September 30, 2015

Review: Beyond Clueless

Beyond Clueless By Linas Alsenas
Available now from Harry N. Abrams (ABRAMS)
Review copy

I keep passing BEYOND CLUELESS in my Kindle and thinking, "What book is that?  It's marked that I read it."  Then I open it up and remember.  "Oh yeah!  That one."  BEYOND CLUELESS was a cute little read (with a subplot about sexual assault), but the details just keep falling out of my head.

Marty and Jimmy always thought they'd be best friends for life, but two recent events have strained their friendship.  Marty's parents sent her to an all-girls school and Jimmy came out and started making new friends in the local gay community.  Marty finds a way to bridge the old and the new by joining her school's performance of Into the Woods.  Boys are needed for the musical, so some of Jimmy's friends can be in it and the rest can be crew.  And Marty definitely thinks things are looking up when she's cast as Little Red Riding Hood against the very attractive Felix Peroni as the Wolf.  (Clearly, she doesn't take that as a symbolic bad sign.)

I liked that both Marty and Jimmy made new friends once they were separated.  Jimmy takes to it a little bit better, but Marty does find other girls she can hang with, especially Xiang.  I also enjoyed Linas Alsenas explorations of her failures to be socially adept, such as when she ostracizes someone herself even though she didn't mean to be cruel.  Her difficulties navigating what other people are feeling felt realistic.  So did her trouble understanding and articulating her own feelings, especially when she got something she thought she wanted only to discover she wasn't feeling it at all.

I think BEYOND CLUELESS will appeal to young theater fans, especially since it doesn't ignore the importance of the crew.  Jimmy's relatively easy coming out probably holds more appeal than more dated portrayals.  Marty's difficulties with her relationship with Felix are handled well.  Generally, I can't point to anything in BEYOND CLUELESS I didn't like.  Remembering that I read it is the only problem.

September 28, 2015

Movie Monday: The Intern

The Intern is written and directed by Nancy Meyers.  I've enjoyed many of her films, especially The Holiday and Something's Gotta Give, so that was one plus in the movie's favor.  Add in that it stars Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway and I was ready to give it a chance even though the trailer seemed somewhat ho-hum.

I'm glad I did, because I really enjoyed The Intern.  I cried, because I am a big ol' softy at the movies, but I spent even more time laughing.  It's a rather gentle comedy that relies more on character than event.  (Although there is one hilarious scene that verges into slapstick involving an email that was sent to the wrong person.  It's predictable but beautifully done.)  The cast is game for it.  De Niro inhabits Ben Whittaker wonderfully, taking on a much quieter persona than usual.  Hathaway is an obvious choice for an ambitious, driven woman and she nails it.  Not to mention they play off of each other quite well as the friendship between their characters builds.

Jules is an entrepreneur whose internet business has been growing at an incredible speed.  It means late nights and early mornings, little of it spent with her cute hipster husband and adorable little girl.  It also means that the venture capitalists behind her site want her to hire an experienced CEO to make the site more corporate.

One touch I loved was that I believed in About the Fit as a successful site.  It's an internet clothing store focused on delivering detailed information about how the clothes fit based on people trying them on.  I know worries about the fit is often what keeps me from clicking "buy" on a website.  (I can't believe any site that doesn't at least let the users say if an item runs big or small.)

Ben joins AtF as a senior intern.  It's an outreach program by the company, and he takes it up because he's bored.  Retired and widowed, he's done what he wants to in life and is left to find something new to fill up his days.  He's a fish out of water at first, of course, but he and Jules find they both have qualities to offer each other.

Part of what I enjoyed about The Intern is the female point of view that Meyers brings to the table.  For instance, Jules is yet another female protagonist torn between balancing career and family and the movie doesn't automatically take the side that she should focus on being a mother.  Meyers does have her shortcomings.  The Intern takes place in an exceedingly, and rather unlikely, white Brooklyn.  The strengths of the movie did outweigh that bum note, for me.

September 24, 2015

Review: I Crawl Through It

I Crawl Through It By A.S. King
Available now from Little, Brown (Hachette)
Review copy
Read my A.S. King tag

From her first novel, THE DUST OF 100 DOGS, A.S. King has been interested in realistic issues but tackled them with fantastic flourishes.  With each of her novels, her popularity and critical acclaim have risen.  I love that she's taken the opportunity not to do the same thing repeatedly, but to push her work further and further into the edges.  I CRAWL THROUGH IT leaps into full surrealism.

The majority of the book is told through the point of view of Stanzi.  (Her name isn't Stanzi.)  She is split into two and finds refuge in her love of biology, always wearing a lab coat and compulsively dissecting frogs.  Some is told by China, who swallowed herself.  Some is told by Lansdowne Cruise, whose hair grows when she lies.  (She has very long hair.)  Some is told by Patricia, who is trapped in a place with no departures.  Their friend Gustav tells none of it, but he is central to the story - as is the helicopter he is building, which Stanzi can only see on Tuesdays.

It's a convoluted story, and on top of the surrealism, all of the narrators are unreliable.  Some truths are easy to find.  We all know what Irenic Brown did to China.  The details can be harder to determine, and much is left to the reader's interpretation.  King has a lot to say.  She sometimes hammers her point in, but she's often subtle.  (I do love the touch that despite there being prominent male characters, there are no male narrators.  This is a book where women's voices have primacy.)

Much is made in the blurb of I CRAWL THROUGH IT, as well as the design of the book itself, about the testing angle.  Yes, there is satire of the modern school curriculum culture.  In many ways I wouldn't pick that out as the central issue of the novel.  I think it has far more to say about how girls' voices are devalued, but maybe that's just me.

I CRAWL THROUGH IT is King's least accessible novel.  I think it accomplishes what King said out to do with it, and that her fans will have a lot of fun tangling through it.  It is definitely not my favorite King novel.  Like GLORY O'BRIEN'S HISTORY OF THE FUTURE, sometimes the polemics take over the story.  However, it is a rich read and a bold artistic statement.

September 22, 2015

Review: Followed by Frost

Followed by Frost By Charlie N. Holmberg
Available now from 47North (Amazon Publishing)
Review copy

Charlie N. Holmberg's Paper Magician trilogy had an inventive magic.  It was enough to get me to give her new book a glance, which sounded right up my alley.  Beautiful and spoiled Smitha was cursed to be as cold as her heart by a man she rejected.  Now she lives in a permanent blizzard; her only companion is Death.  He wants her to come with him, but Smitha clings to life, even lonely.

I thought FOLLOWED BY FROST was a beautiful book.  I like that Holmberg and the novel acknowledge that Mordan was wrong to pursue Smitha when she made her disinterest clear.  At the same time, Smitha went above and beyond to be cruel in her rejection, both standing him up and then going on a nasty tirade.  No one deserves to be cursed as she was, but she does come to realize that she could've handled the situation better.

The descriptions of how thorough the curse is are wonderful.  Smitha's clothes freeze on her body, and tears can stick her eyes shut.  She has to gulp down boiling food lest it freeze in her mouth.  As Death points out to her, few people would survive.  I thought Death's tête-à-tête's with Smitha were wonderfully tense, but I enjoyed when the world expanded to include more people.  FOLLOWED BY FROST really does use Smitha's curse quite fully.  As the book continues it starts to shift into a romance, which is unsurprising in a book revolving around a curse about a cold heart.

Smitha does get the most development of anyone in the book, as she should.  But I thought the hero was a good fit for her.  Smitha is stubborn and impulsive, but also kind and passionate about books and languages.  She's an interesting person who needs someone equally intriguing in her life to truly be happy.

FOLLOWED BY FROST is a terrific romance with a fairytale feel.  It has YA appeal, and does start when Smitha is seventeen, but most of the book is set in her early to mid-twenties.  If this sounds like your kind of thing, then give FOLLOWED BY FROST a chance to burrow under your skin and into your heart.

September 21, 2015

Movie Monday: The Perfect Guy

The Perfect Guy The Perfect Guy is an uninspired thriller that coasts on its overqualified cast.  Sanaa Latham was the best part of Alien vs. Predator, and she's one of the best parts of The Perfect Guy.  She plays Leah, a driven woman who has a great career, great house, and great boyfriend (Morris Chesnut).  But Dave isn't ready to get married or have kids and Leah is tired of waiting.  I liked how Latham played her heartbreak as she made the hard decision.

Three months later, and Leah has found another man: Carter.  Michael Ealy has an amazing smile and loads of charisma, so it is little wonder that Leah would fall so hard, so fast.  Especially when she takes him to meet her parents and he's ridiculously charming.  However, when she witnesses a sudden violent episode she's not willing to stick around and see if it is a one-off or if he'd ever direct that anger at her.

Spoiler alert: he would.

What follows has very little tension.  Ealy is inspired casting, because his pale blue eyes can look quite creepy indeed and he plays the change in energy for his character perfectly.  Most of the other cast members are wasted.  Leah's parents only appear the once, and her two best friends are little more than props for Leah to tell her thoughts too.  There is a cop who gets a bit more to do.  The Perfect Guy did do a good job of showing how difficult it is to build a stalking and/or harassment case.

I did enjoy seeing The Perfect Guy in the theater because the audience I saw it with was very responsive.  It's hard to describe the sound everyone made when Carter stuck Leah's toothbrush in his mouth, but it was the exact sound that scene deserved.  (That was definitely one of the movie's most memorable and original scenes.)

The Perfect Guy is a route thriller.  If you like that sort of thing, it does have an appealing cast.  But I'd say this is one to catch when it comes on late one night or to rent from the library.  It's not a movie I'd pay full price for.

September 18, 2015

Review: Hilo: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth

Hilo First in the Hilo series
By Judd Winick
Available now from Random House BFYR (Penguin Random House)
Review copy

I'm familiar with Judd Winick from his work on titles like Green Arrow, but he does have a background in non-superhero comics.  HILO: THE BOY WHO CRASHED TO EARTH is the first in a series of graphic novels for kids.

It's very appealing visually.  The colors are bright, the lines are clean, and the action is easy to follow.  That's good, because there's lots of it!  I also liked that the main character, D.J., and his best friend who just moved back to town, Gina, are very visibly not white.  Comics are a great medium for diverse characters since the pictures make them impossible to miss.

The story isn't too far off from what you'd expect.  A loner's life is changed when a strange boy crashes to Earth and his old friend moves back to town on the same day.  Suddenly, all three kids are embroiled in danger and spending their afternoons doing things like fighting robots.  It's not ground breaking (aside from when Hilo crashes!), but it is a lot of fun. The dialog is terrific, and both D.J. and Gina feel like real kids with their own family issues.

THE BOY WHO CRASHED TO EARTH is a great pick for young graphic novel fans.  It has both charm and energy.  I hope the next HILO book keeps up the good work.

September 17, 2015

Review: Femme

Femme By Mette Bach
Available now from Lorimer
Review copy

SideStreets is Lorimer's series of hi-lo books.  I've written about these types of books before, but it has been awhile.  Hi-lo books are written to appeal to struggling readers.  They have content that appeals to teens, but are written at a range of lower reading levels.  FEMME is written at an approximately third-grade reading level.  I really appreciate that SideStreets and Mette Bach are making LGBT stories available for readers who are still developing their skills, since there isn't much reading material on the subject available below a high-school reading level.

Sofia, the protagonist of FEMME, doesn't feel like she has much going for herself aside from her popular boyfriend Paul.  When her English teacher pairs her with class genius Clea, Sofia is worried about being judged for being dumb.  But the two girls end up being fast friends and Clea helps Sofia nurture her study skills.  In fact, the two girls decide to take a trip to the US together and look at schools in Portland.  Clea wants to go to Portland because she's a lesbian - the only out one at their Canadian high school - and she wants to find a community that she fits into.  To Sofia's surprise, she starts to find where she fits too.

FEMME might be simply written, but it is also sensitively written.  Sofia and Clea feel like real teenage girls, particularly Sofia.  She begins the novel shallow, with low self-esteem, but she makes amazing strides throughout the story.  And even though the page count is short, Bach doesn't just tackle a romance.  She tackles issues of identity involving sexuality, race, and class.  There is a subplot about cyberbullying too.  It all moves by quickly.  However, while things are lightly covered, they don't feel lightweight.

FEMME is a novel that fills a niche that desperately needs something.  Fortunately, there's much more reason to read it than just because it feels a need.  It's got wonderful characters, a strong setting, and it tackles real-world issues in a manner that is positive but not treacly.  I found FEMME to be surprisingly sweet.

September 15, 2015

Review: Shattered Blue

Shattered Blue First in the Light trilogy
By Lauren Bird Horowitz
Available now from Skyscape (Amazon Publishing)
Review copy

Noa's entire life has changed.  Her older sister died in an accident.  Her mom is depressed, and both of her parents are too worried to let her board at school so now she's commuting and further from her friends than ever.  Her escape is her poetry, which she's kept secret from everyone.

Then she meets the new boy at school, Callum.  He's strangely hot and cold.  Fans of urban fantasy YA will be totally shocked to learn that he's a supernatural creature who is dangerous to Noa.  Things seem to be going pretty well, however, until Callum's younger brother Judah shows up.  Judah has used a dangerous magic to come to the human world, one that will cost many lives.

In SHATTERED BLUE, Lauren Bird Horowitz sets up a good brother-bad brother dichotomy and hints from the very beginning that which is which might not be obvious.  By the end, I was convinced that both of them were bad.  In addition to Callum and Judah, Noa also has a best friend Miles who is obviously interested in her even though he's never made an effort to ask her out and just gets jealous when she dates someone else.  Three love interests and I wasn't invested in any of them.

SHATTERED BLUE does have its strengths.  Noa's family life is a true highlight.  Her little sister Sasha is a gem, and I liked the perceptive aunt who comes to help the family out while they're grieving.  I loved the way Noa's mom connected to her daughters and the painful way they found each other through the ghost of Isla.  Noa's dad was less of an entity in the story, but he had a few good moments.  It's rare to see a teen character with such a lived-in, present family and I thought it was an excellent part of the story.

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 I thought Horowitz also did a good job of creating a consistent mythology.  Her Fae don't appear to come from a particular tradition, but their powers were clearly defined.  There's also some complicated politics going on, and secrets on top of secrets.  I mostly thought the biggest reveal was well done, except for one completely stupid moment that let the air out of the entire climax.  It was a bum note that didn't really fit the characterization or anything other than providing a plot for the second book in the Light trilogy.

I thought SHATTERED BLUE had (multiple) underdeveloped romances and a few false notes here and there, but that it also had some elements that helped it stand out from the YA urban fantasy mold.  The beginning of SHATTERED BLUE reads almost like a contemporary, and that's telling, because that side of the story is where the book really shines.  I hope the supernatural side comes up to snuff in the next book.

September 10, 2015

Review: 13 Days of Midnight

13 Days of Midnight By Leo Hunt
Available now from Candlewick
Review copy

Luke Manchett's father left him and his mother.  Luke hasn't even spoken to him in years.  However, he has just received news of his father's death - and a rather large inheritance.  Tempted by the money, Luke doesn't pay too much attention to the papers he's signing.  But then the ghosts start showing up.

I thoroughly enjoyed 13 DAYS OF MIDNIGHT.  There's a nice balance of horror and humor.  I found Luke sometimes frustrating, since he takes a ridiculous amount of time to clue into the danger he's in.  He might not have intended to inherit a host of ghosts and dark necromantic powers, but he had plenty of opportunity to notice everyone warning him that things could go horribly awry.  Luckily he finds help with Elza, the school weirdo who just happens to have second sight and be a low-level witch.  With her, Luke isn't completely hopeless.

I did like that the reader figures out what is going on and how the necromancy works along with Luke and Elza.  All is revealed at the end, but it takes time since the reader is thrown into the deep end with Luke.  I love books that let you put together the pieces on your own.  I also liked that the adventure in 13 DAYS OF MIDNIGHT wrapped up neatly while still leaving a wicked hook for sequels.  I hope there are more books coming, because it looks like Luke has more terrifying things lurking in his future.

While 13 DAYS OF MIDNIGHT is a horror story, it's not a scary story.  It's a ghost story, and a creepy one, with some macabre imagery and heroes forced to use awful measures to prevent worse things from happening.  It's a kind of horror that I enjoy very much.

13 DAYS OF MIDNIGHT is a book that will remind you to always read the fine print before making a deal with a lawyer.

September 9, 2015

Review: The Suffering

The Suffering Sequel to The Girl from the Well
By Rin Chupeco
Available now from Sourcebooks Fire
Review copy
Read my review of The Girl from the Well

I thought THE SUFFERING was a standalone novel, so I was very excited to start reading and realize that it is a sequel to THE GIRL FROM THE WELL.  It's two years later, and Tark and Okiku are still working out how things work now.  Okiku needs to hunt, and Tark is mostly fine with that.  But what about when Okiku sees someone who is going to kill and just hasn't escalated yet?  All debates have to be put on hold when Tark's mentor and friend Kaguya goes missing in Aokigahara with a crew of ghost hunters.

Rin Chupeco really punches up the horror in THE SUFFERING.  There are creepy dolls and cocoons full of writhing things and pits where you don't want to see what is at the bottom.  Tark has to figure out what went wrong in a village in the forest and set things to write, and the story that unfolds is horribly tragic and just plain sinister.  Talk about your towns with dark secrets.

I thought THE GIRL FROM THE WELL was terrific, and THE SUFFERING is so much more of what I loved.  Tark and Okiku's relationship is wonderfully complex and loving.  It's definitely unconventional, since he's a boy and she's the girl who is dead and possessing him to fend other ghosts off.   Then there's the way Chupeco combines Japanese mythology and horror tropes with modern American YA into a satisfyingly macabre and romantic tale.  It's a very cinematic style, and Chupeco can weave images with her words that make up for the lack of moving pictures.

THE SUFFERING does work well on its own.  You might not know how Tark and Okiku first came to know each other, but this is a self-contained adventure (or two).  I suggest reading THE GIRL FROM THE WELL first because a) it's a good book and b) you'll be completely up to speed, but you won't be horrifically lost if you read THE SUFFERING on its own.

Chupeco's series is fabulous for any horror fans looking to get a sense of creepy-crawlies hanging out behind them while they read.  I hope that a third book is coming. 

September 8, 2015

Celebrate International Literacy Day with Grammarly

I've posted about online grammar- and plagiarism-checking service Grammarly before.  Today, Grammarly is sharing an infographic about international literacy rates.  If you go to their blog, you'll also find ways to help.

Literacy Day
Image courtesy of Grammarly

Excerpt: Serpentine by Cindy Pon

SERPENTINE by Cindy Pon, the first book in the Xia duology, is out today from Month9Books.  Read on for an excerpt, and be sure to enter the giveaway posted earlier today.


Serpentine “Skybright … ” He tugged her gently to him. “I never feel as if I can speak of my past with the other monks. Because of my birthmark. Because I’m different. But with you, I … ” He didn’t finish the thought, but instead leaned in and kissed her. It was like a jolt, quickening her pulse. His mouth was full, firm against her own. He smelled of camphor wood and sweat. Of boy. His tongue flicked across her lips and instinctively she opened her mouth to him. She gasped when their tongues met. Warmth pooled in her stomach and spread, till her entire body was roused.


His hands had wound around her waist, sneaked under her sleep tunic so she could feel his rough palms against her midriff. They met at the small of her back and slid upward, till his fingers caressed her shoulder blades, and they were crushed against each other.

They kissed until the blood roared in her ears and she felt drunk with desire. Then something ignited inside of her, that now familiar heat, writhing through and pulsing down her legs. Terrified, she shoved his shoulders hard, and he stumbled back, dazed.

Skybright clutched her head between tight fists, willing the blazing heat away. Willing herself not to change. No. Not now. Not in front of Kai Sen. Her body shook with the effort, still trembling from the kiss they had shared. Terror constricted her chest.

His thumb stroked her cheek, and she jerked away from him.

“What was that?” She tried to catch her breath, and the words came unevenly.

 “I’ve always wondered what it was like, to kiss.” His voice sounded low and thick.

“So you decided to experiment on the first handmaid you came across?”

The first handmaid he came across naked in the forest. Humiliation and anger wound tight within her, and she welcomed the emotions. Anything to smother the heat that threatened to rise below.

Kai Sen made a choking noise. “No. Of course not. I wanted to kiss you.” He lifted his hand to touch her again and she slapped it aside. “I like you,” he said quietly. “I’ve seen plenty of servant girls in town, wandering the markets. But you were the only I ever knew brave enough to climb a giant cypress to spy on monks.” He smiled. “You’re the only one I’ve felt I could share my past with–”

“You don’t even know me,” she said. And it felt as if her heart was shattering like brittle porcelain, because Kai Sen could never truly know her. Not ever. “Please go.”

He took a step back, and she hated him for obeying her.

“Will you still meet me in the morning by the creek?” he asked.


Intrigued?  Click the thumbnail of the cover to go to Amazon or enter the giveaway.

Giveaway for Serpentine by Cindy Pon


Today you can buy SERPENTINE, the new book by Cindy Pon, author of SILVER PHOENIX and FURY OF THE PHOENIX.  SERPENTINE is the first book in the Xia duology and available now from Month9Books.  In celebration, there is a giveaway at the end of this release-day-blitz post.

Below is the blurb from Amazon, where SERPENTINE is currently the #1 bestseller in YA Asian Historical Fiction:

Inspired by the rich history of Chinese mythology, this sweeping fantasy is set in the ancient Kingdom of Xia and tells the coming of age story of Skybright, a young girl who worries about her growing otherness. As she turns 16, Skybright notices troubling changes. By day, she is a companion and handmaid to the youngest daughter of a very wealthy family. But nighttime brings with it a darkness that not even daybreak can quell. When her plight can no longer be denied, Skybright learns that despite a dark destiny, she must struggle to retain her sense of self – even as she falls in love for the first time.
“Vivid worldbuilding, incendiary romance, heart-pounding action, and characters that will win you over–I highly recommend Serpentine.”
Cinda Williams Chima, best-selling author of the Seven Realms and Heir Chronicles fantasy novels
“Serpentine is unique and surprising, with a beautifully-drawn fantasy world that sucked me right in! I love Skybright’s transformative power, and how she learns to take charge of it.” 
Kristin Cashore, NYT Bestseller of the Graceling Realm Series
“Serpentine’s world oozes with lush details and rich lore, and the characters crackle with life. This is one story that you’ll want to lose yourself in.”
Marie Lu, New York Times bestselling author of Legend and The Young Elites
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Cindy Pon is the author of SILVER PHOENIX (Greenwillow, 2009), which was named one of the Top Ten Fantasy and Science Fiction Books for Youth by the American Library Association’s Booklist, and one of 2009′s best Fantasy, Science Fiction and Horror by VOYA. The sequel to SILVER PHOENIX, titled FURY OF THE PHOENIX, was released in April 2011. SERPENTINE, the first title in her next Xia duology, will be published by Month9Books in September 2015. She is the co-founder of Diversity in YA with Malinda Lo and on the advisory board of We Need Diverse Books. Cindy is also a Chinese brush painting student of over a decade. Visit her website at
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September 4, 2015

Review: A Whole New World

A Whole New World A Twisted Tale
By Liz Braswell
Available now from Disney-Hyperion
Review copy

The premise of the Twisted Tales series strikes me as brilliant: Disney allowing their versions of classic stories to be retold as dark YA novels.  The heroes and heroines of Disney stories are teens, and there is often room for things to go horribly awry.  In A WHOLE NEW WORLD, Jafar gets the lamp as soon as Aladdin steals it, leading to the rise of a dark rule in Agrabah.

Unfortunately, A WHOLE NEW WORLD is not good.  The first 22% is a retelling of the movie events written in a competent but not particularly engrossing style.  When things finally start to diverge, the tone just doesn't work.  The beginning was basically the light cartoonish style of the movie, so the darkness also begins strangely cartoonish.

There's also the fact that nothing in A WHOLE NEW WORLD really evokes the movie.  When Jasmine and Aladdin talk, I can't hear their voices in my head.  The fate of Agrabah is at stake, and yet I can't get a feel for the city even with Liz Braswell expanding it and diving deeper into the underworld of the Street Rats.  Everything feels vaguely modern and American, down to details like Jasmine mentioning a dog as a common pet.  I was bland, as if a few details pasted in from the movie were enough to make the setting work.

A WHOLE NEW WORLD isn't completely irredeemable.  Braswell makes Jasmine an equal protagonist who earns the right to rule and works hard to rescue herself and her city.  I appreciated that she leaned in to the feminist potential of Jasmine refusing to be forced into marriage.  That's about the best compliment I can offer this novel.

For such an amazing premise, A WHOLE NEW WORLD came off as ill-conceived and hastily done.  It's not a very good book.

September 3, 2015

Review: Another Day

Another Day Companion to Every Day
By David Levithan
Available now from Knopf BFYR (Penguin Random House)
Review copy
Read my review of Every Day

Note: ANOTHER DAY can be read independently of EVERY DAY.  I have read EVERY DAY, so this review contains spoilers.

Spoilery note: A considers themselves to be the gender of the body they're currently in.  I could switch pronouns to reflect this, or default to one gender, but I intend to identify A gender neutrally.  This is not a reflection of how A identifies, just shorthand for this review.

ANOTHER DAY covers the same time period as EVERY DAY.  Rhiannon and A meet (although she doesn't know it), and their love story goes from there.  Some people may not want to read a repeat of events, but I think Rhiannon's point of view is sometimes more interesting than A's.  She's less philosophical, a normal girl suddenly faced with the unexplainable.  

I do wish ANOTHER DAY had started a little earlier.  Rhiannon and Justin's relationship has soured, but Rhiannon still thinks it is worth fighting for, so she doesn't give up even though Justin treats her horribly.  It makes more sense while inside her head than A's, but it might make even more if we got a glimpse at the good days.  I do like that ANOTHER DAY concludes with Rhiannon forging her own path, seeking what she wants instead of trying to deliver what her significant other wants.  It's also a great hook for a straight-up sequel.

I liked that Rhiannon had a mix of mundane and more fantastical struggles.  Her friends don't like her boyfriend - standard high school stuff.  Her significant other is a different body every day - not so normal.  Sometimes she isn't physically attracted to the person she's in love with?  Somewhere between the two.  (And I liked that David Levithan worked to course-correct the fat-shaming in EVERY DAY.  Rhiannon isn't turned off by that body, but she is turned off by the way A is ashamed of it.)

Rhiannon's growth throughout ANOTHER DAY is wonderful.  She's a bit of a doormat at the beginning, and struggles with respecting herself for a long time.  She's a terrifically real young woman, although A's instant and intense attraction seems rather inexplicable at times.  In the end, I thought Rhiannon's point of view was just as strong as A's.

September 2, 2015

Review: Sorceror to the Crown

Sorcerer to the Crown First in the Sorcerer Royal trilogy
By Zen Cho
Available now from Ace/Roc (Penguin Random House)
Review copy

I've been looking forward to Zen Cho's debut novel.  Her shorter works have showcased her command of language and character.  Her novella The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo is probably what she's best known for, and who wouldn't want to be known for writing such a humorous delight?  (It's available for free on her website, by the way.)  Even if I wasn't familiar with Cho, I would want to read SORCERER TO THE CROWN.  The cover is gorgeously subtle, the title is evocative, and the back promises a possible murder, magical mysteries, and a runaway orphan.

That runaway orphan, Prunella Gentleman, is the runaway character for me.  She's been raised in a school for magical girls, where she exists somewhat between classes - not a servant, but not a student.  (Especially not since it is clear that her mother wasn't white, as her father was.)  Prunella is just barely a grown woman with no money to her name, but plenty of intelligence and some untrained magic.  She knows she has to secure her own future, and so she pursues it.  Prunella performs one of the most cold-hearted acts in SORCERER TO THE CROWN, but she never lost my sympathy.

(The secondary character that stole my heart was Mak Genggang, an older and most formidable woman.  Also, an excellent source of comedy due to her refusal to bow to English social rules.)

Zacharias Wythe is the eponymous sorcerer, and that position is giving him much grief.  His appointment wasn't popular, especially since he is the first black sorcerer in England.  When his mentor died, he was the only person present, which adds to the dislike, as does the fact that English sorcerers are finding they have less and less magic to work with and it is easy to blame the man in power.  He's a romantic figure, with his quiet dignity and pursuit of duty as he sees it.  (He's rather progressive, so many of the men under him see his duty differently.)

Cho uses a very mannered style for SORCERER TO THE CROWN that evokes the historical time period of the setting and reinforces her themes of class and social mobility.  She's created an intriguing alternate history, where magical diplomacy is as important as martial.  In fact, all of the English sorcerers in the story are bound by what they can do given that they and the French sorcerers have agreed not to get involved in the current war.

The largest weakness, if you want to look at it that way, is the plot.  SORCERER TO THE CROWN is about the characters and their relationships - romance, fidelity, hatred, rivalry - these are the things that drive the story.  Many problems are presented and do get solved, but the focus is less on how they are resolved than who and why.  The plot is a distant concern to what Cho is trying to accomplish with the novel.

SORCERER TO THE CROWN is the first in a trilogy, but stands completely on its own.  I look forward to the second book and I'm eager to see what aspect of the characters' lives Cho explores next, but I would be satisfied with SORCERER TO THE CROWN even if the other two books never materialize.


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