally invested in the protagonist, I am absolutely enthralled by the supporting characters and hope that book 2 continues to follow all the story threads presented in book 1. Ultimately, this was a fun urban fantasy read and scores 3.5/5 ink splats from me.

3.5 inksplats

 
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Posted by on June 23, 2015 in Reviews

 

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TV series review: Daredevil

Now I absolutely realize I’m a bit slow on the uptake, but I binge watched this series in two days and am already suffering serious withdrawals having to wait almost a year for the next season, so without further ado here are my thoughts on Daredevil!

Note: I’ve tried to keep this as spoiler free as possible!

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A usual fan of all things Marvel and DC, I have to admit I was feeling a little burned out on superheroes. I tried Gotham, and had really high hopes for the show but gave up after only maybe 5 episodes. I was addicted to the first couple of seasons of Arrow but this latest season left me underwhelmed. I gave up after 6 episodes. I similarly had very high expectations for The Flash and was, again, disappointed. Perhaps I was simply burned out on the CW with the last two shows. I watch a bunch of series on that channel and, to be honest, they all start to look and feel the same. It doesn’t help that they recycle actors, so familiar faces keep popping up. Stephen Amell will always be the sulky werewolf from Vampire Diaries for me, not Oliver Queen. The CW shows are all very pretty with very pretty cast members and all that saturated color and prettiness gets boring after a while. The CW is also a ‘family’ channel and storylines, even dialogue, are somewhat constrained by that PG requirement. Suffice it to say, when I saw teasers for Daredevil, I rolled my eyes and watched Game of Thrones and Penny Dreadful instead. Until now…

Last weekend I was husband-less and feeling lonely without anything new to watch. Since I’d heard people chatting about Daredevil, I decided to look it up and holy crap – that’s Charlie Cox! Charlie was the adorable, if somewhat bumbling, love interest in Stardust and I adored him. I couldn’t imagine that teddy bear playing the badass Matt Murdock. I was intrigued. Then I continued reading the cast list and well, yeah, I just had to watch. Vincent D’Onofrio plays the villain people!

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With much trepidation, I started watching and I couldn’t freaking stop! First off, no voice over! No ‘my name is…’ – just good story! Also, Instead of pretty, well-coiffed cast members in ridiculous designer clothes running around in high heels and pumped up cleavages, I got gritty and bloody. Even the cinematography turns monochromatic in some places, adding to the overall bleakness of the show. Sure, it has its moments of shiny, upper echelon sparkles, but most of it is spent in a decrepit Hell’s Kitchen among the less affluent. How refreshing that the hero isn’t a billionaire. He isn’t exactly poor either, but he’s no Bruce Wayne or Oliver Queen (before certain events dented Ollie’s bank account). Matt Murdock comes from the same background as the people he’s fighting for. His superhero motivation comes from seeing how rough people in his quarter of New York have it and wanting to make their lives better – not some selfish idea of avenging dead parents. I love that! It’s so much more real and so much easier to empathise with the guy.

Matt Murdock is blind – although, granted, some comic-book license has been taken with this disability to make it more help than hindrance, it does lend him a certain vulnerability. It definitely makes him more human, showing he’s susceptible to injury, to pain, and death. Murdock’s, and likewise Daredevil’s, fragility is reiterated throughout the series as he repeatedly takes a beating (he dishes out plenty too), but this is a guy who gets tired, who takes days to recover from injury and who bleeds buckets for what he believes in. The show doesn’t shy away from showing his weaknesses – and what hubris will get you – and that’s refreshing too.

Matt Murdock is Catholic and the opening scene sets up the internal conflict for this character brilliantly. It’s the first (only?) time I’ve seen a religious superhero on TV. It adds another dimension to his character, again making him more real by showing that his moral quandary goes beyond the letters of the law and that he’s trying to act within a powerful if ethereal moral code. It makes him not wanting to kill people a lot more understandable, even when it means he has to take twice the beating before putting down the bad guys. The fight scenes are very realistic too – this is a guy who gets tired and shows he’s hurting.

daredevil fight

Matt Murdock is a lawyer. He’s smart, he worked hard for what he has (no wealthy daddy handed him the keys to a company on a silver platter), and has to work every day to keep food on the table. As such, he is so much more relatable than these billionaire playboy superheroes with a chip on their shoulder. Okay, enough about the awesomeness that is Matt, who is played perfectly by Charlie Cox by the way!

The villain, played by Vincent D’Onofrio, is one of the best I’ve encountered. He is so heart-achingly human. Disturbed, misguided, morally dubious sure, but he’s human. He’s damaged, he’s vulnerable, he needs a hug! And that makes the struggle between Matt and Fisk all the more real and despairing because they’ve both struggled, they’ve both come from tough backgrounds and had to fight to get where they are. They both believe they’re doing the right thing and doing it for the right reasons even though their approaches couldn’t be more different. It’s a very odd thing to feel empathy for the villain in this way. It makes for some seriously nail-biting episodes because there are times I find myself almost rooting for the other side (sorry Matt!). Vincent D’Onofrio is, of course, spectacular in his role as Fisk and commandeers every scene he’s in, demanding your undivided attention.

The show isn’t perfect though. The stereotyping of Asians is rather atrocious and I hope the show does something about that in season 2. The role of women in the show could also be better. At the moment they’re relegated to playing damsels in distress or the love interests (sometimes both). The exception here is Karen (played by Deborah Ann Woll who was my fav vamp in True Blood). Her character is stronger and darker than she first seems and they’ve only just begun to expose the various layers of her character. I hope they make more of her in the next season and give her room to shine alongside the boys. Rosario Dawson plays Matt’s love interest, Claire, and could also be doing a lot more if the script allowed her to. As of yet, there are no LGBT+ characters and only minor black characters :( (Ben Urich is perhaps the exception here but is the only PoC with a substantial storyline that isn’t a racial stereotype) I guess I’ll reserve judgement until season 2 and hope the writers move in the right direction, embracing the diversity of their setting. I do like that fact that Matt and Karen both speak Spanish in a part of NY where there is a large Latin community. And we don’t only get two words of the ‘foreign’ language (looking at you Arrow!), we get entire scenes with characters speaking Spanish – and Chinese – which pleases me because it means the producers at least acknowledge the fact that their audience can read subtitles and doesn’t need to be pandered to.

Thank goodness Daredevil is on Netflix. I don’t think the show could do what it’s doing were it on a channel like the CW. This show is dark and gritty, full of conflict, bloody and badass, and my new favourite addiction! I am definitely going to have to rewatch this series before the next season comes out. Actually, I might have to start rewatching today… 5/5 ink splats for a fabulous show!

5 inksplats

 
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Posted by on June 16, 2015 in Reviews

 

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Book Review: Jackaby

The cover of this one first caught my eye and made me think the story would be dark. This book turned out to be a quick and enjoyable read, but not one I loved.

jackaby

Newly arrived in New Fiddleham, New England, 1892, and in need of a job, Abigail Rook meets R. F. Jackaby, an investigator of the unexplained with a keen eye for the extraordinary–including the ability to see supernatural beings. Abigail has a gift for noticing ordinary but important details, which makes her perfect for the position of Jackaby’s assistant. On her first day, Abigail finds herself in the midst of a thrilling case: A serial killer is on the loose. The police are convinced it’s an ordinary villain, but Jackaby is certain it’s a nonhuman creature, whose existence the police–with the exception of a handsome young detective named Charlie Cane–deny.

Doctor Who meets Sherlock in William Ritter’s debut novel, which features a detective of the paranormal as seen through the eyes of his adventurous and intelligent assistant in a tale brimming with cheeky humor and a dose of the macabre

Not being a huge fan of Doctor Who (I enjoyed Torchwood far more) I can’t speak to the Doctor Who comparison, but the Sherlock comparison is spot on. And by spot on, I mean, once again we have the socially inept genius who sees what no one else can see. In this instance, Detective Jackaby sees paranormal oddities, from pixies and trolls to auras and magical residue. The entire story is essentially a Victorian episode of Sherlock with werebeasties, and, as in Elementary, Watson is now played by a woman… a girl? This book is marketted for young readers after all. The Sherlock-Watson vibe isn’t subtle. Abigail Rook keeps a journal of their escapades and even writes up a story about it all in the end – much like both Sherlock’s and Elementary’s Watsons do. The parallel isn’t cute though, it’s almost tedious because it’s all been done before. To be honest, I’m not sure the paranormal element in this book really offers enough freshness to the story.

Jackaby is at least a quick read and that cheeky humour in the blurb definitely does come through. That’s the book’s saving grace. Were it not for that snide sense of humour, this book would not have been nearly as enjoyable.

I’m struggling to think of what else to write about this. I don’t think this book is going to linger in my thoughts for very long. With the recent slew of Sherlock retellings, it’s just not that unique or memorable and the paranormal detective story has been done to death. What is perhaps unique is the touch of feminism thanks to Abigail’s stubbornness and assertiveness. Given the era in which this is set, Abigail certainly fits the strong female character trope, but is still second fiddle to the male, genius detective. Now, this book would’ve been truly refreshing had it made the Sherlockian-detective the woman. Actually, why hasn’t this already been done? Or are women simply incapable of being sociopathic geniuses?

Anyway… if you’re looking for a quick and entertaining read for a rainy afternoon and enjoy paranormal stories, you would probably enjoy this book. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with it, it just didn’t blow me away and I probably won’t remember this story at all in a couple of months. Jackaby gets 3.5/5 ink splats from me.

3.5 inksplats

 
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Posted by on June 9, 2015 in Reviews

 

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Book Review: The Phantom Cabinet

Once again, I find myself writing a horror review when horror really isn’t my preferred genre. I didn’t quite realize how horrific this book was though, going into it, otherwise I might’ve reconsidered. Incidentally, I’m really glad I did read this one!

*For the sake of full disclosure, please note I received a review copy from the author of this title. This has in no way affected, influenced or otherwise coloured my perception of said book though*

phantom cabinet

WHEN HEAVEN AND HELL DON’T EXIST…WHAT DOES? Space Shuttle Conundrum collides with empty atmosphere, passing from known reality into the realm beyond life. At the same time, a dead newborn is resurrected amidst a hospital-wide poltergeist infestation. What connects these ghastly occurrences, and how can the fate of humanity rest on a single boy’s shoulders? As the haunted Douglas Stanton spends his adolescence an outcast—his only friend the ghost of a long lost astronaut—a porcelain-masked entity lurks in the shadows, planning Douglas’ demise. Because Douglas is the key… the key to the door… the door between what we know and what we fear. And when the key is turned…realities will come crashing together. Step into The Phantom Cabinet…

What made me want to read this novel was that cover! It instantly reminded me of Faceless from Spirited Away, while the shiny moth-man eyes called to mind the bunny from Donnie Darko, and lastly, that text is just so retro, the cover seemed to promise a bizarre and intriguing read. The Phantom Cabinet was certainly both bizarre and intriguing.

Imagine if the film Event Horizon (which gave me nightmares for weeks!) met The Ocean at the End of the Lane in a dark alley one night and their tryst produced a literary love child. The offspring of that union would be this book, a bizarro novel that serves up gruesome horror with a liberal splatter of pitch black humour. The opening scene, reminiscent of Event Horizon, had me simultaneously chuckling and cringing. In fact, the humour in this book only hightlights the horror, making the truly bleak moments all the more soul shattering. That, or I have a seriously warped sense of humour.

Okay, but what is this book about?

Our protagonist is Douglas Stanton who, like Cole Sear, can see dead people in all their gory detail. Douglas is haunted but unlike Cole ‘I see dead people’ Sear, he is also a conduit, allowing restless spirits to pass through from the afterlife, termed in this novel The Phantom Cabinet – which may or may not be a sly reference to The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari wherein the big bad manipulated an innocent to commit atrocities. Something similar happens to Douglas as the third person narrative tells his story – via disembodied ghost voice – starting from his miserable birth and following Douglas into adulthood. In this way, the novel is a twisted coming of age story, dealing with middle school issues such as playground bullying and learning to talk to the opposite sex, to teen problems like underage drinking and doing more than just talking to the opposite sex. Of course, while all this relatively normal stuff is happening, a lot of increasingly abnormal stuff is happening too, leading the reader inexorably closer to the novel’s fated ending. I won’t spoil anything for potential readers, but I will say that there was really only one way this story could end. While somewhat predictable, it was a satisfying conclusion to this strange, sometimes poignant, often hilarious, always horrifying tale.

As far as the horror goes, things get pretty gruesome and Thompson certainly doesn’t shy away from detail. (Consider yourself warned!) The writing is quite magnificent with some turns of phrase that made me take a moment to simply appreciate the syntax. I’m not talking overly purple prose here, but rather a frank yet creative way of setting the scene and describing characters.

This book was heading for a fine five ink splats given its unique and enthralling plot, and fabulous writing, but there was one thing about the writing that bugged me. Now I know how boys can talk to one another and that teasing and ragging can be taken to exquisite new heights when it comes to name-calling and playground denigration. While I’m all for authenticity in voice and authenticity in character, the number of times femininity was used derogatorily – like a boy telling another boy not to be such a girl or such a bitch – became annoying after a while. I don’t think this was the author’s attempt to sneak in some kind of misogynistic agenda, but I did notice these references and they irked me. Even more likely to offend, however, were the multiple uses of the word ‘faggot.’ Now again, I’m all for authenticity, so if this word had been used by a specific character because that character was an asshole – or genuinely wanted to call people a bundle of twigs – I’d understand, but this word was used a little too liberally for my sensibilities. Perhaps it’s just a part of the book’s greater irreverence, but I know it might offend some readers.

I didn’t expect to enjoy The Phantom Cabinet as much as I did. This book was a pleasant surprise and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys bizarro fiction or to readers of horror who are looking for something a little different. It gets 4 ink splats from me.

4 inksplats

 
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Posted by on June 2, 2015 in Reviews

 

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TV show review: Penny Dreadful

I have no idea why I haven’t reviewed this show before now, but better late than never, right?

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Let me first preface this review by saying I’m not usually a fan of horror. I’m such a wimp, I don’t end up lasting very long in horror movies, I rarely choose to read horror, and I prefer to avoid horror shows because I like being able to sleep at night. Penny Dreadful is the one major exception, for which I arm myself with pillow and endure because it’s too good to wuss-out on.

As the name implies, this series is inspired by the macabre story genre from the 19th Century featuring characters like Sweeney Todd. This series sees a cast of characters cobbled together from 19th Century literature, as well as several new characters, set against a world of Victorian nasties. In the first season, the Penny Dreadful team battled against vampires and in the second season, they’re gearing up for a fight against witches. Like Game of Thrones, Penny Dreadful is a mini-series of sorts with only 6-8 hour-long episodes per season. The story unfolds in various arcs throughout the season and you definitely need to start from the very beginning if you want to follow all the various threads of the tale. The threads seem a little frayed at the moment, even though we’re halfway through season 2, and I have no idea how they’ll pull together the tapestry but I’m sure they will.

While the plot is exciting and ghoulish and horror-tastic with a fair amount of gore, and even more psychological terror, what drew me to Penny Dreadful at the start and what keeps me coming back to this series week after frightening week is the cast of characters and the richness of the writing. Every character operates in a moral grey. Some are trying to be better people than others, but circumstances force every single one of them to make dubious moral decisions and I love that! Despite being 19th C literary inventions, these characters feel so real, so utterly human – sometimes pathetic, sometimes awesome, always fallible – that I can’t help but feel for each and every single one. In most shows, I find myself attached to one or two characters and rooting for them (like Jon Snow and Daenerys) to the point where I almost don’t care what happens to the others, but Penny Dreadful has its claws in me, making me feel for every single character dammit!

Here’s the cast…

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Vanessa Ives – a series original creation – is the tortured protagonist of the show who adds a much needed dose of girl power in an era dominated by men. Eva Green is a force of nature in this series and deserves every TV show award there is for her portrayal of a woman who is as vulnerable as she is powerful. The show doesn’t shy away from feminism, nascent it may have been in the Victorian era, and the relatively few female leads (significantly more now in season 2) are very well written and are given a voice, sometimes directly questioning the status quo of the patriarchy.

murraySir Malcom Murray as in the Murray family of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. This guy is leader of the group and a father figure to Vanessa. Despite looking ever so noble in that promo poster, this guy is hiding some seriously dark history.

chandlerEthan Chandler – another series original and the only American in the group. Sadly I can’t say much about this character without giving away some pretty huge spoilers. Suffice it to say he’s the heart of this show, kind and gentle and extremely dangerous.

dorianDorian Gray – the immortal beauty from Oscar Wilde’s novel. Dorian is one of the most enigmatic characters on the show because we don’t really know what’s going on with him yet. Suffice it to say, there seems to be very little he won’t do. Also, Dorian is responsible for almost all of the show’s sex scenes. It’s also pretty awesome to see his bisexuality so unashamedly and positively portrayed in a TV show. Bear in mind this is still 19th Century London so it’s not like Dorian can be totally out and proud.

frankVictor Frankenstein – this character needs little introduction. He is the voice of reason in the show, arguing science over theology, an open atheist butting heads with the others who are either overtly religious, like Vanessa, or apathetic agnostics, like Dorian.

There are quite a few other supporting characters who are all an important part of the story and of what makes this ensemble cast so dynamic. Of all these secondary characters, however, the one that has truly stolen my heart is Frankenstein’s creature. In this creature, the writers have created the perfect dichotomy of brutality and tenderness, horror and romance, beauty and ugliness. If nothing else about this show entices you, I urge you to give this show a try so you can meet the Creature. He and Frankenstein share some of the most exquisite, poetic, and profound dialogue I’ve ever heard on the small screen.

Characters and writing aside, this show is aesthetically pleasing too. The cinematography is breathtaking, the costumes and settings lavish with no expense spared in recreating Victorian London. Despite a few wobbles with the CGI in season 1, the majority of special effects have been good to excellent, and have only improved so far in season 2.

While season 1 introduced the characters and era to the audience by using the vampire-hunting trope, season 2 has come into its own, creating a far richer tapestry of personal character history while delving into ever darker subject material that often pits science against religion. The creep factor has been upped significantly this season – in fact, everything about this show has been stepped up in season 2 and I cannot wait to see where the writers will go next especially considering they have the existing penny dreadful stories from which to draw inspiration.

Penny Dreadful scores 5/5 ink splats from me and I strongly recommend this series to anyone who enjoys Gothic horror, eloquent dialogue, and conflicted characters.

5 inksplats

 
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Posted by on May 26, 2015 in Reviews

 

Book Review: Love is the Drug

I thoroughly enjoyed The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson and have been eagerly anticipating her latest book, Love is the Drug. I am delighted to say, it did not disappoint!

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Emily Bird was raised not to ask questions. She has perfect hair, the perfect boyfriend, and a perfect Ivy-League future. But a chance meeting with Roosevelt David, a homeland security agent, at a party for Washington DC’s elite leads to Bird waking up in a hospital, days later, with no memory of the end of the night.

Meanwhile, the world has fallen apart: A deadly flu virus is sweeping the nation, forcing quarantines, curfews, even martial law. And Roosevelt is certain that Bird knows something. Something about the virus–something about her parents’ top secret scientific work–something she shouldn’t know.

The only one Bird can trust is Coffee, a quiet, outsider genius who deals drugs to their classmates and is a firm believer in conspiracy theories. And he believes in Bird. But as Bird and Coffee dig deeper into what really happened that night, Bird finds that she might know more than she remembers. And what she knows could unleash the biggest government scandal in US history.

Sigh. Ignore the blurb. Here’s what you need to know: Johnson has once again crafted an intelligent YA novel that swirls a toe in sci-fi waters while the other foot remains firmly planted in the realm of conspiracy theory thriller. This hasn’t got a lot of love from YA reviewers and I think I know why. While the characters are teenagers and there is a lot of teenage stuff happening on the pages, this book doesn’t pander to its audience and the plot is a slow-burn more common to adult reads than a frenetic rush from one moment of life-threatening excitement to another as in many YA novels. That’s not to say this book isn’t exciting. It is, but the realistic timeline means the reader needs patience.

While there is the deadly flu virus thing going on in this story, that almost becomes backdrop to what is truly a coming of age story and a wonderfully real and raw romance between two teenagers who don’t quite fit in at their elite prep school. For me, it’s this part of the story that is truly awesome, original, and page turning. At some point I realized I couldn’t care less if the flu was an act of bioterrorism or not, so long as the protagonists could find a way to sort out their lives and be together despite the odds stacked against them.

While the blurb makes this book seem like a plot-driven thriller, it’s not. This novel is all about the characters and they’re wonderful. Emily Bird is Black. Yes, Black with a capital B as written and emphasized in the story. This book addresses issues of race without the story becoming about race or racism and that’s fantastic. This novel really opened my eyes to what life is like for a black teenage girl in the upper echelons of American society. I had no idea, which is why books like Love is the Drug are so important. Emily Bird also has a diverse group of friends at her preppy school. Some black, some white, some Latino/a, some mixed, some international, some straight, some gay. If you’re looking for a diverse read, this book has diversity in spades! The other lead character in this book – Coffee – is a white Brazilian diplomat’s kid and is a middle finger, not only to the establishment in the novel, but to several YA tropes, which demand hunky heroics from the love interest. Coffee is smart and uses his brain rather than brawn to get things done.

My favourite part of this novel was the unlikely romance between Bird and Coffee. They are so different from such different backgrounds with such different families and family values and yet somehow they manage to see and bring out the best in each other. It was an absolute pleasure reading about a young couple who challenged each other to be better people, to think for themselves and make smart choices – if not always the right ones – these are teens of course and they’re going to mess up. Given how many near-abusive relationships are touted as the epitome of romance (I’m looking at you Twilight and Hush,Hush) it was a wonderful surprise to see the girl choose to be with the nice guy who treated her as an equal on all fronts. It’s this sort of positive reinforcement I’d like to see in more teen reads.

If I have anything to gripe about with the story, it’s that once again the parents are reduced to absentee monsters. Since the story is told from Bird’s perspective perhaps they aren’t as bad as she perceives them to be, but I still found the parental roles in this book slipping into the YA cliches of absent and/or awful. Granted, there are probably parents like this in the world, but everything else felt so fresh in this novel that this one aspect stood out as being a little stale.

The writing in this novel, as with The Summer Prince, is excellent, although there were a few passages I thought might’ve been a little over done. There were also one or two stylistic POV switches I wasn’t convinced were necessary, but these minor blips in no way reduced my enjoyment of the book as a whole. 5 glorious ink splats for this intelligent, thought-provoking, authentic, and diverse YA novel.

5 inksplats

 
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Posted by on May 19, 2015 in Reviews

 

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Book Review: Fledgling

I’m a little ashamed to admit that this is the first novel I’ve read by Octavia Butler. I had heard very good things about this writer and had been meaning to read her work for ages. Finally I have…

*Minor spoilers ahead – you’ve been warned*

Fledgling

Fledgling, Octavia Butler’s new novel after a seven year break, is the story of an apparently young, amnesiac girl whose alarmingly inhuman needs and abilities lead her to a startling conclusion: She is in fact a genetically modified, 53-year-old vampire. Forced to discover what she can about her stolen former life, she must at the same time learn who wanted–and still wants–to destroy her and those she cares for and how she can save herself. Fledgling is a captivating novel that tests the limits of “otherness” and questions what it means to be truly human.

As I’ve said before, I’m a fan of vampires, so I thought I’d kick off my foray into Butler with her vampire novel. I’ll admit I expected a little Rice-ish flair and a lot more vampiric romanticism than this book delivered. Once I got over my expectations for the novel and started reading the book for what it was, I found it extremely enjoyable and thought-provoking.

The book uses an old trick allowing the main character, Shori, to introduce the reader to Butler’s vampire world. Shori has amnesia and can remember nothing about her life as ‘Ina’ – Butler’s word for vampire. Using this memory-lapse device, the book gets away with a fair amount of exposition and info-dumping because it is actually relevant to the character and not only inserted for the reader’s benefit. This, while fascinating, did make for some slow reading at times. This book is not plot driven but rather a character study as Shori discovers her past and who she is now minus her memories. The story examines the idea that we are the sum of our experiences and what might happen when we can no longer remember those experiences, who do we become and who are we to those who remember us from before?

As the cover shows, Shori isn’t white and the story examines issues of race and racism through the lens of the vampire mindset, which made for some interesting discussions among the ethnically diverse characters, human and Ina alike. But perhaps the most interesting aspect of this story was the structure of Ina society and the symbiotic relationship the vampires form with humans, and how various vampire families feel about their necessary relationship with humans. This was the main theme of the book, the juxtaposition of otherness with humanness and what it meant for those like Shori caught somewhere in between the two extremes.

What I absolutely adored about this book was the exploration of sexuality and polyamory both within Ina society, and between Ina and human. The relationships in this story are complicated and challenge certain sexual norms. For example, within Ina culture, matings are arranged by families where bands of brothers will mate with groups of sisters. Mates share each other within this familial union and children are raised as the children of all the sisters and brothers regardless of who actually fathered or birthed the child in question. I found this arrangement fascinating especially considering that Ina would continue sexual relationships with their symbionts (specific humans chosen as companions and for nourishment) at the same time. Of course, being Ina means viewing the world a little differently and responding differently to emotions which, while still identifiable as human, are quite different from human experience. While this book explores sexuality, the view of gender remains extremely binary, with Ina society split into male and female groups except when mating is involved. How such a society would handle or accept an intersex or trans individual never came up for discussion.

Despite being about vampires, this book is not the normal paranormal fare and quite quickly establishes itself as more of a political-come-legal drama with occasional blood-drinking. This latter aspect of the book was a little disturbing at times because Shori, despite being 53 years old, is considered a child by Ina standards and is described as looking no more than ten years old by human standards. And yet, this little girl seduces and has sex with various human adults. While considered normal by the Ina community, this did make me uncomfortable especially when the adult humans react sexually around her. I tried to forget Shori was physically ten and let myself imagine an older teenager instead. Again, this is an example of how Ina and human practices differ, but it was a little difficult to read.

Because of Shori’s amnesia and her Ina-ness, I found it quite difficult to relate to Shori and become truly emotionally invested in the character who was distanced from herself and thus from the reader too. What kept me turning pages wasn’t so much my love of or concern for the character but rather my fascination with the vampires on a more intellectual level. Their history, their politics, their social structures, their law – all very interesting even if it didn’t require much emotional engagement. Consequently, while I did enjoy this book I doubt I’ll ever reread it the way I have other vampire novels like Brite’s Lost Souls. This vampire novel didn’t offer much in the way of Gothic romanticism, but was an entertaining read none-the-less. It gets 4 ink splats from me.

4 inksplats

 
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Posted by on May 12, 2015 in Reviews

 

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