Review: Mayhem by Estelle Laure – A Gorgeous Chaotic Mess

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Title: Mayhem
Author:
Estelle Laure
Publisher:
Wednesday Books

Genre(s): YA Historical Fiction, Paranormal, Magical Realism
Subject(s): Multigenerational, Abuse

Release Date:
July 14th, 2020
Page Count: 304 (hardback)

Rating: 4.0/10

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It’s 1987 and unfortunately it’s not all Madonna and cherry lip balm. Mayhem Brayburn has always known there was something off about her and her mother, Roxy. Maybe it has to do with Roxy’s constant physical pain, or maybe with Mayhem’s own irresistible pull to water. Either way, she knows they aren’t like everyone else.

But when May’s stepfather finally goes too far, Roxy and Mayhem flee to Santa Maria, California, the coastal beach town that holds the answers to all of Mayhem’s questions about who her mother is, her estranged family, and the mysteries of her own self. There she meets the kids who live with her aunt, and it opens the door to the magic that runs through the female lineage in her family, the very magic Mayhem is next in line to inherit and which will change her life for good.

But when she gets wrapped up in the search for the man who has been kidnapping girls from the beach, her life takes another dangerous turn and she is forced to face the price of vigilante justice and to ask herself whether revenge is worth the cost.

CW: talk and depictions of domestic abuse, sexual assault, suicide

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Set in 1987 against the backdrop of Santa Maria, with a girl and her mother fleeing their abusive household, Mayhem is a poetically wrought mess that disappointed me the more I read.

The core message of the story is sound and impactful, about taking control and power in an environment where you’re offered little of either, but it’s heavily stifled by a tangle of storylines and genres that gets thrown onto your lap without much fanfare. From research, it seems that the book is less of a mashup of The Lost Boys and The Craft and more of a direct retelling with a few changes made here and there. Which is a little eyebrow-raising considering how the marketing did its usual “If you like X and Y, you must check this out!” and made it out to be a book that takes elements of those films while still remaining an original, not a near-same story with a different filter. And I would have been fine with that, since I didn’t know much about the source materials to begin with, if it wasn’t obvious that the book is multiple stories awkwardly cobbled into one. It tries to fit magical witchy elements, mother-daughter relationships, new friendships, budding romance, navigation of past trauma, an abusive husband/stepfather on the loose, and a serial killer mystery in 300 pages.

It just doesn’t work.

It picks up a plotline and then pushes it aside in favour of a different one, resolves the latter with underwhelming speed, and returns to the old one only to leave it hanging or tied in the messiest knot imaginable. Characterization also suffers because of this. There are just too many people introduced all at once–Roxy, Roxy’s twin sister Elle, the three children living in Elle’s attic, Roxy’s old friends–and Roxy, the one character aside from May who should have had the main focus throughout, fades into the background in the second half. The other side characters are surface-level interesting, but again, never given enough time for me to get attached to.

The writing is beautiful, however; that’s what hooked in the beginning. And environmental storytelling is the story’s strongest suit. Laure knows how to create quiet scenes that seem to expand with each sentence, and some of the chapters read like haunting vignettes, a moment in time frozen by the lingering memories of what May and her mother endured. There are scenes that made my throat close up in empathy and anger, and the horrors of abuse and assault are depicted with care.

If Laure had just taken that and expanded on it for the rest of the book, focusing solely on the relationships between the characters and their individual pains and journey to healing, while introducing the magic as a subtle undercurrent? How complete the story might have been.

As it is, Mayhem knows what it wants to accomplish, and the emotional depth is well present, but it tries to go about it with more tools than it can hold and falls in the execution.

 

 


About the Author

AP Estelle Laure_Credit Zoe Zimmerman

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Estelle Laure, the author of This Raging Light and But Then I Came Back believes in love, magic, and the power of facing hard truths. She has a BA in Theatre Arts and an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults, and she lives in Taos, New Mexico, with her family. Her work is translated widely around the world.

 


Bonus Content

A Letter from the Author | Chapter One Excerpt

 

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Thank you to Wedneday Books for having me on this tour!

Find me (and my art) @aildreda on:

Twitter | Instagram | Tumblr

Review: All the Bad Apples – Smoky with Old Magic

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Title: All the Bad Apples
Author: Moïra Fowley-Doyle
Publisher: Kathy Dawson Books
Release Date: August 1st, 2019 (UK); August 27th (NA)
Genre(s): YA Contemporary, Magical Realism, Historical Fiction
Subjects and Themes: Family, Women’s Rights, LGBTQIAP+ (lesbian mc, queer side characters)
Page Count: 319 (hardback)

Rating: 8.5/10

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CW: Rape, homophobia, and a myriad of casual atrocities against women (historical and modern)

When Deena’s wild older sister Mandy goes missing, presumed dead, Deena refuses to believe it’s true. Especially when letters start arriving–letters from Mandy–which proclaim that their family’s blighted history is not just bad luck or bad decisions but a curse, handed down to women from generation to generation. Mandy’s gone to find the root of the curse before it’s too late for Deena. But is the curse even real? And is Mandy still alive? Deena’s desperate, cross-country search for her beloved sister–guided only by the notes that mysteriously appear at each destination, leading her to former Magdalene laundry sites and more–is a love letter to women and a heartbreaking cathartic journey.

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“This novel was, in part, fueled by rage”

It’ll be a cold day in hell when I don’t finish a blog tour book at the last minute, it seems, so this is gonna be shorter and less effusive than I want it to be. But don’t let my procrastination take away the fact that I loved this book.

All the Bad Apples checks all my boxes: a road trip to uncover family secrets, a spotlight on women, ancient magic bleeding into the modern, and the use of past tense in a contemporary(ish) YA. It’s also the closest thing to Kali Wallace’s The Memory Trees I’ve read in the past two years, and I can’t tell you how giddy that makes me.

Let’s get this out of the way first: the prose alone makes me want to read everything Fowley-Doyle has written and will ever write in the future (and I’m kicking myself that she hasn’t been on my radar until now). It’s quiet, addicting, and sensual, and it winds through you like a drug. Add to that the atmosphere of it all–curses and storms and the scent of apples moving through the air–and you have a recipe for pure decadence.

The story is contemporary interspersed with magical realism, and the latter are appropriately magical and chilling, but what amazes me is that even the contemporary bits feel textured and rich. So very old and loaded with everything–magic, history, the lives of their ancestors reaching forward to touch them. The book understands that there are places in this world that share a space with the past. Places where the past is so looming and loud that you almost feel it as a physical presence. You move from one rundown location to the next throughout the story, all of them spilling with history, and the author makes sure that you feel the weight of each one. It’s beautifully done.

At the core of it, though, is a poignant story of a teenage girl’s attempt to break a cycle of bigotry and secrets and abuse that left me touched and seething in each equal measure.

“You tell your story and the story of your family. You speak your truth. You shatter the stigma. You hold your head up to the world and speak so that everyone else who was ever like you can recognize themselves. Can see that they aren’t alone. Can see how the past will only keep repeating itself as long as we’re kept powerless by our silence.”

I do wish the second half of the book had been a bit longer, though, and that the events leading up to the end were more drawn out. The follow through on the side characters (minus Deena’s sisters) was also kind of disappointing. Don’t get me wrong, they’re all very interesting and had the foundation to be complex characters, and the romance between Deena and Cale (“short-haired punky witch girl,” in Deena’s words) was developing nicely, but their stories get neglected in the last 1/3 of the book, which is a massive shame because I feel like they had so much more to offer.

But those are small complaints.

Ultimately, All the Bad Apples is a book that deserve a place on your shelf. It’s got the atmosphere of a fable and the anger of the best feminist stories that exist in the world, and it’ll leave you with the lingering taste of apples in your mouth.

 

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Website|Goodreads|Twitter|Facebook|Tumblr|Instagram

Moïra Fowley-Doyle is half-French, half-Irish and made of equal parts feminism, whimsy and Doc Martens. She lives in Dublin where she writes magic realism, reads tarot cards and raises witch babies. Moïra’s first novel, The Accident Season, was shortlisted for the 2015 Waterstones Children’s Book Prize & the North East Teen Book Awards, nominated for the Carnegie Medal & won the inaugural School Library Association of Ireland Great Reads Award. It received two starred reviews & sold in ten territories. Her second novel, Spellbook of the Lost and Found, was published in summer 2017, received a starred review from School Library Journal and was shortlisted for the Irish Book Awards.

 

Giveaway (UK/Ireland)

You can win 1 of 3 copies of All the Bad Apples HERE.

 

Tour Schedule

Check out all the other stops on this tour HERE.

Smoke City – A Beautiful Story of Redemption and Hope and How We Choose to Live Our Lives

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Title: Smoke City
Author: Keith Rosson
Publisher: Meerkat Press
Release Date: January 23rd, 2018
Genre(s): Contemporary, Fantasy, Paranormal, Historical Fiction
Page Count: 330 pages
Goodreads

Rating: 9.5/10

 

 

I’m speechless. I came into this book expecting something interesting and thought-provoking based on the cover and the blurb, but what I got exceeded my already-high expectations in every single way. I cried and laughed and cried. If you read one book this year, make it Smoke City. It is a dizzy melting pot of genres and subgenreshistory, fantasy, paranormal, and contemporary road trip. It had every potential to go off the rails. Instead, Keith Rosson has nailed every single element and given us an unforgettable story that brims with humour, hope, and the small and large truths of our lives.

We are often told that we only get one life in this world, so make the best of it. Live without regrets. But what if we do get more than one life? And what if our regrets follow from one life to the other? These are questions that haunt Marvin Deitz.

Marvin is on the cusp of his 57th birthday. He’s the owner of a small record store in Portland, and, apart from his eyepatch, looks like nothing more than a nondescript office clerk. He also happens to be the most recent reincarnated form of Geoffroy Thérage, the French executioner of Joan of Arc. Yeah, you read that right. He believes he’s cursed to be reborn again and again, presumably until the end of time, as penance for the sins of his first life.

The Three Parameters of the Curse:

1) I will die sometime between infancy and my fifty-sixth birthday. I have never, ever lived to my fifty-seventh birthday, in any of my lives.
2) I will always suffer some significant disfigurement or physiognomic alteration sometime between infancy and my first two decades of life. Generally pretty early on. The disfigurement will be something that, to some degree, alters and dictates the pathway of my existence. Loss of limb, birth defect, etc. Losing an eye, as I did in this life, is actually somewhat mundane.
3) When I die, I will without fail die a violent death. No going peacefully in my sleep for this guy.

Marvin retains all memories of his previous lives, all of which are fraught with pain and horror. His past actions haunt himthe prisoners he tortured and the innocent lives he ended. And the heaviest burden of them all: the burning of Joan. Life has become a blur of greys and all he wants is to wait for the next violent death to claim him.

Michael Vale was once a young rising rockstar of a painter. The next big thing in the art world. But he burned too bright, too fast, and got too arrogant. One mistake led to another and another, and before he knew it, his career and personal life were taking a nose-dive. He’s neck deep in assault charges, bottles of alcohol, and no longer has the will to paint. Now he works as a cashier at a taco joint, dealing out hatred to himself and  others.

As these two men meet and journey their way to Los Angeles, we alternate between their viewpoints, each chapter short and digestible. We also get flashbacks to Vale’s early life and Marvin’s many lives, including that of Thérage. The latter provides a fascinating and bleak glimpse into the life of an executioner in the Middle Ages. Short, but told with so much pain, they make up some of the best parts of the story.

Vale and Marvin are a brilliant pair of contrasts and similarities. One mild-mannered and empathetic, the other perpetually brimming with energy and anger. Both wrapped up in regrets and bitterness. Both lost and fracturedshackled by the weight of their past and the off-handed cruelty of life.

You would think that in a story featuring the reincarnation of Joan of Arc’s executioner, said reincarnation would be the main draw. And it was, at first. But there was something about Michael Vale and his self-destructive ways that I found equally fascinating. Vale is an unrepentant alcoholic, he’s quick to anger, and would sooner land a punch than talk his way out of a confrontation. Seemingly plucked straight out of a grimdark novel, he’s someone you would give a wide berth at parties. Yet his story is one that invites sympathy and sorrow. Because it’s so very human. It’s mired in self-hatred and a lost love of life that so many of us can relate to. Marvin is the more likeable of the two, and his story is, if anything, even sadder–a string of hopes dared and crushed. He is a complicated mesh of history and fiction that you won’t be able to take your mind off of.

Their quest to find purpose and redemption is one that I was rooting super hard for.

The side characters that orbit these two are all very engaging and I chalk that up to the author’s touch for colloquial dialogues. They flow perfectly and they shift effortlessly from funny to moving. Gems like this, for example:

“So what is it that’s going to keep you afloat in Kodiak chew and ironic shirts when you’re in Los Angeles? Huh, my new friend Casper?”
Casper peered down at his chest. “What do you mean, ironic shirts?”
Vale’s eyebrows arched up. “I mean your shirt, man. The bald eagle holding the beer? Driving the truck? It’s ridiculous.”
“How is it ironic?”
“You mean it’s not ironic?”
Casper shrugged. “I don’t know. I like trucks. I like beer. Eagles are cool. I like it.”

The setting plays as equally an important role as the characters. I think the best road trip books are the ones that take mundane placesa parking lot, a motel, a stretch of farmlandand infuse them with a sense of both the familiar and the strange. Rosson does just that. He has a knack for distilling the heart of a location, a person, a scene, and transcribing them into words. His descriptions of the cityscape and its people are apt and so, so beautiful.

Speaking of strange, the author apparently thought that having the reincarnation of a 14th century executioner for a protagonist wasn’t weird enough, so he decided to add ghosts into the mix. In this version of America, smoke spirits (ghosts that resemble smoke, basically) have begun to appear in California and New Mexico. No one quite knows what they are, though plenty of theories are thrown aroundeverything from Russian scams to signs of the apocalypse. For most of the book, these ghosts exist in the background. It’s not until near the end that they merge with the main plot, and the result is well worth the wait.

Smoke City is a story of how much power we give to our pasts. Of how the choices we make too often dictate how we see ourselves for years down the line, sometimes the rest of our lives. How we punish ourselves for our actions, tell ourselves we don’t get to have happiness, that it’s too late to fix things. How we get trapped in an endless cycle of self- recrimination. And when life beats us down, we tell ourselves we deserve it.

But we are more than the summation of our mistakes. The past can be wielded by its hilt, not the blade.

And it’s never too late.